The Gut and Brain Connection

See how the gut and the brain controll our wellbeing.

The Gut and Brain

With the ever increasing epidemics of psychological and behavioral conditions like Autism, ADD/ADHD, Depression, learning disabilities, and even auto- immune illnesses such as food allergies and sensitivities, Asthma, Celiac disease, Colitis, Arthritis, and Chronic Fatigue, it is no wonder that scientists have dedicated much time and research into the connection between probably the two most important systems in our body: the gut and the brain. Numerous scientific case studies have been conducted to examine the connection between the function of our gut and the brain, and how the state of one drastically affects the other. This means that not only do the dynamics of our digestive health affect how we feel physically, but that it also influences our brain function and mental wellbeing.

This is because our brain sends nerve impulses to our gut, which can be understood through the nervous “butterflies” in our stomach, or that queasy, sick feeling that takes over us when we are angry, sad, or upset. Likewise, our gut actually sends information back to our brain. In fact, there is more information going from our gut to the brain, than there is from our brain to our gut. Indeed our gut has its own nervous system, called the enteric nervous system, that actually controls and regulates not only our digestive functions but also directly relates to our mental health as well. Furthermore, the neurotransmitter, Serotonin, is produced more abundantly in the gut than it is in the brain. So it comes as no surprise that this “feel good” hormone is intricately tied to the state of our digestive health, as our emotions can be directly felt within our gut, (hence the old adage, ‘don’t listen to your head, follow your gut’). Additionally, numerous sex hormones are also regulated and metabolized within the gut; so hormonal imbalances are largely connected to abnormal gut function and irregularities. This is why modern medicine is now acknowledging that diet and gut function plays a key role in the management of many hormonal problems such PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome,) thyroid conditions, adrenal function, premenstrual symptoms, and many other hormonal and fertility issues.

At the very center of our gut function exists trillions of bacteria that rule and dominate our digestive processes. Scientists have only identified and studied a small portion of them in comparison to the actual number that populate the human gut, and so many brands of probiotic supplements on the market today contain specific species that have been found to be beneficial and crucial to optimal gut function. The probiotic species Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium in particular, the most common strains found in yogurts and kefir products, are important strains in the regulation of our digestive processes. Interestingly though, there are so many kinds of microflora controlling and inhabiting our digestive system that they actually outnumber the DNA cells in our body by ten times. In essence, the human body is really comprised of gut bacteria, rather than genetic cells. Within this natural system of micriobiota, there are both the health promoting species as well as pathogenic species. When our gut flora is in the correct balance, our beneficial microflora control and manage the pathogenic bacteria in its proper numbers. However, when this balance is disrupted, through various factors including medications, overuse of antibiotics, improper diet, and other unhealthy lifestyle choices, this imbalance In medicine, our gut is often times referred to as “the second brain.” can seriously upset the proper functioning of our digestive systems and lead to a myriad of physical, psychological, and auto-immune conditions that have become so prevalent in our modern world.

Many reputable health institutions like UCLA and Harvard have found, through research studies involving probiotic consumption, that diet and probiotics plays a major role in the appropriate composition of our gut flora. These studies have found that people who eat a diet high in processed, sugary, and carbohydrate laden foods have a different population of gut flora than those who eat a diet rich in fiber, nutrient dense whole foods, fermented foods and probiotics. Furthermore, diet plays a key role in the onset of various psychological and autoimmune conditions, as those with such conditions have been found to have a compromised gut flora, or an imbalance of healthy versus pathogenic or “bad” bacteria. Eating foods that have been genetically modified, refined, or processed in any way has been shown to drastically reduce the number of beneficial bacteria within our guts, even eradicate them entirely. Conventionally raised meats that have been administered antibiotics, hormones, and fed genetically modified grains and feed has also been proven detrimental to our gut bacteria and our overall health. In addition, exposure to toxic chemicals, whether agricultural, through non-organic produce sprayed with pesticides or herbicides; or cosmetic, through conventional skin and beauty products that are laden with carcinogenic petrochemicals, has also been shown to directly damage our gut flora and immunity. All of these factors not only destroy beneficial, healthy bacteria so essential to a healthy immune system, but they also feed and aid in the growth of pathogenic bacteria that can take over our guts and cause severe digestive problems, and eventually lead to more serious conditions like autoimmune diseases and even cancer.

In order to treat these conditions, or prevent them from manifesting, it is imperative to restore optimal healthy gut function. This means returning to ancestral traditions of eating whole foods that are unprocessed, organic, and free of “dead” nutrients that feed pathogenic bacteria. Eliminating white sugar, processed and packaged foods, artificial sweeteners and preservatives, foods that have been genetically modified, and avoiding taking antibiotics unless absolutely necessary is another integral part of restoring gut health. Minimizing exposure to other environmental and cosmetic toxins is also vital, as well as promoting detoxification pathways in the body by optimizing digestion and elimination processes on a daily basis, exercising regularly, and addressing any nutritional deficiencies. Taking a strong probiotic supplement with as many different strains as possible, as well as eating fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut or kimchi, is another important factor to ensuring your body has a steady supply of beneficial microflora to keep your immune system healthy and strong.

While mainstream medicine has become increasingly aware of the gut and brain connection, the holistic health industry has been at the forefront of this principle, with its foundation of true health being rooted in optimal gut function through proper nutrition and restoring balance throughout the body. By following these health principles, and seeking the expert advice of holistic and natural health professionals who can guide you on your health journey, you are taking control of remedying your conditions, preventing degenerative disease, and ensuring a more healthful future for yourself and your loved ones.

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