I’m here to tell ya, if you want to feed your brain (aka take care of your mental health), you need to take care of your gut.
I can’t stress how important it is to take care of your “digestive health”. It doesn’t just affect how your tummy feels. All the rumbly in your tumbly is not the only thing to consider when I talk about your “digestive health”.
In case you don’t know, your gut is your “second brain.”
The cat’s out of the bag & there is no denying it anymore.
With all the new scientific discoveries about the vagus nerve, the enteric nervous system, and the amazing influence your gut microbes (I talk plenty about those little babies) can have, it’s no wonder what you eat not only feeds your body but can also directly affect your brain.
Feel tired and sluggish after eating a fast food meal? Feel great, alert & ready to take on the day after nourishing your body with whole foods? This shouldn’t surprise you, but it might. Start paying attention to how you feel at least for 2 hours after you eat something & write down what you discover.
I find it amazing what we feed our body & the condition of our gut can truly affect how our brain functions. (In all honesty, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise.)
What Is the “Gut-Brain Connection”?
So, if I’m telling you to “feed your brain” by taking care of your gut, then we need to talk a little bit about the gut-brain connection.
Well, I’ll tell ya, there’s A LOT to know. It’s super complex, and scientists are still learning lots about it, but I’ll tell you some basics.
There’s agreement there are multiple things working together. These things are things like:
- The vagus nerve.
- The “enteric nervous system” (A.K.A. “second brain).
- Neurotransmitters produced by the gut.
- The interactions and messages sent by the gut microbes.
The vagus nerve is a long “wondering” nerve rooted in the brainstem that branches out & runs all the way to the deepest part of your gut. Along the way, the “branched out” portions of the vagus nerve touches your heart, lungs and most major organs.
It used to be believed the communication was from your brain to your gut. Believe it or not, now it’s known, 90% of the transmission is from your gut to your brain! But, communication does run both ways.
Can you see why, when information runs from your gut to your brain it’s important to take care of your gut in order to feed your brain?
The Enteric Nervous System & Neurotransmitters
Next up is the Enteric Nervous System (ENS). This mesh-like system controls the function of your entire gastrointestinal tract. In fact, it has more than 100 million nerve cells (more nerves than your spinal cord!). It also controls motor functions, blood flow, immune functions, and helps digestion flow with little to no involvement from the actual brain.
This amazing system stretches across the digestive system and has its own reflexes (independent of the brain or spinal cord). Because of this independence, the ENS is referred to as the “second brain”.
Neurotransmitters are responsible for gut motility, nutrient absorption, the immune system, and the microbiome.
If you think about it, controlling the complex process of digestion (i.e. digestive enzymes, absorption of nutrients, the flow of food, etc.) should flow smoothly, right?!
Well, nerves speak to each other, and to other cells by chemical messengers called “neurotransmitters.”
In fact, many of the neurotransmitters, that have a strong effect on our mood, are made in the gut! You’ve probably heard of the neurotransmitter Serotonin, but did you know a whopping 95% of serotonin is made in your gut, not in your brain?!
So, when you’re having problems with depression and anxiety and are needing a little more serotonin to create happiness, make you more relaxed & confident, take care of your gut & it’ll feed your brain (help you create more serotonin).
The Gut’s Immune System
Now onto your immune systme, which is mostly in your gut! Not just a little bit, a whopping 75% percent is found in your
Eating and drinking is a huge portal where disease-causing critters can get into your body. So, it makes total sense so much of your defense system would be located there too.
Immune cells can move throughout the entire body and cause inflammation just about anywhere. Then, if they’re “activated” by something in the gut, they have the potential to wreak havoc anywhere in the body. This includes the potential to cause inflammation in the brain.
Dang! So, you guessed it. Another reason to feed your brain via the gut!
I’ve told you in other posts I’ve written, (HERE & HERE ) you have billions of amazing gut bugs. They’re responsible for some pretty dang amazing things like helpin you digest certain foods, making certain vitamins, and even helping regulate inflammation!
More and more evidence is showing changes in your gut microbiota can impact your mood, and even other, more serious, mental health issues. It’s also very promising that using things like probiotics, prebiotics & other gut modifying methods may be helpful as methods of treatment.
How Does All This Help Feed Your Brain?
You should be able to see all the intricate details that involve the gut also involve the brain. There’s still a lot of studies being done so we can learn even more!
One thing is becoming clear though. A healthy gut goes hand-in-hand with a healthy brain!
So, how do you feed your brain?
Of course, you want to eat a variety of minimally-processed, nutrient-dense foods, because no nutrients work alone. Remember, eat the rainbow. (I’m not talking about Skittles! lol)
Two things you may consider eating more of: fiber and omega-3 fats. Fiber from different sources (from fruits, veggies, beans, nuts & seeds) help feed your awesome gut microbes. Plus, omega-3 fats (from fatty fish, walnuts, and seeds like flax, chia, and hemp) are well-known inflammation-lowering brain boosters.
Now you’re lucky enough to get this gut and brain-friendly recipe I’m sharing with you today. Not only is it great for you, but it’s pretty dang yummy too!
Blueberry Hemp Overnight Oats
- 1 C blueberries fresh or frozen
- 1 C oats gluten-free
- 1 C almond milk
- 1 Tbs chia seeds
- 2 Tbs hemp seeds
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- 1 banana sliced
- ¼ C chopped walnuts
Blend blueberries in the food processor until smooth.
Mix blueberries, oats, almond milk, chia seeds, hemp seeds in a bowl with a lid. Let set in fridge overnight.
Split into two bowls and top with cinnamon, banana, and walnuts.
Serve & enjoy!
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.