The Gut Is the Second Brain. Let Me Tell You Why.

The Gut Is the Second Brain. Let Me Tell You Why.

Gut-Brain 101

What Is the Gut Made Up Of?

We are all familiar with what the gut is. When you have a niggling feeling in the pit of your stomach, it is commonly referred to as a ‘gut feeling’. But is there a deeper meaning to this saying? Does our gut actually release chemicals as a cause or product of our emotions? Well this article may just answer that for you. But first, let’s uncover what organs make up the so-called gut.

The gut is made up of the mouth, throat, oesophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, rectum, and anus. These organs have different roles in the digestion process, and the intestines are the main hosts of the gut microbiome – which will be defined later. Recent research shows that our diet plays a huge role in how our microbiome affects our mental and physical health, and we are here to uncover the truth about the gut-brain axis. Additionally, just like each individual has a certain blood type, each person also has a different enterotype (clusters of bacterial groups in the gut microbiota) that is decided by a plethora of factors such as genetics, environmental factors, and diet lifestyle. Different combinations of these factors and habits mean each person’s microbiota makeup is unique.

In this post, we will aim to decipher the function of the bacteria that populate our gut.

Gut Microbiome

The gut microbiome is a genome that hosts a community of bacteria that play a vital role in our digestive health. The millions of bacteria strains affect the absorption and synthesis of the nutrients from the food you eat. A good microbiome aids in weight regulation, metabolism, and resisting pathogens. The microbiota system has recently been identified as an emergent organ system and needs to be properly nurtured like all our other organs.

Many factors can shift the bacteria balance in the microbiome and show up as several inflammatory responses – left untreated, it can result in an array of gastrointestinal (GI) diseases. For example, low levels of bacteria diversity in the gut are linked with obesity and diabetes. There is a word for this type of interruption in the gut, and it’s called dysbiosis.

Dysbiosis is basically an imbalance in the microbiome. Leaky gut, for example, is one of the consequences of a gut barrier disruption allowing undigested food particles and toxins to leak into the bloodstream and trigger an immune response. The mentionable attributes are poor diet, stress, illness, antibiotic overuse and weight issues. Some of these factors can be improved upon – namely your diet. A poor quality diet that comprises of ultra-processed, nutrient-lacking foods will ultimately cause digestive distress.

What is the Gut-Brain Connection?

What is the Enteric Nervous System?

Enteric relates to the intestines so the enteric nervous system is the nervous system in our gut. This network of nerves, neurons and neurotransmitters extends from the oesophagus, through the stomach and intestinal tract to the anus. Due to this nervous system being very similar to the central nervous system, experts have labelled the gut our ‘second brain’.

There is bidirectional signalling between the brain and the gut that allows for many bodily processes and responses to occur. Not only does it affect physical aspects but it can alter mental health as well – triggering anxiety for example. You may have heard the expression – butterflies in your stomach. This is a metaphor for being nervous or excited about something and it’s actually when there is reduced blood flow in your stomach, because that is how sensitive the digestive tract is to emotion. This is the fight-or-flight response in effect that has been activated as a result of your brain’s signals. However, since signalling process works in both directions, GI distress can be the cause or result of anxiety, stress and depression.

yogurt bowl

How To Increase Gut Bacteria Diversity

Probiotic-centred diets can tremendously affect our bodies and change the way our bodies function and can potentially cure or prevent gastrointestinal and metabolic diseases. In order to achieve this, scientists have figured that a diet high in fermented foods can increase gut bacteria diversity. The list of fermented foods include: kefir, yoghurt, fermented cottage cheese, kimchi, sauerkraut and kombucha. A fibre-rich diet is also on the cards for improved gut symbiosis and decreased inflammatory protein synthesis. And if you didn’t know, fibre rich foods take shape in the form of fruit and vegetables as well as legumes, seeds, wholegrains, and nuts. But recent scientific data tells us that a fibre-dense diet alone is insufficient in boosting positive microbiome activity. Other food groups and supplements include; omega-3 fats found in fatty fish like salmon, polyphenol rich foods like dark chocolate, green tea and coffee and tryptophan rich foods like turkey, eggs and cheese.

Certain habits and behaviours can also enhance the microbiome. Alongside a healthy diet, a sufficient amount of exercise and adequate sleep are also deciding factors in restoring the gut microbiota balance and potentially improving brain health.