The Gut Brain Connection

 The respected Journal of Neuroscience called it a ‘paradigm shift’ of enormous magnitude that upsets hundreds of years of neuroscience.

What were they talking about? They were referring to the recent discovery that when our microbiome gets out of balance it can mess up how our brain functions, potentially leading to serious conditions like autism, anxiety, depression and chronic pain.

The subject of gut health is expanding day by day and is currently one of the hottest areas of scientific research.

We’ve learned that the state of our gut doesn’t just affect our digestion, but other fundamental systems in our body such as the immune system and our metabolism.

For more info take a look at How Do I Know If My Gut Is Unhealthy? and What Is My Microbiome And Why Does It Matter?

Our Gut & Brain Are Closely Connected

We’re all gradually getting our heads around this newfound knowledge and figuring out what it means for us on a day to day level. Many people are skeptical.

One suggestion in particular that raises skeptical eyebrows is that the health of our gut and our mental health are closely connected.

Common phrases like ‘gut instinct’ and ‘butterflies in my stomach’ show that we all instinctively know there’s some kind of connection between our gut and brain.

But it’s a big leap from there to suggest that the state of our gut might somehow be playing a role in our depression, autism, schizophrenia or dementia. Or is it?

Gut Brain Connection

The Gut and Autism

If you’re into gut health you may have heard of the GAPS diet. It’s very similar to the Paleo diet and is a powerful gut-healing system. It involves making big changes to your diet in order to reboot your gut.

You may be surprised to learn that GAPS stands for Gut and Psychology Syndrome and it was developed to treat autistic children.  It had been noted for some time that people on the autism spectrum often had chronic digestive problems as well as behavioural ones.

GAPS was created by Dr Natasha Campbell McBride to treat her own child who was suffering from autism and was so successful that she started using it in her clinic to treat patients.

Her work was controversial but is being supported by more and more scientific studies on the gut-brain link.

For example it’s been shown that if you have IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) or IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease) you are more likely to be anxious or depressed than other people.

Which comes first, brain problem or gut problem?

Folks with brain issues such as depression, autism and dementia normally have gut issues and vice versa: folks with gut issues such as IBS and IBD normally have brain issues.

Does the brain issue cause the gut disturbance or is it the other way around: having a bad gut makes us susceptible to brain problems? It’s like a riddle! Which comes first the chicken or the egg?

I believe the answer is BOTH! It appears to be a complex feedback loop with both gut and brain affecting each other.

We know our microbiome is in constant communication with our central nervous system, and that it’s a TWO-WAY conversation.

The good news is we can hack into this process and make BOTH our gut AND brain work better (see action steps below!).

Gut Brain Issues Interrelated

Our Second Brain

The gut is stuffed full of nerve pathways of such complexity that scientists call it the ‘second brain’ or the ‘gut brain’.

There is continual communication between our gut and our brain, going both ways. The vagus nerve (Vagus Baby!!) is the hotline. 

Why does the gut brain need to be so sophisticated?! Why does it have as many neurons as our brain?

The gut brain is essentially a supercomputer. It is much more than is needed just to push out a poop! Something this sophisticated would only evolve for a good reason.

Scientists don’t have all the answers yet but we now know the gut and microbiome play a huge role in our immune system. There are thousands of species of friendly microbes inside us, all pushing and pulling in different ways. It makes sense that we would need a supercomputer to keep on top of that!

Leaky Gut

So how exactly does a broken gut lead to a broken brain?  The science is still in its infancy but we’re able to sketch out the mechanism in broad terms:

  • The microbiome gets out of balance from a combination of diet, lifestyle and medical reasons.
  • This results in too many bad bacteria and not enough good ones.
  • The bad bacteria produce chemical byproducts that are toxic to us.
  • Without enough friendly microbes, the food we eat isn’t broken down properly..
  • The gut lining becomes inflamed and porous. The scientists call it ‘intestinal permeability’. Everyone else calls it leaky gut.
  • The nasty bacterial byproducts and undigested proteins from food pass into our bloodstream, where they don’t belong.
  • From there, these unwanted chemicals can pass across the blood-brain barrier and mess up our brain’s delicate neurochemistry.

Result: brain function is impaired, perhaps just a little but potentially a lot, with conditions ranging from anxiety and depression to autism and dementia.

