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  • Writer's pictureJodi Forestell CHN. NNCP

The Gut-Brain Connection: How to Feed Your Brain

Updated: Nov 28, 2023

If there was ever a call for "digestive health," and how it connects to your mental health…this is it!

Yes, it's true. Your gut is considered your "second brain."

There is no denying it anymore.

And because of the new scientific discoveries about the vagus nerve, the enteric nervous system, and the amazing influence your gut microbes can have, it's no wonder what you eat feeds not only your body but can directly affect your brain.

This…was a game-changer for me.

What exactly is the "gut-brain connection?"

It's amazing and we’re still learning lots about it!

There seem to be multiple things working together…. like:

● The vagus nerve that links the gut directly to the brain.

● The enteric nervous system (A.K.A. “second brain) that helps the complex intricacies of digestion flow with little to no involvement from the actual brain.

● The massive number of neurotransmitters produced by the gut.

● The huge part of the immune system that is in the gut, but can travel throughout the body.

● The interactions and messages sent by the gut microbes.

I’ll briefly touch on these areas and end off with a delicious recipe (of course!)

Vagus nerve

This is the nerve that runs directly from the gut to the brain...think of it as a highway that connects your brain to your gut and all of your organs in it.

Here is the amazing part...80% of the transmission is from your gut to your brain...not from your brain to your gut (which is what we used to think). Only 20% of the transmission is from the brain to the gut. How cool is that?

The enteric nervous system and neurotransmitters

Would you believe me if I told you that the gut has more nerves than your spinal cord?

That’s right. And that's why it's referred to as the "second brain."

And, if you think about it, controlling the complex process of digestion (i.e. digestive enzymes, absorption of nutrients, the flow of food, etc.) should probably be done pretty "smartly"...don't you think?

And guess how these nerves speak to each other, and to other cells? By chemical messengers called "neurotransmitters."

Many of the neurotransmitters that have a strong effect on our mood are made in the gut! For example, a whopping 90% of serotonin is made in your gut, not in your brain! Serotonin is responsible for stabilizing our mood, feelings of well-being, and happiness. Mic drop.

The immune system of the gut

Because eating and drinking is a huge portal where disease-causing critters can get into your body, it makes total sense that much of our defence system would be located there too, right?

Did you know that seventy-five percent of our immune system is in our gut?

And you know that the immune cells can move throughout the entire body and cause inflammation just about anywhere, right?

Well, if they’re “activated” by something in the gut, they can potentially wreak havoc anywhere in the body. Including the potential to cause inflammation in the brain.

Gut microbes

These are your friendly neighbourhood gut residents. You have billions of those little guys happily living in your gut. And they do amazing things like help you digest certain foods, make certain vitamins, and even help regulate inflammation!

But more and more evidence is showing that changes in your gut microbiota can impact your mood, and even other, more serious, mental health issues.

How do these all work together for brain health?

The honest answer to how these things all works together is that we really don't know just yet. More and more studies are being done to learn more.

But one thing is becoming clear. A healthy gut goes hand-in-hand with a healthy brain!

So, how do you feed your brain?

Of course, a variety of minimally processed, nutrient-dense foods is required, because no nutrients work alone.

But two things that you many consider eating more of are fiber and omega-3 fats. Fiber found in fruits, veggies, nuts & seeds, help to feed your awesome gut microbes. And omega-3 fats found in fatty fish, algae, walnuts, and seeds like flax, chia, and hemp, are well-known inflammation-lowering brain boosters.

Recipe: Blueberry Hemp Overnight Oats

(Gut food: fibre. Brain food: omega-3)

Serves 2

1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)

1 cup oats (gluten-free)

1 cup almond milk

1 tablespoon chia seeds

2 tablespoons hemp seeds

½ teaspoon cinnamon

1 banana, sliced

¼ cup chopped walnuts

1. Blend blueberries in the food processor until smooth.

2. Mix blueberries, oats, almond milk, chia seeds, hemp seeds in a bowl with a lid. Let set in fridge overnight.

3. Split into two bowls and top with cinnamon, banana, and walnuts.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: Your gut microbes love to eat the fiber in the blueberries, oats, seeds, and nuts. Meanwhile, your brain loves the omega-3 fats in the seeds and nuts.

Come follow me on Instagram @jodileenutritionandwellness for more awesome holistic health tips.


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