The Gut-Brain Axis: Understanding the Connection Between the Gut and the Brain
The link between gastrointestinal health and brain health is at the forefront of a number of studies looking to treat, and possibly even cure, some of the most prevalent and harmful conditions around the world. These two powerful organs are connected, at some level, with nearly every bodily function, and it is impossible to discuss human health without mentioning both the brain and the gut.
To that end, understanding the Gut-Brain Axis, and its critical role in the maintenance of homeostasis and the regulation of various physiological and psychological functions, is relevant not only for scientific purposes but also to support individuals in making better and healthier life choices.
The brain is the command centre of the human body, responsible for coordinating and controlling all of our organic functions. As the most complex organ in the human body, consisting of billions of neurons and glial cells, it is in charge of everything from memory, emotion and perception to involuntary processes, such as digestion and breathing.
While different regions of the brain are responsible for different processes, it is fundamentally a multitasking machine, with no one area being isolated or dedicated to any single task. Its ability to multitask comes from its highly interconnected nature, which allows the brain to simultaneously process and integrate information from multiple sources, including other organs.
The brain communicates with other parts of the body through an intricate network of nerves, using electrical impulses and chemical neurotransmitters, which send and collect information that will be used to adjust and regulate our bodily functions. This, however, is by no means a one-sided process. Due to this intense connection, what happens in other organs can also significantly impact the human brain, enhancing or impairing its cognitive function, emotional processing and other elements, as we will discuss later in this article.
The gut, or gastrointestinal (GI) tract, as a key system within the human body, is primarily responsible for carrying out the complex processes involved in digestion and nutrient absorption but it is certainly not limited to those functions. This muscular tube, comprising several interconnected organs, including the mouth, oesophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, rectum, and anus, is lined with a highly specialised epithelium known as the gut barrier.
Each of these organs plays a unique role in the digestive process, such as the breakdown of food into smaller molecules, the absorption of nutrients and water, and the elimination of waste products. A number of digestive enzymes and hormones aid in the processing and absorption of nutrients from food such as amylase, lipase, and protease, which help break down carbohydrates, fats, and proteins respectively, while hormones such as insulin and glucagon regulate blood sugar levels.
Along with trillions of microorganisms inhabiting the GI tract, known as the gut microbiome, the gut barrier is deeply involved in the digestive processes mentioned above, but also in other critical physiological activities, such as the immune function. More than a physical protection against microbes, toxins and allergenic proteins, the gut barrier actually takes part in gut immune responses that can regulate the diversity of the bacteria that make up the microbiome, counteracting harmful species and cooperating with beneficial ones.
The gut microbiome, in its turn, will interact with host cells in multiple ways. As an integral part of the development and operation of the body's defence system, the microbiota participates in a continuous sampling conducted by immune cells in the gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT). It is through this process that it supports the immune system in differentiating real physiological threats from harmless microorganisms, ultimately raising the efficiency of our immunological function, preventing autoimmune reactions and maintaining host homeostasis.
Alterations in the gut barrier and microbiome will, for that reason, not only impact gut health but also increase susceptibility to infection and disease, having already been linked to the appearance of conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, migraines and arthritis.
What Exactly is the Gut-Brain Axis?
The Gut-Brain Axis refers to the bidirectional network between the GI tract and the central nervous system (CNS), which includes both the brain and the spinal cord. This complex system allows the brain and gut to exchange information and influence each other's function, regulating various physiological processes, such as digestion, immune function, and stress responses.
The communication between the two organs involves several signalling molecules, including neurotransmitters, neuropeptides, hormones, and cytokines, as well as immune and epithelial cells. Although produced in the digestive system, within the gut microbiome, a number of these molecules can interact with brain receptors to influence many physiological activities, including appetite regulation, metabolism, and inflammatory processes.
Additionally, the enteric nervous system (ENS), also known as the "second brain", plays a critical role in this interaction, via its direct connection to the CNS. Through this special portion of the peripheral nervous system, made up of over 600 million neurons, the gut feeds sensory information to the brain and receives instructions for managing functions like blood flow, secretion and gut motility.
The Gut-Brain Axis is currently the subject of scientific studies around the globe, and with good cause, since a better understanding of how the axis works is seen as essential for advancing the treatment of conditions such as diabetes, obesity and mood disorders.
How poor gut health impacts the brain
A poor digestive function can result in significant negative impacts on many areas of the body. Through the Gut-Skin Axis, an unhealthy gut can lead to issues like rosacea, psoriasis and acne, for example, and a similar process occurs in relation to the brain.
Due to the pathways established by the Gut-Brain Axis, seemingly unrelated digestive disruptions can interfere with the functioning of the nervous system, and result in an array of issues that go from decreased cognitive function to mood disorders.
