Gut Health and the Brain
by Kathy Smith
Gut Health and the Brain
When you have a “gut feeling” about something, you should probably pay attention. The gut is loaded with nerve tissue and is sometimes called the second brain…it’s why you get butterflies when excited or gastrointestinal distress when you’re emotionally stressed.
Your gut is one of the most important organs for a healthy brain. Scientists are recognizing that digestive issues like constipation, irritable bowel, candida, acid reflux and diarrhea triggers silent inflammation and affects your mood and your brain function…so a balanced gut will help improve brain health.
The billions of microorganisms that are present in the gut are what keep things working. For a healthy gut, it’s important to have more good organisms than bad ones. When the balance shifts, your body fights off the bad bacteria, which leads to inflammation. And chronic inflammation increases your risk for certain diseases like cardiovascular disease and heart disease.
One of the most noticeable reactions to inflammation is a drop in energy. But your gut and your brain are also not working at their highest level when inflammation is present. The greater the level of inflammation in your digestive system, the greater likelihood that your brain will be affected, shifting your moods and making you less focused and foggy.
Studies have shown that specific good bacteria in the gut can short circuit certain hormones. When you’re experiencing stress, your body releases the hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Too high a level of these hormones in your body not only increases inflammation, but makes you feel edgy, anxious or even depressed. A healthy balance of a wide variety of good bacteria sends signals to your brain that it’s not necessary to send these hormones out into your body, leading to improved, calmer mood.
The right combination of foods is one of the best ways to balance your gut. Adding probiotics helps reduce inflammation in the gut, which allows the good bacteria to flourish. Probiotics include: Miso, kimchi, live yogurts, kombucha, water kefir, milk kefir, sauerkraut and cabbage.
Adding probiotics to your meals is easier than you think. I like to add sauerkraut to my salads and probiotics in my protein shakes. Kefir is a great way to start your probiotic adventure because its flavor is similar to yogurt and it has a drinkable consistency. In fact, most kefir is available in bottles and sold as smoothies. Naturally fermented pickles are a crunchy way to balance your gut.
And one of the most surprising, enjoyable and by far easiest ways to improve gut balance doesn’t even involve food. Studies have shown that spending time with your pet increases the good bacteria in your gut. Maybe dog kisses aren’t so bad after all!