If there was ever a call for “digestive health,” this is it!

There is much talk about how to manage your stress through mindfulness and living a balanced healthy lifestyle. Move, breathe, and eat well. But did you know how important what you eat and how you digest really is to your overall mental health?

Your gut is considered your “second brain.”

Yes, its true! There is no denying it anymore.

With more scientific discoveries coming out about the vagus nerve, the enteric nervous system, and the amazing influence your gut microbes can have, it’s no wonder what you eat feeds not only your body but can directly affect your brain.

I find it amazing (but not too surprising) – after all, we are an intricate system from mind, body and energy! That’s why I named my company Nourished Union – as its critical to nourish every layer of our being, to be whole and well!

So, to be well means to be aware of the intricacies of our being, and how they connect. And one of the greatest connections is that of the gut-brain!

So, what exactly is the “gut-brain connection.”

It’s very complex, and to be honest, we’re still learning lots about it!

There seem to be multiple things working together.  Things like:

The interactions and messages sent by the gut microbes.
  • The vagus nerve that links the gut directly to the brain
  • The “enteric nervous system” (A.K.A. “second brain) that helps the complex intricacies of digestion flow with little to no involvement from the actual brain
  • The massive amount of neurotransmitters produced by the gut
  • The huge part of the immune system that is in the gut, but can travel throughout the body

This is complex. And amazing, if you ask me.

I’ll briefly touch on these areas, and end off with a delicious recipe!


Vagus nerve:

There is a nerve that runs directly from the gut to the brain.

And after reading this so far, you’ll probably get a sense of which direction 90% of the transmission is…

Not from your brain to your gut (which is what we used to think), but from your gut up to your brain!

The enteric nervous system and neurotransmitters

Would you believe me if I told you that the gut has more nerves than your spinal cord?

And that’s why it’s referred to as the “second brain.”

The GI tract has its own nervous system – the enteric nervous system (ENS). In fact the ENS can operate on its own, separate from the central nervous system (CNS). The ENS contains some 100 million neurons.

And, if you think about it, controlling the complex process of digestion (i.e. digestive enzymes, absorption of nutrients, the flow of food, etc.) should probably be done pretty “smartly”…don’t you think?

And guess how these nerves speak to each other, and to other cells? By chemical messengers called “neurotransmitters.”

In fact, many of the neurotransmitters that have a strong effect on our mood are made in the gut! e.g. a whopping 95% of serotonin is made in your gut, not in your brain!

The immune system of the gut

Because eating and drinking is a huge portal where disease-causing critters can get into your body, it makes total sense that much of our defence system would be located there too, right? Seventy-five percent of our immune system is in our gut!

And you know that the immune cells can move throughout the entire body and cause inflammation just about anywhere, right?

Well, if they’re “activated” by something in the gut, they can potentially wreak havoc anywhere in the body. Including the potential to cause inflammation in the brain.

Gut microbes

Your friendly neighbourhood gut residents. You have billions of those little guys happily living in your gut. And they do amazing things like help you digest certain foods, make certain vitamins, and even help regulate inflammation!

But more and more evidence is showing that changes in your gut microbiota can impact your mood, and even other, more serious, mental health issues.


How do these all work together for brain health?

The honest answer to how these things all work together is that science is still working to figure out what many of the eastern sciences have known for thousands of years…

But one thing is becoming clear. A healthy gut goes hand-in-hand with a healthy brain!

A variety of minimally-processed, nutrient-dense foods is required, because no nutrients work alone.

And a key thing to remember is that the food we put into our body, directly affects the whole. It affects every major system from the lymphatic, cardiovascular, nervous and adrenal systems. The information the food provides us goes beyond giving us essential nutrients, calories and fats that support the physical body. It also affects our hormonal balance, how we feel and behave.

Conversely – long standing stress can negatively affect our healthy microbiome. So managing stress and our hormonal balance is key – or it doesn’t matter how much good food you are eating, or how well your digestion is functioning – your microbiome will be unbalanced, which can cause dis-ease somewhere else in the body. Resulting in weight gain, anxiety, depression and many other diseases.

Remember – the two go hand in hand. Eat to support the microbiome, and live in balance with the mind and body to support the brain and stress levels.

There are a few key ways to feed your brain.

Consider adding more fiber and omega-3 fats into your diet. Fiber (in fruits, veggies, nuts & seeds) help to feed your awesome gut microbes. And omega-3 fats (in fatty fish, walnuts, algae, and seeds like flax, chia, and hemp) are well-know inflammation-lowering brain boosters.


Recipe (Gut-food fiber, Brain-food omega-3):

Blueberry Hemp Overnight Oats

Serves 2
  • ¼ cup soaked almonds
  • 2 whole dates (dried)
  • 1 cup oats (gluten-free)
  • 1 tsp ghee (optional – can be replaced with coconut oil)
  • 2-3 cups almond milk (see instructions below)
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds
  • 2 tablespoons hemp seeds
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon cardamom

Directions:

  • Soak the almonds overnight. In morning – remove the peel
  • Warm oil (ghee or coconut), and toast the oats for 2-3 min on medium-high heat
  • Add rest of ingredients (with twice to triple the amount of milk) – depending on how dry your body is
  • Bring to a boil, stirring often. Reduce heat to simmer and cook until soft (approx. 10 min)

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: Your gut microbes love to eat the fiber in the dates, oats, seeds, and nuts – which will support good digestion. Meanwhile, your brain loves the omega-3 fats in the seeds and nuts.

This recipe is Ayurvedic – and is great in the fall/winter season. It is warming and the combination of grain, fats and fiber will support nourishing and oiliating the body and brain.

Try the recipe and share your experience!

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