There is a profound connection between our gut and brain — something that has been studied and observed for centuries, dating back to Ancient Greece and the Dong-jin dynasty.
The gut-brain connection, or gut-brain axis as it's known, refers to the intricate communication network between our gastrointestinal system and our central nervous system.
This connection can be tied to everything from digestion to mental health.
Let’s explore that connection and discuss why gut health matters, how gut health impacts our lives, and how to maintain a healthy gut.
Understanding the Gut Microbiota
At the core of the gut-brain connection lies the gut microbiota, a complex ecosystem residing in our GI system. These microorganisms — including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa — form a symbiotic relationship with our bodies, playing a crucial role in our daily functions.
In a “healthy” person, the gut microbiota has numerous benefits, including:
- Stimulating the immune system
- Synthesizing vitamins and amino acids, including B vitamins and vitamin K
- Breaking down complex carbs and fiber
- Preventing chronic diseases
- Improving muscle function
- Protecting the body against harmful pathogens and toxins
- And more!
It is easy to throw this delicate system of microorganisms off balance, opening up a whole world of potential issues.
Your Gut Has a Second Brain
All those gut microbiota connect with the enteric nervous system (ENS), often referred to as the "second brain."
The ENS is a complex network of nerve cells lining your gut, enabling it to communicate with the central nervous system. This communication goes both ways — the gut sends signals to the brain and the brain influences gut function.
Obviously, your ENS plays a role in regulating digestion. It helps break down food, absorb nutrients, and keep things moving through your digestive tract.
However, it goes beyond digestion. The ENS can also impact mood and emotions — which is why you may experience a "gut feeling" or “butterflies in your stomach,” especially during times when you’re nervous or stressed.
Studies have linked gut health and an imbalance of gut microbiota to several mental illnesses, including anxiety and depression. There is even ongoing research linking gut health to Alzheimer’s disease and other chronic issues.
Gut Health Impacts the Immune System
As noted, all those microorganisms in your gut stimulate the immune system. That means a healthy gut is fundamental to your immune system. In fact, 70% of your immune system is located in the gut.
The gut microbiota helps train these immune cells to recognize and respond to potential threats effectively.
When the gut microbiota is in balance, it helps prevent harmful pathogens from proliferating and causing infections. However, an imbalanced microbiota can lead to dysregulation of the immune system, contributing to the development of autoimmune diseases and allergies.
Strategies for Improving Gut Health
Now we’ve talked about how gut health plays a role in your mental health, digestive system, immune system, and many other areas of your life. But what can you do to improve it and impact every area of your life? Here are some practical strategies to improve gut health and nurture the gut-brain connection.
Improve Your Diet
What we eat has a direct impact on the health and diversity of our gut microbiota.
A diet rich in fiber from fruits, vegetables, and legumes promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria, contributing to a diverse and healthy gut microbiota.
On the other side, research has found that processed foods, sugars, and artificial additives can negatively affect gut health. These foods have been shown to disrupt the balance of the gut microbiota, causing inflammation and digestive issues.
Consider adding fermented and prebiotic-rich foods to your diet, such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, almonds, and kombucha.
Get More Sleep
Sleep can also impact your gut health — which is an area scientists are continuing to explore.
A connection between sleep and health seems natural. Sleep allows your gut to rest and repair so it can operate at its best.
And, if we’re honest, humans don’t always make the best dietary choices when we’re tired. Most of us are more likely to opt for cookies or McDonald’s after a long day than some carrots.
A lack of sleep can also trigger stress — which impacts that bilateral connection between your ENS and your brain.
Take Care of Your Mental Health
Speaking of stress, taking steps to minimize anxiety and stress in your life can have a positive impact on gut health.
Prioritize natural stress-reduction techniques, such as meditation, yoga, taking walks, and spending time in nature, to support a healthy gut environment. These are all key pieces of radical self care and maintaining overall wellness.
Go Beyond Probiotics
Probiotics and supplements are often brought up in conversations around gut health and digestive issues. While these probiotics can help support your digestive system and immune system, they do little to actually regulate the body. That’s where we come in.
Somaya Life is the first “anthrobiotic.” We’re going beyond a probiotic with dedicated Smart Strains™ of good bacteria with targeted roles to balance the microbiome and boost the gut-brain connection.
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