For many years, researchers have been uncovering the hidden connection between the gut and other organ systems. This connection was once originally thought to only impact certain health conditions, but we are finding now that the gut is linked and interconnected with every aspect of the body. Aside from the gut being a major player in overall health, the brain is a close second. Research has now shown that the Gut-Brain axis impacts the Central Nervous System, the Sympathetic Nervous System, and the Parasympathetic Nervous System.
The gut-brain axis begins as early as birth. The mother’s vaginal canal houses special microbiota that is transferred to the infant during the birthing process. This microbiota coating kickstarts the child’s microbiome as infants are born essentially “sterile”. If an infant is not exposed to the mother’s microbiota (example: if a child is born via cesarian-section) the infant has a significantly higher chance to develop autoimmune diseases in their lifetime as well as asthma. This is believed to be due to the fact that the bacterial contact the child received was out of order.
There are many factors that influence the development of the microbiota. The most common changes occur from stress, dietary reactions, and certain environmental triggers. The body handles physical and emotional stress the same way, which leads the sympathetic nervous system to ramp up.
We rely heavily on our gut being our first line of defense when succumbed to stress. The second factor that influences the GI tract and the Central Nervous System is dietary components. These dietary components look different for each individual. For some, gluten or dairy products cause inflammatory reactions while others are affected by high fructose diets. High fructose diets have been linked to insulin resistance, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and metabolic syndrome. These chronic health conditions manifest more inflammation and a higher probability of bacteria gaining access to the epithelial barrier.
One of the last factors that has been shown to impact the microbiota are environmental factors. These factors include toxins that can lead to vitamin deficiencies.
All of the factors mentioned above (stress, high fructose diets, and environmental factors) alter the cytokine levels throughout the body. When cytokines are altered, brain chemistry and neurotransmitters are altered. Cytokines have the ability to bypass the Blood-Brain Barrier. This directly acts on levels of serotonin released, overall affecting the mood and behaviors individuals feel.
It is important to realize how the body systems are interconnected and just how easy one aspect can influence bodily function.
Everything begins in the gut, which essentially means everything begins in the kitchen. Being aware of the nutritional components you ingest, will significantly improve gut health, leading to improved brain health. We often do not connect depression or headaches with our gut and diet, but it is one of the main factors that impact our overall health! Eating an anti-inflammatory diet and maintaining a regular exercise regime is a great place to start. – Kenna Vaughn, Senior Health Coach
Vreeland, Chapter: “The Gut-Brain Axis: The Role of the Gut in Brain Health,” 2015 from Integrative “Therapies for Depression: Redefining Models for Assessment, Treatment and Prevention.”
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