The Connection between the Gut and the Brain

The human body is full of mysterious connections. Take, for example, the eyes and the brain. Did you know that the width of blood vessels in your retina may be an indicator of brain health and cognitive function? Or consider your skin and your blood pressure. Studies have found that individuals within the same age group who have more youthful looking skin tend to have lower blood pressure and a lower risk of heart disease. These unexpected connections within our body are fun to think about, but they rarely have an impact on our daily lives. However, there is one connection within your body that does deserve regular attention: the link between your brain and your gut. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, which is a good time to consider the effects that your gut can have on your emotional wellbeing.

The human gut harbors over 100 trillion microbial cells which play an active role in our mental and emotional health. These gut microbes produce hundreds of neurochemicals which our body uses to regulate mental processes, such as learning, mood and memory. In fact, an estimated 95 percent of the body’s serotonin – the neurotransmitter that acts as a mood stabilizer and enables communication between the brain cells and nervous system cells – is produced within the digestive tract (Source: American Psychological Association).

You can actually feel the connection between your brain and your gut every time you experience butterflies in your stomach, but the impact that the gut has on the brain extends far beyond a few nervous jitters. Scientists have found evidence suggesting that bacterial imbalance in the gut can actually affect behavior and may contribute to conditions such as depression and anxiety.

Researchers at McMaster University found that when healthy adult mice had their gut bacteria altered through antibiotics, the mice exhibited higher levels of risk-taking behavior and showed an increase in the stress hormone cortisol. These changes were accompanied by an increase of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a brain chemical linked to depression and anxiety in humans (Source: McMaster University).

The good news about this gut-brain connection is that you can naturally improve brain chemistry and elevate your mood by eating a well-balanced diet filled with probiotics. Probiotics are the “good bacteria” that promote a healthy microbial balance in the digestive tract. You can find probiotics naturally in fermented foods such as cultured yogurt, sauerkraut, kombucha, and kimchi, or you can opt for a probiotic supplement to ensure your body gets a full dose of these gut-friendly microbes. By giving your gut the balance it needs, you are sure to enjoy a wealth of benefits that can be felt in mind, body and spirit.

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