The Gut-Brain Connection: How To Feed Your Brain

If there was ever a call for “digestive health,” this is it!

Yes, it’s true. Your gut is considered your “second brain.”

And because of the new scientific discoveries about the vagus nerve, the enteric nervous system, and the amazing influence your gut microbes can have, it’s no wonder WHAT YOU EAT FEEDS NOT ONLY YOUR BODY, BUT CAN DIRECTLY AFFECT YOUR BRAIN!

 

WHAT EXACTLY IS THE “GUT-BRAIN CONNECTION”

Well, it’s very complex, and to be honest, we’re still learning a lot about it!

There seem to be multiple things working together. Things like:

  • The vagus nerve that links the gut directly to the brain;
  • The “enteric nervous system” (A.K.A. “second brain”) that helps the complex intricacies of digestion flow with little to no involvement from the actual brain;
  • The massive amount of neurotransmitters produced by the gut;
  • The huge part of the immune system that is in the gut, but can travel throughout the body; and,
  • The interactions and messages sent by the gut microbes.

This is complex. And amazing, if you ask me.

I’ll briefly touch on these areas, and end off with a delicious recipe (of course!)

 

VAGUS NERVE

There is a nerve that runs directly from the gut to the brain.

And after reading this so far, you’ll probably get a sense of which direction 90% of the transmission is…

Not from your brain to your gut (which is what we used to think), but from your gut up to your brain!

 

THE ENTERIC NERVOUS SYSTEM AND NEUROTRANSMITTERS

Would you believe me if I told you that the gut has more nerves than your spinal cord?

I knew you would!

And that’s why it’s referred to as the “second brain.”

And, if you think about it, controlling the complex process of digestion (i.e. digestive enzymes, absorption of nutrients, the flow of food, etc.) should probably be done pretty “smartly”…don’t you think?

And guess how these nerves speak to each other, and to other cells? By chemical messengers called “neurotransmitters.”

In fact, many of the neurotransmitters that have a strong effect on our mood are made in the gut! e.g. a whopping 95% of serotonin is made in your gut, not in your brain!

 

THE IMMUNE SYSTEM OF THE GUT

Because eating and drinking is a huge portal where disease-causing critters can get into your body, it makes total sense that much of our defence system would be located there too, right? Seventy-five percent of our immune system is in our gut!

And you know that the immune cells can move throughout the entire body and cause inflammation just about anywhere, right?

Well, if they’re “activated” by something in the gut, they can potentially wreak havoc anywhere in the body. Including the potential to cause inflammation in the brain.

 

GUT MICROBES

Your friendly neighbourhood gut residents. You have billions of those little guys happily living in your gut. And they do amazing things like help you digest certain foods, make certain vitamins, and even help regulate inflammation!

But more and more evidence is showing that changes in your gut microbiota can impact your mood, and even other, more serious, mental health issues.

 

HOW DO THESE ALL WORK TOGETHER FOR BRAIN HEALTH?

The honest answer to how these things all work together is that we really don’t know just yet. More and more studies are being done to learn more.

But one thing is becoming clear. A healthy gut goes hand-in-hand with a healthy brain!

So, how do you feed your brain?

Of course, a variety of minimally-processed, nutrient-dense foods is required, because no nutrients work alone.

But two things that you many consider eating more of are fibre and omega-3 fats. Fibre (in fruits, veggies, nuts & seeds) help to feed your awesome gut microbes. And omega-3 fats (in fatty fish, walnuts, algae, and seeds like flax, chia, and hemp) are well-know inflammation-lowering brain boosters.

 

Recipe (Gut food fibre, Brain food omega-3): Blackberry Hemp Overnight Oats
Serves 2

INGREDIENTS

1 cup blackberries (or any berries) (fresh or frozen)
1 cup oats (gluten-free)
1 cup coconut milk
1 tablespoon chia seeds
2 tablespoons hemp seeds
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 banana, sliced
¼ cup chopped walnuts

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Mix oats, coconut milk, chia seeds, hemp seeds in a bowl with a lid. Let set in fridge overnight.
  2. Split into two bowls and top with blackberries, cinnamon, banana, and walnuts.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: Your gut microbes love to eat the fibre in the blackberries, oats, seeds, and nuts. Meanwhile, your brain loves the omega-3 fats in the seeds, nuts and coconut. Add coconut shavings for a sweeter flavour too!

Blackberry Hemp Overnight Oats
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 cup blackberries (or any berries)(fresh or frozen)
  • 1 cup oats (gluten-free)
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds
  • 2 tablespoons hemp seeds
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 banana, sliced
  • ¼ cup chopped walnuts
Instructions
  1. Mix oats, coconut milk, chia seeds, hemp seeds in a bowl with a lid. Let set in fridge overnight.
  2. Split into two bowls and top with blackberries, cinnamon, banana, and walnuts.
 

References:

http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/nutritional-psychiatry-your-brain-on-food-201511168626

http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/healthy_aging/healthy_body/the-brain-gut-connection

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-probiotics

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/fix-gut-fix-health

http://neurotrition.ca/blog/your-gut-bugs-what-they-eat-and-7-ways-feed-them

About Me


Hi, I’m Tracy! I create food solutions to feed your life goals. I’m a Nutritionist, chocoholic + superhero fan. Mom to three, wife to one, crazy about all four, and food! When you work with me you’ll learn to savour life and nourish all that it has to offer.

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