How the Gut and Brain are Connected

Contributor: Avery Geary
Photographer: Saffron & Sage
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Your gut microbiome and your brain are intrinsically connected. This connection influences your digestion, mood and everyday health. Through proper support, adequate nutrition and a healthy lifestyle, an imbalance in the synchronicity of the two can be resolved and brought into alignment.

To better understand this relationship, it is important to understand how they ebb and flow with one another. More than 100 million nerve cells make up two thin layers that line your gastrointestinal tract. These cells connect through your vagus nerve from your esophagus to your rectum. This creates the connection between your brain and your microbiome.

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This connection is additionally influenced by neurotransmitters. Produced in the brain, these work to control emotions and feelings. Many are produced in the gut as well, such as serotonin, responsible for feeling happy and controlling your body’s natural clock. An imbalance in this connection may lead to an increase in depression and anxiety.

The importance of nurturing your gut maintains the health of your body, contributes to proper metabolism function, immune support, controls inflammation and enhances nutrients from the food we eat. In turn, it influences the brain, and how we feel everyday.

  

Nurturing the gut microbiome through nutrition is one of the most effective tools to enhance this relationship.

 

•   Consume whole and plant-based foods: These work to support digestive health. They are high in fiber, important for feeding the good bacteria in your gut and helping to keep your digestion regular.

•   Incorporate prebiotic foods: These are rich in fiber the bacteria your gut feeds on. Great examples of these are garlic, dandelion greens and artichoke.

•   Eat probiotic foods: Probiotic foods helps support your gut microbiome. Food rich in probiotics are often found in fermented foods, such as kimchi, kefir and sauerkraut.

•   Limit consumption of  refined sugar: Known as food for “bad” bacteria, refined sugar decreases your gut’s ratio of food and bad bacteria. This can lead to health problems such as obesity, that begin in the gut.

  

As seasons change, so does your gut’s bacteria.

 

Just as nutrition affects your gut and brain connection, so does the changing seasons. It has been suggested that the body has evolved to naturally adapt to seasonal changes. Those who live in colder climates have different microbial makeups than those who live in warmer climates. Understanding the connection seasonal changes have on the gut-brain connection enhances their relationship.

Autumn is a time for trips to the farmer’s market, and consumption of warming, hearty foods. These foods, such as squash and sweet potatoes that our bodies are naturally craving as the weather begins to change. Autumn brings an abundance of devious produce, like apples, that contain a high amount of fiber and pectin, that help to cleanse the intestines and support your digestion. 

During this season, your gut bacteria is likely to thrive warm starchy foods which are appealing to your gut at this time. 

Lifestyle Choices Influence This Connection  

Learning the proper foods to eat, seasonal influences and lifestyle choices, the interlink between the gut and brain are more likely to thrive. Lifestyle factors such as  proper exercise, meditative practice and yoga enhance this connection as well.

 Practices like yoga work to gently “detoxify” your body, bringing balance to your gut, helping to relax. This is an excellent factor in improving digestion. Twisting postures have been shown to enhance digestion, and support the natural detoxification of your liver and kidneys.

 Breathe work further supports this connection. Deep belly breathing works to activate the diaphragm, to ease stomach spasms, influenced by anger and other emotions. Practicing deep breathing when stressed decreases the acceleration of certain hormones, leading to bloating and can calm an anxious mind. Practicing this technique works to calm the brain and gut easily.

 

 The strong link between the brain and gut influences overall health. Maintaining proper support through diet, lifestyle factors and breathe work increases the energy and flow between them, working to synchronize the natural rhythm between the gut and the brain.