The human body is simply amazing.  Our systems work together effortlessly without us even realizing how complex the interactions are.   Did you ever have “a gut feeling about something” or have “butterflies in your stomach?”  Well, it turns out that these feeling are not just strange coincidences, it is our gut and brain communicating with each other.  This gut-brain axis (GBA), which is a bidirectional pathway, is more complex that one can imagine, and it plays a large role in our mood, digestion, and overall health.


Understanding the Gut-Brain Axis (GBA)

Our central nervous system (CNS), which consists of the brain and the spinal cord, controls most of our functions in the body and mind, whereas, the enteric nervous systems (ENS), which is made up of hundreds of millions of neurons, controls our digestive system.  These two systems uniquely communicate to not only ensure proper maintenance of gastrointestinal balance, but also higher cognitive functions.  Then we have the gut microbiota, which is the bacteria that lives in the digestive tract.  Research shows that this bacteria is essential to immune and metabolic health, but also seems to influence development and diseases of both the enteric and central nervous system such as constipation, reflux, bacterial overgrowth, behavioral disorders, and neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

Did you know that 95% of serotonin is produced in your gut?  Serotonin is responsible for regulating mood which is why a deficiency can lead one to experience depression or anxiety.  Serotonin, along with other neurotransmitters like norepinephrine, epinephrine, and dopamine, travel back and forth along the vagus nerve and play an important role in regulating gut-brain axis.  Because of this GBA connection, you can begin to understand how a healthy gut can play a large role in mood.


Serotonin and Your Mood

Serotonin plays a large role as one of your “feel good hormones.”  It is used in the body for many different processes such as mood, sleep, digestion, nausea, wound healing, bone health, blood clotting and your desire for sex.  With a large amount of serotonin production in the gut, if you have any digestive issues (think IBS, bacterial overgrowth, candida, celiac, Crohn’s), there’s a pretty good chance that your serotonin production is being impaired.

Healthy serotonin levels leave you feeling happy, calm, and free of stress.  When we experience bouts of stress, our bodies release another hormone, cortisol, to regulate the stress response.  Cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands and when we experience chronic stress, our bodies have prolonged elevated levels of cortisol. This can lead to high blood sugar, high blood pressure, a reduced ability to fight infections, and increased fat storage in the body.  Because serotonin regulates cortisol, consistently elevated levels of cortisol impair serotonin which leads to depression.


Natural Ways to Support Your Gut-Brain Connection

  1. Focus on fresh, whole foods

Tryptophan is an amino acid that is important for producing serotonin in the body.  Since you can’t get serotonin from food, you must ensure you are consuming foods that contain tryptophan like spinach, eggs, turkey, chicken, oats, and nuts/seeds.   Eating fresh green vegetables or whole grains (not refined and turned into flour) are high fiber and an excellent way to fuel your good gut bacteria. These foods contain lots of bioavailable nutrients and vitamins. Fresh fruits and vegetables are not only loaded with prebiotic fiber that feed our gut bacteria, but they also provide our bodies with a wide variety of nutrients to thrive.

Other great benefits to eating fiber-rich foods are that they help balance blood sugar, keep you fuller for longer, and have a strong anti-inflammatory effect which decreases your risk for disease.  Sugar tends to hide everywhere, so do you best to read the labels and minimize eating packaged foods and sugar as overconsumption will starve out the good bacteria.

  1. Replenish your good bacteria

Eating probiotic rich foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt and kefir as well as taking a probiotic are great ways to help your gut thrive, which in turn may improve your mood and immune health.  Whether you suffer from anxiety or depression, increasing your intake of fermented foods or taking a probiotic is great for your overall health.

  1. Focus on healthy fats

Healthy fats, like Omega 3s, grass-fed butter/ghee, cold pressed coconut oil, and cold pressed olive oil promote healthier gut bacteria and help reduce inflammation.  These healthy fats are imperative for brain health, memory, and cognitive function.

  1. Manage Stress

As stated above, continual stress wreaks havoc on your system by exposing you to chronically elevated cortisol levels that can lead decreased serotonin levels and your decreased overall sense of well-being.  It is important for each person to develop a personalized approach to managing stress.  Some common ways are to focus on managing your times, practice relaxation, exercise, spend time with loved ones, eat nutritious food, avoid excessive alcohol, set time aside for self-care, get enough sleep and consider talking with someone to get things out in the open.

  1. Supplement Wisely to Support the Brain and Gut

There are many ways to support your gut health and our top are:

a.  Probiotics

Probiotic supplements contain billions of colony forming units (CFU) per dose and may vary in species and strains.  Generally, a high-quality probiotic contains lactobacillus and bifidobacterium and there are also some great soil-based formulas on the market.

b.  Glutamine

Glutamine is unique in that it is the most abundant amino acid in the body. It is a key factor in maintaining the integrity of the gut lining, which is important to keep bacteria from leaking out of the gut.

c.  Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega 3s are a key supplement in supporting both brain and gut health due to the neuroprotective factors and ability to reduce inflammation and prevent further inflammation.

d.  Vitamin D with K2

Vitamin D levels are essential to brain health and may help reduce the risk of cognitive and neurodegenerative disorders.  Vitamin D work synergistically with vitamin K to redirect calcium to where it needs to go instead of accumulating in the blood vessels.  The combo of these two together work best.


Final Thoughts

As research continues to develop, we continue to discover more information about the importance of a healthy gut and the role it plays in our mental well-being as well as our overall health. Our bodies are very connected and taking care of one part will help take care of another.


This article is not meant to be construed as medical advice, rather printed for informational purposes only. Everyone’s health situation is different. As always, it is critical to discuss the use of any supplements with a licensed health care provider to ensure that any use is safe and potential effective in your medical status and condition. 


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