The gut and brain
Got the jitters? A wobbly or churning tummy? Quite possibly, you may be worried or anxious. We all know that the brain and our negative and worrisome thoughts directly impact the gut, but did you know the gut likely has a big impact on the brain?
The human body has a number of microbial environments, the largest of which is in the gut with approximately 100 trillion bacteria, with over 1,000 different bacterial species. Now, while that might sound a bit gross, these are very friendly and necessary bacteria and contribute to what is called the microbiota-gut-brain axis – essentially a two way communication between the gut and the brain/central nervous system. Indeed, the nerve cells that line the gut are often referred to as the “second brain” because they can function autonomously.
Research has suggested this two-way communication not only impacts physical health, but also our mental health. Information sent from the gut via the vagus nerve to the central nervous system can influence not only the way we think, but also our behaviour and how susceptible to stress we are.
The gut microbiota also produce neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) which impact our mood and they can influence our immune response.
While the research is in its early stages, there is increasing evidence to suggest our gut health plays an important role in mental health as well as physical wellbeing.
Researchers are particularly interested in the role of probiotics and how psychobiotics as they are termed, might have an influence on psychiatric disorders.
What can we take away from this? Well, this suggests that a healthy diet is not only important for our bodies, but may in fact assist us in managing and maintaining our mental health.
The Government of Canada’s Food Guide and their dietary information seems like a good place to start. Happy eating. Happy brain!
1.) The Gut Microbiome: Potential Innovations for the Understanding and Treatment of Psychopathology. Nowakowski, M.E., McCabe, K.R., & Pellizzari, J. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie Canadienne 2016, Vol. 57, No.2, 67-75