It Goes Both Ways

Damage to our microbiome affects our brain, and it’s also the other way around: damage or stress to the brain affects our gut health.

For example, if you’re feeling stressed, your gut suffers and you may notice a worsening in your digestion.

A 2016 study found that people who experience a stroke also suffer damage to their microbiome as a result. Friendly bacteria die back and become dominated by unhelpful ones following the stroke, leading to an increase in leaky gut.

In the same study, scientists found that transplanting microbes from healthy mice helped sick mice to recover from strokes. This means that in the future, people who suffer from stroke might have their recovery speeded up by receiving treatment on their microbiome.

That microbiome treatment may include fecal transplants from healthy donors. And when I say fecal transplant, yes… I mean poop transplant! Eww gross! But then again, if it works, it’s worth it!

Action Steps

So why not maximise your chances of getting over mental health problem by fixing your gut?

For simple steps you can take today, here are my 6 dead-easy steps to switch your microbiome from lousy to awesome!

  1. Eat more unprocessed, homemade food and eat less junk food.
  2. In particular eat less refined carbs like white bread, pasta, pastries, cereal, as the bad bacteria LOVE these
  3. Take a good quality probiotic for at least 3-6 months.
  4. Have a little live, fermented food or drink – like yoghurt, sauerkraut or kombucha – with every meal
  5. Don’t go crazy on the antibiotics! Be guided by your doctor, but you don’t need them as much as you think. Save them for real emergencies and instead try a natural antibiotic.
  6. Lifestyle – make at least one change today out of this list:  
    • Exercise consistently, light or heavy intensity, both help our friendly gut bugs.
    • Drink less alcohol!
    • Be less stressed!

You can also explore the topic further in Brain Health Begins In Your Gut

LET US KNOW WHAT YOU THINK IN THE COMMENTS BELOW!
WE LOVE TO HEAR YOUR VIEWS AND QUESTIONS!

Whenever you’re ready to become a fully-fledged Gut Geek™ here are 4 ways we can help you heal your gut, get your sh*t together and transform your health

1. Subscribe to receive regular strategies and hacks that you can use TODAY

All our blogposts and social media are focused on bringing simplicity to the baffling world of nutrition and supplements. We also provide easy-peasy action steps that you can use to start seeing immediate improvement. Subscribe to get the very best of our content straight to your inbox!

2. Follow our daily social posts and video stories religiously

Our content is produced in a combination of written posts and video stories, all neatly tied together around the topic of the week. This gives you constant learning in manageable, bite-sized chunks.

3. Join us for a live online workshop

Head to our workshop registration page for info on our next free online training, and get ready to geek out

4. Join our coaching program

There’s nothing like 1-on-1 coaching to massively accelerate your progress and achieve the results you dream about! We’ll create your very own personalised gut-healing roadmap and then guide you through it. Just send us a message telling us a little about your current challenges and what you’d most like help with and we’ll get right back to you.

7 thoughts on “The Gut Brain Connection”

  1. LOVE this post. My husband suffers from IBS, and my mom has ulcerative colitis. They both have delicate guts that can be thrown off my the smallest of triggers. It can be frustrating that research is in its infancy, but I’m glad that it is happening. The more we know, the more treatments will be available.
    In the meantime, I love your action steps. I always recommend probiotics, either in capsules or naturally in food. And definitely being cautious when it comes to antibiotics; only have them when absolutely necessary!
    Thanks for sharing this info!

Let us know what you think

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Share this article

Help spread the word! Every share matters.

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on whatsapp
Share on linkedin

Other recent blog posts

Weight Loss: Is The Secret In Our Bacteria?

On the face of it there is no obvious connection between the microbes in our gut and being able to lose weight. We know these bacteria help us digest food but so what?

Four Powerful Steps to Reverse Autoimmune

Autoimmune conditions bring misery to an estimated 20% of the population. Conventional wisdom is that they are incurable but many people are beating these conditions by healing their gut. Let’s see how they’re doing it.

Why Cod Liver Oil Is Ridiculously Useful

Opinions are always shifting on which health supplements are best but one perennial favourite is cod liver oil. So what’s the big deal? It turns out that cod liver oil isn’t just Grandma’s favourite. It’s actually a vital supplement for healing our gut.