The Gut-Brain Connection: How To Feed Your Brain and Mental Health

How to Feed Your Brain and Mental HealthIf there was ever a call for “digestive health,” this is it!

Yes, it’s true, the gut is considered your “second brain.” There is no denying it anymore.

And, because of the new scientific discoveries about the vagus nerve, the enteric nervous system, and the amazing influence your gut microbes can have, it’s no wonder what you eat feeds not only your body but can directly affect your brain.

I find it amazing (but not too surprising).

What Exactly is the “Gut-Brain Connection.”?

Well, it’s very complex, and to be honest, there is still a lot to learn about it!

There are multiple things working together, like:

  • The vagus nerve that links the gut directly to the brain;
  • The “enteric nervous system” (A.K.A. “second brain) helps the complex intricacies of digestion flow with little to no involvement from the actual brain;
  • The massive amount of neurotransmitters produced by the gut;
  • A huge part of the immune system is in the gut, but can travel throughout the body; and,
  • The interactions and messages sent by the gut microbes.

It’s a complex system. And amazing, if you ask me.

I’ll briefly touch on these areas, and end off with a delicious recipe (of course!)

Vagus Nerve

After reading this so far, you’ll probably get a sense of which direction 90% of the transmission is…

Not from your brain to your gut (which is what we used to think), but from your gut up to your brain!

The Enteric Nervous System and Neurotransmitters

Would you believe me if I told you that the gut has more nerves than your spinal cord? It does!

Controlling the complex process of digestion (i.e. digestive enzymes, absorption of nutrients, the flow of food, etc.) should be done pretty “smartly”…don’t you think?

So, how do these nerves speak to each other, and to other cells? By chemical messengers called “neurotransmitters.”

In fact, many of the neurotransmitters that have a strong effect on our mood are made in the gut! For example, a whopping 95% of serotonin is made in your gut, not in your brain! And we know how important serotonin is to our mental health.

The Immune System of the Gut

Because eating and drinking is a huge portal where disease-causing critters can get into your body, it makes total sense that much of our defense system would be located there too, right? At least 75% (some research shows 80%) of our immune system is in our gut!

And immune cells can move throughout the entire body and cause inflammation just about anywhere.

When they’re “activated” by something in the gut, they can potentially wreak havoc anywhere in the body. Including the potential to cause inflammation in the brain.

Gut Microbes and Mental Health

Your friendly neighborhood gut residents. You have billions of those little guys happily living in your gut. And they do amazing things like help you digest certain foods, make certain vitamins, and even help regulate inflammation!

But more and more evidence is showing that changes in your gut microbiota can impact your mood, and even other, more serious, mental health issues.

How Do These All Work Together For the Brain and Mental Health?

Well, we really don’t know yet eaxactly how these things all work together. More studies are being done at the time of this writing.

We do know for certain that healthy gut goes hand-in-hand with a healthy brain!

So, How Do You Feed Your Brain?

A variety of nutrient-dense foods, that are unprocessed, are necessary because no nutrients work alone.

Two things to eat more of are fiber and omega-3 fats.

  1. Fiber (in fruits, veggies, nuts & seeds) help to feed your awesome gut microbes.
  2. Omega-3 fats (in fatty fish, walnuts, algae, and seeds like flax, chia, and hemp) are well-known inflammation-lowering brain boosters.

Recipe (Gut food fibre, Brain food omega-3): Blueberry Hemp Overnight Oats

Serves 2

1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)

1 cup oats (gluten-free)

1 cup almond milk

1 tablespoon chia seeds

2 tablespoons hemp seeds

½ teaspoon cinnamon

1 banana, sliced

¼ cup chopped walnuts

  1. Blend blueberries in a food processor until smooth.
  2. Mix blueberries, oats, almond milk, chia seeds, hemp seeds in a bowl with a lid. Let set in fridge overnight.
  3. Split into two bowls and top with cinnamon, banana, and walnuts.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: Your gut microbes love to eat the fiber in the blueberries, oats, seeds, and nuts. Meanwhile, your brain loves the omega-3 fats in the seeds and nuts.