Our gut is fascinating to say the least! It is an overwhelmingly impressive eco-community filled with trillions of bacterial cells who work to dictate a large portion of our health status.
Research surrounding the effect of our gut on our overall health and wellbeing is becoming more and more prominent, and has quiet frankly turned us into a ’gut-obsessed’ society that craves information on how we can optimise the health of our gut for improved health outcomes and longevity.
It turns out that our gut has such a notable effect on how we as humans function that it is now being deemed our second brain. It has a nervous system all of its own proven to dictate our digestion, mood, energy levels, sleep quality, disease risk and so much more.
If you still aren’t convinced that our gut and our brain and so closely linked and aligned, think back to a time when you ‘trusted your gut’ or felt ‘butterflies’ in your stomach before a big presentation. Coincidence? We think not!
How are the Gut and Brain connected?
Whilst we wouldn’t be relying on our gut to remember next weeks exam content or Mum’s birthday, the gut (the enteric nervous system) and the brain (the central nervous system) are constantly communicating via a bi-directional pathway called the ‘vagus nerve’ to deliver one another vital information’. This is also commonly referred to as the ‘gut-brain axis’ or GBA.
Put simply, the ‘vagus’ nerve runs from our gut to our brain and carries consistent messages from one to the other about digestion, swallowing, reflex actions, heart rate, and breathing - amongst many other functions.
If you’ve ever felt your ‘stomach drop’ instantly when you feel sporadically anxious or nervous, this is the perfect example of your gut and brain working closely together to communicate and decipher a reaction based on a situation. It’s pretty impressive!
Food and Mood
Surprisingly, a large portion (approximately 95%) of our serotonin, a happy hormone that assists in dictating our mood and memory is located in our gut! This means that the health of our digestive system strongly influences the way our serotonin functions and how we feel mentally.
Studies have also shown that individuals who experience persistent gut abnormalities such as irritable bowel syndrome and conditions alike are more likely to develop anxiety and depression.
Lastly, a study conducted by the Food and Mood Centre in Melbourne indicated that a high quality nutritionally balanced diet is associated with a larger hippocampus, a section of our brain involved in learning and mental health. Perhaps we are what we eat after all!
Written by Millie Padula - Accredited Practising Dietitian and Nutritionist