The expression ‘gut feeling’ has recently taken on a whole new meaning. Neuroscience and medical research has identified that our brain and guts are intimately linked. The brain-guts axis is a two-way conversation with the health of our guts impacting upon our brain and our brain impacting our gut. With over 100 trillion microbes in our gut that is a lot of communication!
Our friendly gut residents are naturally occurring bacteria which collectively make up a population termed the commensal intestinal microbiome. They are crucial to our health and have been part of our evolutionary story, and us theirs.
The expressions linking our emotions to our gut – from the simple intuitive “gut feeling”, to anxious “butterflies in your stomach”, to the traumatic “gut wrenching”, all reflect how our emotional state, or mind, impacts the gut. Alterations in the brain to gut axis may lead to many significant health changes including increased stress reactivity and increased anxiety and depression, both of which impact upon brain health directly and indirectly.
However, because the communication is two way, gut to brain. We now know if we don’t look after our friendly gut bacteria, we may end up with too few healthy types of microbes and too many unhealthy ones, and as a result have increased allergies, asthma, reduced immunity, higher inflammation, increased fat storage, and potentially disease.
By maintaining the good resident populations of bacteria in our gut we are able to: keep the numbers of bad pathogenic bacteria which make us sick low. We can also potentially turn off the chronic systemic stress response, and reduce chronic inflammation. Importantly by caring for our guts we can keep up the positive production of neurotrophins which are like fertiliser for brain growth and enable neuroplasticity. Put simply, a happy gut means a brain can grow and we can flourish.
In order to promote your gut health and brain health there are key things we can do. A diverse diet of fresh fruit and vegetables is crucial to create the right pre-biotic balance for healthy microbes to develop. Reducing the white toxins we may consume is vital – they are salt, sugar, processed flour, and bad omega 6 fats. Addressing diet is not the only thing – we must also address our state of mind. Reducing stress, relaxation, meditation and mindfulness all have significant benefits for our guts and brain too.
This is a brief summary from Dr Nicola Gates’ book: A Brain for Life, due for release in 2016.
Nicola runs her own Brain and Mind Psychology boutique clinic in Sydney Level 4, Suite 407, 185 Elizabeth Street, Sydney, NSW, 2000. http://www.brainandmindpsychology.com/
Dr Nicola Gates is a regular Guest Speaker and Specialty Retreat facilitator at Golden Door. Join Dr Nicola Gates and Mel Overall for their Women’s Wellbeing – Hormones, Health and Happiness Specialty Retreat this 8-10 April. For more information click here