Last week we broke down the importance of gut health and what exactly your microbiome is. If you haven’t checked it out, head over to the blog to learn more about the trillions of microbes that live inside of you.
Butterflies in your stomach... a gut feeling… we’ve all felt this way at least once before. These sensations suggest that there’s a connection between your gut and your brain. In fact, the communication system between your gut and brain is called the gut-brain axis. There’s a reason your gut is known as your second brain.
The gut-brain axis explains a variety of ways that the two organs are connected physically and biochemically.
Neurons are nerve cells “cells responsible for receiving sensory input from the external world, for sending motor commands to our muscles, and for transforming and relaying the electrical signals at every step in between.” There are 500 million neurons in your gut, which are connected to your brain through the nervous system. The connection occurs physically with the vagus nerve, one of the largest nerves connecting the brain and the gut. This nerve controls messages to many vital organs in the body and is the gut’s direct line of communication to the brain.
Hormones and neurotransmitters also act like the body’s messengers. One of the most famous neurotransmitters is serotonin, the chemical that creates feelings of happiness and helps regulate your internal clock.
While many neurotransmitters are produced in your brain, many are produced by the trillions of cells living in the microbiome. Recent research from the National Institute of Health suggests that a large portion of serotonin is produced in your gut.
If you’ve ventured into a health food store recently, you may have noticed a variety of supplements popping up with the term GABA. This stands for gamma-aminobutyric acid, an amino acid that is produced in the microbiome and acts as a neurotransmitter. GABA helps regulate feelings of anxiety, stress and fear.
But wait.. There's more
In the process of breaking down fiber, the bacteria in the gut also produces short chain fatty acids (SCFA). These fatty acids are known to regulate digestion and metabolism, affect brain function, and play an important role in overall health and reducing disease.
By controlling what is passed into the body and what is um, let go of, the gut plays an important role in the immune system and inflammation. High inflammation is known to contribute to a multitude of brain disorders.
The communication between the brain and the gut goes both ways. When you’re feeling stressed, changes in the gut can occur because of the body’s stress response system. When the processes of the gut are disrupted, hormones and the nervous system are affected. This then can directly affect how you feel.
If there’s anything we can emphasize here, it’s that everything is connected and it’s all about balance and tuning in to your own body. Next time you eat a crazy meal or start to have a “gut wrenching” feeling, pay attention.