The Gut-Brain Axis – What if I told you that your body actually has two brains?

What if I told you that you were thinking about the human body all wrong? What if I told you that your body actually has two brains?

Can this really be true?

Yes, the gut or stomach has a mind of its own and it is known as the enteric nervous system. Just like the larger brain in the head, the enteric nervous system sends and receives impulses, records experiences and responds to emotions. Its nerve cells are influenced by the very same neurotransmitters.

Put it this way: The gut can upset the brain just as the brain can upset the gut.

You have often heard the phrase follow your gut instinct but did you ever think that your stomach was actually remembering something or independently trying to tell you something?

To understand this complex process, we first have to learn what the enteric nervous system is. The enteric nervous system is located in the sheaths of tissue lining the esophagus, stomach, small intestine and colon. Consider it as a single entity, comprised of a network of neurons, neurotransmitters and proteins that zap messages between neurons and a complex circuit that enables it to act independently, learn, remember and, as the saying goes, produce the gut feeling. The gut contains over 100 million neurons, which in fact, is more than the spinal cord. Major neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, glutamate, norepinephrine, and nitric oxide are found in the gut. More than 90% of the body’s serotonin lies in the gut, as well as about 50% of the body’s dopamine. This fact alone shows that there is an incredible relationship between your mood and what is going on in your gut. (We will be going in depth into this topic a bit later in the blog).

Here’s the thing: The brain and the gut directly communicate with one another.

The Gut-Brain Axis or GBA is a bidirectional (functioning in two directions) link between the central nervous system (CNS) and the enteric nervous system (ENS) of the body. It involves direct and indirect pathways between the cognitive and emotional centers in the brain with intestinal functions. The Gut-Brain Axis involves complex crosstalk with the endocrine, immune, and autonomic nervous system or ANS. The GBA combines the sympathetic (flight or fight response) and parasympathetic parts of the autonomic nervous system, which drives signals between the gut and the brain. The endocrine mediators of the Gut-Brain Axis allow the brain to influence intestinal functions by acting on immune cells, epithelial cells, enteric neurons, and smooth muscle cells.

Developmental biologists see how these systems are connected early on when we are still developing in the womb. A clump of tissue called the neural crest forms early in the embryo genesis. One section turns into the central nervous system, while the other piece migrates to become the enteric nervous system. These systems later become connected via a nerve called the Vagus nerve. The Vagus nerve, which is the longest nerve in the human body, wanders from the brain stem to the lowest viscera of your intestines, is like a communication superhighway of connectivity between your gut and brain.

One of the most important elements of the Gut-Brain axis is the microbiota of the gut. The human gut microbiota is made up of trillions of cells, including bacteria, viruses, and funguses. The human body is host to around 100 trillion of these; we have more of these microorganisms than we have of human cells. Human cells are outnumbered by about 10 to 1 by these microorganisms. Scientists have described these gut microbiota as a superorganism and recent studies are showing that the bacterial species Firmicutes and Bacteroides make up approximately 75% of the gut microbiota and are very sensitive to change. This means that your gut microbiota can be easily changed by things such as stress, bad diet, harsh cleaning products, antimicrobial treatments and disinfectant use.

We actually need a balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut and if there is a disruption of this percentage it can be associated with the prevalence of allergies, autoimmune diseases, metabolic disorder, and neuropsychiatric disorders. The body’s gut microbial is central to the development and maturation of the human CNS and ENS in the early stages of life. Many recent studies suggest that the gut microbiota produces relevant levels of neurotransmitters and is responsible for many facets of the individual’s health and the diseases they get.

You may ask why is this gut microbiota so important?

News Flash: There is growing evidence that the trillions of microbes inhabiting our gastrointestinal tracts or gut microbiota play a significant role in many aspects of our mental health ranging from neuropsychiatric disorders to major depressive disorder to anxiety and even your stress levels.

These microbes also play an important role in how we sleep, digest nutrients, gain weight, and have cravings for certain food.

Yes, you heard that correct, a bad diet and stress could be causing you to have depression or another serious mental illness.

So, Let’s Get Down to it

In a study done by Desbonnet and colleagues, they showed that rats that had undergone maternal separation (model of induced depression-like behavior) could be reversed by the treatment of a strain of a probiotic known as Bifidobacterium infants. This maternal separation causes reduced mobility and reduced levels of norepinephrine in these rats, but the symptoms were reversed with the treatment of this strain of probiotic.

