Good Gut Health Linked To Optimal Brain Health

Gut Health – Brain Health Connection

How can gut health affect your brain? Well your must know that your brain has a direct effect on the stomach. For example, the very thought of eating can release the stomach’s juices before food gets there. This connection goes both ways. A troubled intestine can send signals to the brain, just as a troubled brain can send signals to the gut. Therefore, a person’s stomach or intestinal distress can be the cause or the product of anxiety, stress, or depression. That’s because the brain and the gastrointestinal (GI) system are intimately connected, so intimately that they could be viewed as one system.

The impact of your gut health on your brain function has been confirmed by a study published in Gastroenterology by UCLA researchers who found that probiotics (beneficial bacteria) indeed altered the brain function in the participants.

As reported by UCLA:

“Researchers have known that the brain sends signals to your gut, which is why stress and other emotions can contribute to gastrointestinal symptoms. This study shows what has been suspected but until now had been proved only in animal studies: that signals travel the opposite way as well.

‘Time and time again, we hear from patients that they never felt depressed or anxious until they started experiencing problems with their gut, Dr. Kirsten Tillisch said. ‘Our study shows that the gut–brain connection is a two-way street.’

Gut Health Affects Your Brain Function

The study enlisted 36 women between the ages of 18 and 55 who were divided into three groups:

  • The treatment consumed several probiotic species thought to have a beneficial impact on intestinal health, twice a day for one month
  • Another group ate a “sham” product that looked and tasted like real probiotic but contained no probiotics
  • Control group ate no product at all

Before and after the four-week study, participants’ underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans, both while in a state of rest, and in response to an “emotion-recognition task.” For the latter, the women were shown a series of pictures of people with angry or frightened faces, which they had to match to other faces showing the same emotions.

“This task, designed to measure the engagement of affective and cognitive brain regions in response to a visual stimulus, was chosen because previous research in animals had linked changes in gut flora to changes in affective behaviors,” UCLA explains.

The results of the study were very interesting and give more insight into the importance of maintaining good gut health. In the women who consumed probiotics there was decreased activity in two brain regions that control central processing of emotion and sensation:

  • The insular cortex (insula), which plays a role in functions typically linked to emotion (including perception, motor control, self-awareness, cognitive functioning, and interpersonal experience) and the regulation of your body’s homeostasis.
  • The somatosensory cortex, which plays a role in your body’s ability to interpret a wide variety of sensations.

During the resting brain scan, the treatment group showed greater connectivity between a region known as the periaqueductal grey and areas of the prefrontal cortex associated with cognition. In contrast, the control group showed greater connectivity of the periaqueductal grey to emotion area (insula)- and sensation-related regions (somatosensory).

According to UCLA:

“’The researchers were surprised to find that the brain effects could be seen in many areas, including those involved in sensory processing and not merely those associated with emotion,’ Tillisch said…

‘There are studies showing that what we eat can alter the composition and products of the gut flora — in particular, that people with high-vegetable, fiber-based diets have a different composition of their microbiota, or gut environment, than people who eat the more typical Western diet that is high in fat and carbohydrates,’ [senior author Dr. Emeran] Mayer said. ‘Now we know that this has an effect not only on the metabolism but also affects brain function.'”

Good Gut Health For Robust Brain Health

Your nervous system is divided into two main divisions, the Central Nervous System (CNS), which consists of your Brain and Spinal Cord, and the second division called the Peripheral Nervous System (PNS), which consists of all the nerves outside of the CNS.

The PNS is further divided into 2 divisions, the Somatic Nervous System (SNS) and the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS).

Finally, the ANS is divided into 3 parts, the Sympathetic division (fight or flight), the Parasympathetic division (rest and digest) and the Enteric Nervous System (Brain in the Belly).

The Enteric Nervous System (ENS) and CNS are connected via the Vagus nerve, which is the tenth cranial nerve that originates in the brain stem and runs down into your abdomen. This communication between the CNS and ENS is a Bidirectional Pathway because, just like your brain, your gut sends and receives impulses, records experiences and responds to emotions. Its nerve cells are bathed and influenced by the same neurotransmitters as the brain and spinal cord. When there is poor gut health the gut can upset the brain just as the brain can upset the gut.

