Heard about the gut brain axis? I think it's one of the most exciting areas of gut health research. Read on to find out more.
What Is the Gut Brain Axis?
The gut brain axis describes the communication highway that exists between your brain and your gut (or the brain in your gut, known as the ENS or enteric nervous system)
If you’ve ever had to rush to the loo before an interview or exam, or noticed that your gut ‘plays up’ when you’re stressed, you’ve experienced this relationship first hand.
So how exactly do your brain and gut communicate?
Your gut and brain are physically connected by the vagus nerve, a long wandering nerve which stretches from your brain down into your gut (swipe to see vagus in its full glory). It’s the longest nerve in the body and is responsible for your parasympathetic nervous system aka ‘rest or digest’.
Messages are sent from your brain to your gut’s brain via the vagus nerve, and vice versa. Think of it as a sort of string telephone between the two. Here's a drawing of the vagus nerve in all its glory.
Your gut microbes can communicate with your brain too. Gut microbes are capable of producing various neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) like serotonin and dopamine. These are the same neurotransmitters produced by your brain.
And when microbes consume fibre, they manufacture compounds called short chain fatty acids which can circulate through the blood to the brain.
What’s the Significance of the Gut Brain Axis?
Growing research suggests that the gut brain axis may influence our mood and also how we regulate stress. There’s still a lot to learn, but certain species of helpful bacteria (dubbed psychobiotics) have been shown to be capable of producing compounds which have positive effects on the brain.
We need a greater understanding of how microbes communicate with the brain before forming any conclusions, but it's exciting that the little guys in our guts might hold therapeutic potential for mental health conditions.
Until then we can care for the microbes in our gut the best way we know how: by eating a diverse fibre rich diet, including prebiotic rich foods, managing stress and engaging in feel good movement.
Thanks to ISAPP for the brilliant cartoon of the gut brain axis featured above.