Gut Back on Track: The Gut-Brain Connection & 10 Tips to Improve Your Gut Health!

Okay who wants to ‘gut their s*** together?’, if you experience any of the following symptoms; bloating, belching after meals, flatulence, diarrhea, undigested food in your stools, abdominal pain, cramping, fatigue, brain fog, skin problems, headaches & migraines, joint pain, depression, anxiety, ADD, ADHD, infertility or weight problems… then this post is for you! As we all know from my previous post “My Health Journey” (if you haven’t read it yet you can check it out HERE). I suffered with major anxiety and depression which accompanied my digestive disorders and discomfort. Let me tell you, I tried everything and I mean EVERYTHING to heal myself and nothing seemed to work. However, it wasn’t until I came to understand the gut-brain connection, when it all started to make sense that the state of our mental health is largely connected to the state of our digestive health. Think about it, we’ve all experienced butterflies in our stomach and even maybe an unexplainable gut feeling about a certain situation or certain someone, but have you ever wondered why these feelings are a result of a thought that began in our minds? You’re probably thinking okay… “what does my stomach have to do with my mental health?” Well, it turns out that scientists have coined our gut microbiome to be considered our ‘second brain’ meaning that our intestinal tract is a pretty big deal in terms of its function, the biochemical reactions in which it participates in and the influences it has on our behaviour issues, thoughts, mood and bacteria imbalances. The gut produces 75% of the bodies neurotransmitters (communicate information throughout our brain and body) and contains over 60% of the body’s immune system. Most importantly, out microbiome interacts with the outside world and is largely influenced via the food that you eat and how you care for your microbiome. Our stomachs are our core, the center of our being, thus, ideal gut health is fundamental for optimal living- mind, body and soul.

How the Gut is Connected to the Brain & Influences How We Feel:

The gut is connected to the brain via the vagus nerve, the gut-brain axis and is home to the enteric nervous system. See the enteric nervous system is directly connected to the central nervous system and contains 200-600 million nerve cells in them (which is more than our spinal cords!!!) the sensory neurons in the gut wall monitor mechanical conditions happening within our intestinal system and is behind the mechanics of food digestion which enables glandular secretions such as digestive enzymes, mucus, stomach acid and bile. The reason our gut is referred to as our second brain is its ability to autonomously communicate with our central nervous systems via our fight or flight systems (activated by stress), linking emotional and cognitive centers of the brain with peripheral intestinal functions. Animal studies show that harmful gut microorganisms can directly activate the vagus nerve and directly affect the brain and our behaviour. So while the enteric nervous system is incapable of generating its thoughts it does “talk” to the brain in major ways and influences our thought processes.

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Gut and Mood; The Role of Bacteria in Depression and Anxiety:

New research is constantly being developed, showing how the gut microbiota influences brain chemistry and behaviour. One of the major findings is that people who suffer from IBS (=ibsTRESS ;) ) commonly suffer from depression and anxiety as well. Which was very true in my case! Our guts' influence the production of serotonin and dopamine (our feel-good hormones) and in fact over 90% of the bodies serotonin is found in the gut. Serotonin is critical for gastrointestinal motility and contributes to feelings of well-being and happiness!! So stress has a negative effect on gut health and the critical part is that the body is unable to distinguish the difference between physical or mental stress. Therefore, your body would react the same if a bear was going to attack you, as it does when you constantly got into that job that you realize you hate. Psychological or physical stress can alter the microflora for weeks after the event or period has occurred by slowing the gastric acid release (=poor digestion), alterations in motility (how things are moving through your intestinal system) and increase bicarbonate production (= more harmful bacteria). Other things such as having a C-section, birth location and the use of formula, consecutive use of antibiotics and poor diet negatively effect the developing microbiome. Studies have linked depression, autism, anxiety, OCD, ADHD and many more behavioural disorders to a poor gut microbiome. As you can see supporting your gut is critical for a balanced mind, body and soul.

10 Ways to Improve Your Gut Health & Mental Health At the Same Time!

  1. Take a multi-strain probiotic supplement: such as Floratrex or Genstra (HMF Intensive) before bed time! The most successful probiotic supplements are those that have 10 billion bacteria or more per dose, and is best. Those that are best to enhance growth of indigenous beneficial bacteria and decrease potential pathogen populations are: B lactis HN019 / Bb12 and L. casei Shirota and L. rhamnosus GG. Taking them before bed on an empty stomach allows for them to work their magic during your slumber.
  2. Eat fermented foods: eat at least a tablespoon of fermented foods a day such as sauerkraut & kimchi these are very high in probiotics and help increase good bacteria in the body which help with nutrient absorption and supporting your immune system.
  3. Eat dairy sources of probiotics: If you don’t have a dairy sensitivity, eat dairy sources of probiotics. Bacteria provided in dairy-base sources have a greater number of live bacteria than those provided in capsule. Yogurt is an ideal transport medium for probiotic bacteria … MAKE SURE you are having pure organic no sugar added yogurt or Kefir.
  4. Go Gluten free: limiting or eliminating gluten has been shown to have a beneficial effect on the gut microbiome as well as depression and anxiety. Gluten consumption can lead to the production of inflammatory bacteria that can disrupt the communicate between the gut and the brain. Soaking, sprouting and souring grains makes grains more digestible.
  5. Cacao Powder: pure, raw cacao powder increase fecal bifidobacteria and lactobacilli (good bacteria), while reducing bad bacteria, fats and C-reactive proteins (causes of inflammation)
  6. Eat healthy fats: healthy fats such as avocados, nuts, seeds, olive oil, coconut oil, avocados are critical for brain function and contain high amounts of antioxidants which work as anti-inflammatories. Healthy fats also support the gut lining.
  7. Consume nuts: A handful of almonds, cashews, walnuts, brazil nuts are FULL with serotonin (the happy hormone).
  8. Practice gratitude: cortisol has a direct effect on the microbiome and increasing permeability. The less cortisol, the better the gut health. practicing gratitude in your daily lives has been shown to drastically decrease cortisol levels.
  9. Exercise!!!: As little as 20 minutes a day can help your gut microbiome, boost immunity and mood.
  10. Avoid sugar & processed foods: diets high in sugar and carbs can lead to an imbalance in the gut bacteria = inflammation of the gut and cause depression and anxiety etc.

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I hope this blog post was able to demonstrate the strong connection between our intestinal health and our mental health and helped give some resources to improve your micro-biome.

I love your guts ;) LOL... okay ill stop with all these corny-puns.

Wishing you health & happiness.

-Jade Xo.