How important is good gut health? Well, while many people think of their brain as the organ in charge, your gut actually sends far more information to your brain than your brain sends to your gut… 

Proper Gut Microbes For Optimal Health

Now here’s some really interesting information, research has shown that the bacteria that make up the microflora of your gut transmit information to your brain via the vagus nerve as well!!!

For instance, in December 2011, the Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility reported the novel finding that the probiotic (good bacteria) known as Bifidobacterium longum NCC3001 has been shown to help normalize anxiety-like behavior in mice with infectious colitis.

In recent years, it’s become increasingly clear that the microbes in your gut play not only an important role in your gut health but a much more vital role in your overall health than previously thought possible. In fact, probiotics, along with a host of other gut microorganisms, are so crucial to your health that researchers have compared them to “a newly recognized organ.” Besides research implicating gut health via gut bacteria in mental health and behavior, other research has shown that your microbiota also has an impact on:

  1. Immune system function: Biologist Sarkis Mazmanian believes bacteria can train your immune system to distinguish between “foreign” microbes and those originating in your body. His work is laying the groundwork for new therapies using probiotics to treat a variety of diseases, particularly autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s.

Mazmanian and colleagues were recently awarded the MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” for identifying an organism that originates in the human body (opposed to a fermented food) that has demonstrable health benefits in both animal and human cells. The organism has been named Bacteroides fragilis, and has been shown to decrease the symptoms associated with Autism.

  1. Gene expression: Researchers have discovered that the absence or presence of gut microorganisms during infancy permanently alters gene expression. Through gene profiling, they were able to discern that absence of gut bacteria altered genes and signaling pathways involved in learning, memory, and motor control. This suggests that gut bacteria are closely tied to early brain development and subsequent behavior. These behavioral changes could be reversed as long as the mice were exposed to normal microorganisms early in life. But once the germ-free mice had reached adulthood, colonizing them with bacteria did not influence their behavior.

In a similar way, probiotics have also been found to improve gut health and influence the activity of hundreds of your genes, helping them to express in a positive, disease-fighting manner.

  1. Diabetes: Bacterial populations in the gut of diabetics differ from non-diabetics, according to a study from Denmark. In particular, diabetics had fewer Firmicutes and more plentiful amounts of Bacteroidetes and Proteobacteria, compared to non-diabetics. The study also found a positive correlation for the ratios of Bacteroidetes to Firmicutes and reduced glucose tolerance. The researchers concluded:

“The results of this study indicate that type 2 diabetes in humans is associated with compositional changes in intestinal microbiota.”

  1. Obesity: The make-up of gut bacteria tends to differ in lean vs. obese people. This is one of the strongest areas of probiotic gut health research to date. The bottom line is that to improve gut health you must start by restoring your gut flora should be an important consideration if you’re struggling to lose weight.
  1. Autism: Establishment of good gut health through normal gut flora in the first 20 days or so of life plays a crucial role in long term gut health and the appropriate maturation of your baby’s immune system. Hence, babies who develop abnormal gut health by having an abnormal gut flora are left with compromised immune systems and are particularly at risk for developing such disorders as ADHD, learning disabilities and autism, particularly if they are vaccinated before restoring balance to their gut flora and improving their gut health.

Proper Gut Flora For Optimal Health

Mounting research indicates the good gut health with good bacterial colonies residing in your gut may play key roles in the development of cancer, asthma, allergies, obesity, diabetes, autoimmune diseases and even brain, behavioral and emotional problems like ADHD, autism and depression. When you consider the fact that the gut-brain connection is recognized as a basic tenet of physiology and medicine, and that there’s no shortage of evidence of gastrointestinal involvement in a variety of neurological diseases, it’s easy to see how the balance of gut bacteria can play a significant role in your psychology and behavior as well.  gut-health-improving-img

With this in mind, it should also be crystal clear that improving your gut health by nourishing your gut flora is extremely important, from cradle to grave, because in a very real sense you have two brains, one inside your skull and one in your gut, and for good gut health and good brain health each needs its own vital nourishment. Taking a probiotic supplement is definitely advised.

I recommend looking for a probiotic supplement that fulfills the following criteria, to ensure quality and efficacy:

  • The bacteria strains in the product must be able to survive your stomach acid and bile, so that they reach your intestines alive in adequate numbers.
  • The bacteria strains must have health-promoting features
  • The probiotic activity must be guaranteed throughout the entire production process, storage period and shelf life of the product.

For My Patients I use Klaire Labs’ Line of Probiotics