What is the gut-brain axis?
The brain and gastrointestinal tract are closely connected. During human embryonic development, the nervous system is the first system to develop in the body. It develops almost simultaneously with the gastrointestinal system, and in fact, is “hardwired” into the gut—this is called the enteric nervous system, or ENS. The ENS plays a significant part in communicating to the brain what is happening in the gut, and is often referred to as the “second brain.”
The gut-brain axis, or ENS, is connected physically by some 500 million neurons in the gut. Neurons are found in the brain, central nervous system—which runs throughout the body—and the gastrointestinal tract, or gut. It is estimated that there are around 100 billion neurons in the brain alone.
The gut and brain are also connected biochemically by more than 30 various neurotransmitters. Some of the more commonly recognized neurotransmitters are serotonin, acetylcholine, dopamine, and GABA (gamma-amino butyrate, or gamma-aminobutyric acid). It is interesting to note that a number of neurotransmitters, and other substances, are produced by certain species of the gut microbiota/microflora. It is estimated that 90% of peripheral serotonin is manufactured in the gut. Since these neurotransmitters and other chemicals can have an effect on the brain, improving the gut microflora may positively affect the brain and the immune system.
Neurotransmitters are not the only substances produced by our gut microbiota/microflora, metabolites are produced as well. Metabolites are substances produced via the process of metabolism. Gut microbes produce a lot of a certain metabolite, SCFA (short chain fatty acids), which are important in forming the blood-brain barrier (BBB), the barrier between the brain and the blood vessels. These gut microbes are required for normal brain development. In adulthood, they also play an important role in brain function.
The gut and brain are directly connected by the vagus nerve, a major nerve that connects the gut and brain and allows them to “communicate” with one another. Signals can be sent via the vagus nerve in either direction—from the gut to the brain, or from the brain to the gut. Some research suggests that the vagus nerve can also play a role in stress. Stress can inhibit the signals sent via the vagus nerve and may ultimately cause gastrointestinal issues. The vagus nerve is likely the most important pathway for this bi-directional communication between the gut and brain.
How does it work?
The role played by the gut microbiome in the gut-brain signaling process is not completely understood; however, this back and forth signaling/communication network has the potential to alter both brain and gut activity. The process is complicated and involves the gut microbiome, the vagus nerve, gut signaling hormones/neurotransmitters/other substances produced by the gut microbiome, the immune system and the metabolism of tryptophan.
People dealing with gastrointestinal issues may find that these issues may trigger large emotional changes. On the other hand, people who are dealing with stress, anxiety, or other emotional issues, such as depression, may find that these issues have a direct effect on the GI tract. These experiences demonstrate the two-way street, or back and forth, communication between the brain and the GI tract. Even exposure to stress on a short-term basis can impact the intestinal microbiome.
How can you nurture your gut-brain axis?
It starts with the right foods that nourish you. These include oily fish, high fiber foods, foods that are rich in polyphenols, tryptophan-rich foods, and fermented foods.
The human brain is composed of nearly 60 percent fat, including Omega 3 fatty acids, such as EPA (eicosapentanoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). These fatty acids help to maintain brain health by forming new brain cells and building cell membranes. Oily fish are an excellent source of Omega 3 fatty acids.
Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds all provide the gut with important fibers. These fibers are utilized by beneficial microorganisms (probiotics) that inhabit the intestinal tract, and are considered to be” prebiotic” fibers—they help nourish the beneficial microorganisms.
Other foods contain plant chemicals called polyphenols which are also digested by intestinal microorganisms. These plant chemicals can be sourced from green tea, cocoa, coffee, and olive oil. These polyphenols can help to increase beneficial gut bacteria, and may also help improve certain intestinal conditions. Polyphenols may also help improve cognition.
Tryptophan is an amino acid that is converted into the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin is better known as a brain neurotransmitter; however, the vast majority of serotonin—approximately 90%–is manufactured in the gut. Cheese, eggs, and turkey are all good sources of tryptophan.
Fermented foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi and cheese all contain probiotics—beneficial bacteria—such as lactic acid bacteria (like acidophilus) that not only benefit the gut, but also may help to positively alter brain activity.
Oftentimes, in today’s world, it can be difficult to fit all of those food categories in. So what then is the solution?
At New Earth, we turn to Essentials. These convenient packets are filled with organically sourced superfoods, enzymes and probiotics that nurture your gut and provide your body with vital nutrients.
More specifically, Essentials contains Body and Mind microalgae; Enzymes; and probiotics—Acidophilus and Bifidus.
Body microalgae helps boost immune system function, enhance physical performance, and supports the ability to resist stress. Body microalgae contains small amounts of EFA’s, essential fatty acids, Omega 3.The microalgae also serves as a prebiotic for gut microbes.
Mind microalgae helps energize brain activity, heightens mental acuity and concentration, as well as supports the immune and central nervous systems. This microalgae contains small amounts of EFA’s, essential fatty acids, and Omega 3 fatty acids. Mind microalgae also serves as a prebiotic for gut microbes.
Enzymes promote optimal digestion and assimilation, and help increase nutrient value from the food you consume.
Acidophilus is a probiotic that helps provide natural immune system support, helps maintain digestive system health, and helps process and absorb nutrients from food. Certain probiotics also contribute to the production of neurotransmitters.
Bifidus is a probiotic that helps provides regulatory and gastrointestinal health, natural immune support, and helps maintain a healthy intestinal ecology. Certain probiotics also contribute to the production of some neurotransmitters.