The Gut-Brain Connection and How it Impacts Your Health

Next time you’re feeling down, instead of blaming it on bad Tinder dates, consider the gut-brain connection. Maybe you haven’t been giving the microbes in your digestive system enough of the veggie fiber they crave (or enough cred when it comes to their impact on your mood)?

That may sound crazy, but actually, scientists have discovered that the microbes in your gut are engaged in a constant conversation with your mind. And that chatter could be affecting your emotions, moods, and behavior in major ways.

Gut Health 101

First, a little review.

Gut health has been building up steam as a trending health topic as more research points to the importance of the microbiome, a fancy word for the trillions (yes, trillions!) of microbes that live in your gut, on your skin, and elsewhere. (Feeling itchy?) 

Much of the attention has focused on how those microbes affect digestion and conditions like leaky gut, and therefore the immune system and chronic inflammation, which is linked to disease risk.

RELATED: The Facts on Inflammation

The Gut-Brain Connection

Now, the gut-brain connection is also entering the picture in a bigger way. 

Turns out your gut’s got its very own nervous system, called the Enteric Nervous System (ENS), and it’s so influential it’s often referred to as “the second brain.” The ENS’ main job is to regulate digestion, but it also sends up regular signals to the brain via the vagus nerve. 

Think of the vagus nerve as a busy two-lane highway. Traffic is moving in both directions, but it’s much heavier headed north, to the brain. Who’s directing that flow of traffic? Your microbes, of course.

How That Connection Affects Your Health

Here’s where things get interesting. Since your microbes are sending so many signals to your brain, if your gut health is out of whack, they may send up some wacky signals that influence your moods in negative ways.

RELATED: 4 Easy Ways to Improve Your Digestive Health

Studies have shown changing the makeup of gut microbiota actually changed how mice behaved, affecting anxiety and cognition, for instance. Mice raised without beneficial microbes also have been shown to be less capable of managing stress.

Another example: 90 percent of the neurotransmitter serotonin is made in the gut, and research has shown microbes play a critical role in its production. So if yours are not doing their job well, your body could end up with inadequate serotonin. That’s a problem since it regulates sleep, appetite, mood, and more.

How can you harness this info for better brain health? Probiotics could eliminate some of the barriers associated with traditional antidepressant medications and provide a new avenue for alleviating depressive symptoms. Further research is needed to understand the underlying mechanisms of probiotic effects and establish standardized protocols for their use in clinical practice.

Maintaining a healthy gut through a diet rich in fibrous vegetables and incorporating fermented foods can promote a balanced mood and reduce anxiety. Eating as many fibrous veggies as possible is key (microbes feast on the prebiotic fiber); fermented foods are great for your gut, and taking a high-quality probiotic is a good strategy either way since it can also benefit your digestive and immune systems.

About Nutritious Life Editors

The Nutritious Life Editors are a team of healthy lifestyle enthusiasts who not only subscribe to — and live! — the 8 Pillars of a Nutritious Life, but also have access to some of the savviest thought leaders in the health and wellness space — including our founder and resident dietitian, Keri Glassman. From the hottest trends in wellness to the latest medical science, we stay on top of it all in order to deliver the info YOU need to live your most nutritious life.

Interested in joining our wellness community and becoming a Nutritious Life Master Certified Nutrition and Wellness Coach?

Enter your info, get free access now to a sample class!

Inside Articles page - take a free class form

"*" indicates required fields

I agree*
I would like to receive text messages, and agree to the Terms of Service & Privacy Policy. Reply STOP to cancel, HELP for help. Msg & data rates may apply. Msg frequency varies.