Let me preface this post by saying I’m not a doctor, nor am I an expert in gut-brain connection. I’m simply knowledgeable in the subject of gut health after battling with it myself. At the age of 14, I dealt with an unpleasant intestinal infection that changed how I viewed nutrition. I began to understand that the way I nourished my body had a direct impact on the connection between my gut and my brain - and vice versa. Though I still reach for the occasional treat with zero nutritional value (hello spicy Cheetos), I know how important it is to build a lifestyle that allows me to nourish my body to bring balance to both my mind and gut.
Gut health has become the topic of conversation as of late. We are becoming more aware as to the importance of the microbiome (essentially, a colony of cells (microbes) that live in your gut, skin, etc.), and directing our attention to how much those microbes affect our digestion, immune system, inflammation, and mental health. Our guts overall health, commonly known as the “second brain”, is vital to our well-being. Creating its own nervous system called the Enteric Nervous System, the primary job of the second brain is to help regulate our digestion and send signals to our brain through the vagal nerve. The signals that are being sent are directed by our microbes, sending them from our gut to our brain and vice versa – two way street!
When it comes to our nutrition, if we aren’t taking care of our gut, and our gut flora becomes imbalanced, those microbes responsible for sending signals to our brain can become distorted and influence our mood, not in a good way. The same negative impact works the other way when we begin to experience a lot of stress in our lives. The adrenaline and cortisol, the biochemical representatives of stress in the tissue of the human body, also begin to have an effect on our gastrointestinal tract.
I realize there is a long list of things one can do to improve their brain health and maintain a healthy gut. However, below is a quick list of what you can start incorporating in your daily life:
Daily Probiotics: the addition of probiotics, “good bacteria”, in your microbiome help change the bacteria in your intestines. This is both a benefit for your digestive system, and, in theory, meant to help treat chronic mental conditions. I’ve personally found it’s been helpful with my anxiety and my gut health has improves as reactions to my intolerances seem to be less painful when I choose to indulge in dairy.
Fiber + Ferment: choosing to add more fibrous vegetables and fermented options (kimchi, kombucha, etc.) is important for your gut. Microbes love prebiotic fiber! Ultimately, your digestive and immune system benefits by adding something as simple as kombucha or split peas (whopping 16.3 grams of fiber per cup). Note: Tonica is my go-to kombucha (least amount of sugar).
Turmeric: my go-to when bloated, turmeric is a beauty when it comes to its anti-inflammatory properties. In addition to helping with inflammation, turmeric helps prevent digestive health problems and helps that gut of yours function better.
Collagen: not only is collagen great for hair, nails, skin, and joint pain, the glutamine in collagen (one of the amino acids), is known to prevent inflammation of your gut wall and is an assistant in healing the common leaky gut.
Mindfullness: be mindful of how you feel both mentally and physically. Be grateful for your day, be aware of your current state and how you can bring yourself to a more positive space (if you aren’t already), and take a moment to decide what you’re going to nourish your body with. Of course, indulge when you want to, but be mindful of how what you consume impacts that gut-brain connection!
There is a lot of information out there on gut-brain connection. I highly suggest you read about it in depth. Find small ways to make changes that bring you a step closer to living a healthier lifestyle, so that you’re protecting your gut and your mental state. Eating well, exercising, boosting those endorphins, all lead you to a more positive and healthy life. I’m not sitting here snacking on kale because I love it (ok, I do), I’m eating a cleaner diet now because I know how something as small as a change from all purpose flour to coconut or quinoa flour can be! How zucchini noodles and cashew cheese has more nutritional value than the pasta with alfredo sauce and tastes equally as delicious (if not better) and takes the same amount of time to prepare. I’m not saying I never eat those things, I’m just making the right choices when I can, more often than not. The more I look at the connection, the better I’ve become at handling my anxiety and stress, the more aware I am of my body.