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Feed your brain(s)

If there was ever a call for "digestive health," this is it! Yes, it's true. Your gut is considered your "second brain." There is no denying it anymore, with more and more studies indicating that the brain and the gut are in constant communication along the vagus nerve.

And because of these scientific discoveries 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 and not all that surprising, as I speak with people about their diets and state of mind.

What exactly is the "gut-brain connection"?

Well, it’s very complex, and to be honest, we’re still learning lots about it! There seem to be multiple things working together. Did you know:

  • The vagus nerve links the gut directly to the brain.

  • The “enteric nervous system” (A.K.A. “second brain) 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

I’ll briefly touch on these areas and end off with a delicious recipe (of course!).

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!
Enteric nervous system and neurotransmitters

Would you believe me if I told you that the gut has more nerves than your spinal cord?
I knew you would! And that's why it's referred to as the "second brain." 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! New to me, a whopping 95% of serotonin is made in your gut, not in your brain!
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 defense 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?

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 neighborhood 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 we really don't know just yet. More and more studies are being done to learn more.

This is important as the next three decades will see a huge increase in adults over the age of 65, almost 50% of the population. The 2019 Ageing Gut-Brain Study, explores gut microbiota linkage to dementia in old age. There are significant corollaries between cognitive decline that is environmental, meaning it is impacted by nutrition, exercise and stress. The study shows that frailty in the elderly is not so much the chronological age of the subject, but rather attributed to the change in gut microbiota. Those maintaining a diverse diet maintain a “younger adult” microbiome, thus may ward off this frailty and decline.

Further research needs to be done, however, there is a belief that a targeted nutrition strategy could help promote healthier aging and ward off cognitive decline, associated with dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

But one thing is becoming clear. A healthy gut goes hand-in-hand with a healthy brain!
So, how do you feed your brain?

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

Two things that you may consider eating more of are fiber and omega-3 fats. 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-known inflammation-lowering brain boosters.
Recipe: Blueberry Hemp Overnight Oats
Serves 2
1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)
1 cup oats (gluten-free)
1 cup almond milk
1 tablespoon chia seeds
2 tablespoons hemp seeds
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 banana, sliced
¼ cup chopped walnuts
Blend blueberries in the food processor until smooth.
Mix blueberries, oats, almond milk, chia seeds, hemp seeds in a bowl with a lid. Let set in fridge overnight.
Split into two bowls and top with cinnamon, banana, and walnuts.
Overnight oats are a great way to start your day, and this supercharged recipe not only feeds your gut microbes fiber from the blueberries, oats, seeds, and nuts but your brain loves the omega-3 fats in the seeds and nuts.

And that my friends, is how you feed your brain!


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