In another study published in 2014 in Neurogastroenterology and Motility, the official journal of the European Gastrointestinal Motility Society, colleagues compared the fecal microorganism environment of 37 patients with depressive disorder and 18 non-depressed individuals. They discovered that people with depression had fewer kinds of some bacteria (Lachnospiraceae) and significantly more of others (Bacteroidales and Alistipes). It is also known that in humans, through functional MRI analysis that there is a chronic low-level inflammatory condition in many cases of depression.

Another mental illness, Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD shows signs that it may also involve the gut-brain axis. Analysis of genetic material from children with ASD showed a correlation between bacteria such as Clostridium and Desulfovibrio and altered neurobehavioral development. There have been observations of improved symptoms in ASD children who experience changes in gut microbial caused by ingestion of either antibiotics against these bacteria or probiotics that provide the gut with more good bacteria.

Bottom Line: Our intestines provide the bacteria with an environment to grow and the bacterium aids in governing homeostasis. Therefore, it is reasonable to think that the lack of healthy gut microbiota may also lead to a deterioration of these relationship and ultimately disease.

Put it this way: Just like mental illnesses can affect the stomach, stomach illness can affect mental health.

Some examples that show this are individuals suffering from IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) or CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome). IBS is a gastrointestinal disorder characterized by altered bowel habits in association with abdominal discomfort or pain. IBS is considered a “gut-brain disorder”, since it often worsens by stress. More than half of all IBS sufferers also have difficulties with depression and anxiety. The gut brain alteration is known to be a major factor in the onset of IBS. Just like IBS, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a multi-system illness, with developing symptoms such as depression, neurocognitive impairments that affect memory, thought, and communication. Recent studies have shown that higher levels of the bacteria lactobacillus are associated with poorer moods in CFS individuals. Some improvements in mood were observed when patients used antibiotic treatments to reduce the gut microbial imbalance.

Good News: The Gut microbiota can be intentionally manipulated to help maintain health and prevent or treat disease.

1.Probiotics

Recent evidence suggests that alterations to the gut microbiota composition through probiotic treatment could attenuate neuropsychiatric symptoms or even reduce the risk of developing future psychiatric symptoms. An example of this is treatment with the strain Lactobacillus rhamnosus, which shows changes in GABA expression in the cortical cingulate, hippocampus, and amygdala.

At Incredible Health, we understand that your body must obtain and absorb the right nutrients to function properly and remain disease-free. Gut inflammation is an underlying cause of more serious symptoms. We understand that solving underlying problems fixes the disease, rather than just trying to mask the problem. This is why we use clinically researched probiotics here at Incredible Health,UltraFlora Balance and UltraFlora Control. UltraFlora Balance’s main ingredient is the widely studied NCFM strain which has fixed severe GI symptoms in clinical trials. UltraFlora Control is designed for weight loss by controlling body fat and body weight in clinical trials.

2.Limit Use of Antibiotics

Antibiotics reduce the numbers and diversity of commensal bacteria, which can allow pathogenic or parasitic microbes an opportunity to thrive in. Changes caused by antibiotics have been shown to influence adult behavior through modulation of hormone expression levels and tryptophan metabolic pathways, which are associated with serotonin secretion.

In recent studies, mice that were treated with antibiotics performed worse on memory tests, whereas mice given probiotics or an exercise wheel, showed profound improvements.

3.Diet and Lifestyle

Diet manipulation can influence gut microbiota by affecting composition and function of the microbial community. The western diet lacks a great deal of variety, which could lead to a very low diversity of gut bacteria amongst its populations. Also, high fat diets change the balance of the carbohydrate digesting bacteria, so you become less efficient at digesting carbohydrates and get less energy out of it, which can lead to increased weight gain or bloating.

Another negative lifestyle factor is alcohol. Alcohol can damage the good bacteria in your stomach and induce dysbiosis (a microbial imbalance). Eating a healthy well-balanced diet that is high in fiber, low on saturated fat, with a good amount of protein, fruits, and vegetables is the best way to keep your gut microbiota balanced.

The next lifestyle change that is extremely important is exercise. Recent studies suggest that exercise can enhance the number of beneficial microbial species, enrich the microflora diversity, and improve the development of commensal bacteria.

So, it all adds up to this: In order to keep your gut-brain axis happy and healthy, one should eat a healthy well-balanced meal, exercise every day, take a probiotic, limit antibiotics, and avoid alcohol to achieve a great gut microbiota balance that will keep your stomach happy, your brain smart, and your mood merry.

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