Although most people will experience mild symptoms, such as fatigue, brain fog, trouble focusing and sleep issues, there is now evidence that long-term gastrointestinal issues can be involved in the development of much more serious brain-related conditions. Research on stress, anxiety and depression shows how microbiome dysbiosis contributes to the worsening of such disorders, and could potentially even trigger them. Other studies have also found a link between dysbiosis and associated increases in intestinal permeability to be a feature of conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and autism spectrum disorders.
How to Support the Gut-Brain Axis
While a number of undesirable symptoms and conditions can arise from this two-way impact the brain and gut have on each other's function, it is also possible to use this pathway to improve our overall health levels. We can support the Gut-Brain Axis through a range of healthy habits and choices, leveraging on everything that good bacteria can do for the human body.
Nutrition for the Gut-Brain Axis
A good diet has been shown to have various beneficial effects on the brain, both in terms of structural and functional aspects. Adequate consumption of essential nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids, is crucial for optimal brain functioning, with omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, nuts, and seeds all having been found to support cognitive function, including memory and attention. Additionally, antioxidant ingredients, such as blueberries, strawberries, spinach and green tea, should be present to help fight neurodegenerative processes.
When talking about gut health, ingesting fibre-rich foods will certainly aid in improving motility and digestion in general, but the addition of fermented elements, like kimchi, yoghurt and kefir should also be prioritised. Such ingredients promote the development and maintenance of diverse and healthy gut microbiota, which, as mentioned above, is a key factor for a strong immune function and overall health.
Lifestyle for the Gut-Brain Axis
Extensive research has proved the importance of lifestyle and habits for overall health and well-being, so it’s hardly a surprise that such aspects should be considered in achieving superior gut and brain functions.
The same increase in blood flow will aid the GI tract in performing its numerous processes, and the reduction of stress levels provided by physical exercise, as well as by mindfulness practices, such as yoga and meditation, will contribute to modulating the gut microbiota.
Both stress and sleep deprivation have been shown to decrease the gut microbiome's diversity, impairing the performance and growth of good bacteria, such as those of the Bifidobacteriaceae family, and boosting the development of harmful species.
The Role of Biotics & Bifidobacteria
Maintaining a healthy microbiota is among the most effective ways to keep both the gut and the brain working at an optimal level and, to that end, ensuring the presence of the ideal type of microorganisms within the GI tract should be a priority.
Different consumable biotics can support our bodily functions, with probiotics, prebiotics and postbiotics being the most commonly present in diets recommended for improving digestive health. While a number of different microorganisms are known to be beneficial to the digestive system, bifidobacteria currently stand out as a key probiotic for enhancing gut function.
Among other important abilities, bifidobacteria can produce Short-Chain Fatty Acids, such as acetate and help other bacteria produce butyrate and propionate, all of which promote colonic epithelial cell proliferation and enhance intestinal barrier function. Another important capability of this group is that of producing anti-inflammatory cytokines and regulating the activity of immune cells, leading to more balanced immune responses and hindering inflammatory processes. Finally, bifidobacteria have been known to compete with pathogenic bacteria for space within the GI tract, ultimately lowering the risk of infectious diseases caused by species like Clostridium difficile and Escherichia coli, for example.
What The Y Collection Can do for Your Gut and Brain Health
Fundamented in extensive scientific research and testing, the products in The Y Collection range work from within the gut to holistically improve health levels throughout the body.
Each product is composed of carefully selected ingredients, originating from bifidobacteria and focusing on the strengthening of the gut barrier function. We achieve this with bifidobacteria tailored prebiotics that selectively support bifidobacterial growth/metabolic activity and diversify microbiota and/or via extraction and inclusion of bifidobacteria postbiotics that maintain gut homeostasis and interact with the immune cells.
Leveraging on the potential of the Gut-Brain Axis, the Y GUT sensitive supplement will help reduce stress levels and improve aspects of brain function such as memory, learning, sleep and mood.
Similarly, Y SKIN is The Y Collection's solution to slowing down ageing and enhancing skin health through the powerful Gut-Skin Axis. In addition to balancing the immune and endocrine systems, the elements included in this innovative supplement are able to reduce symptoms like redness, itching and excessive oiliness, and promote more clear, hydrated and youthful-looking skin.
Good gut health is the key to a healthy mind.
Visit our collection for more detail on what our products can do for you, or email us at help@theYcollection.com if you have questions or need more information.
Frequently Asked Questions About the Gut-Brain Axis:
Why is the gut called the second brain?
The gut is sometimes referred to as the human body's "second brain" because it contains a complex and highly organised network of neurons, neurotransmitters, and other signalling molecules, called the enteric nervous system, or ENS, which can operate independently of the central nervous system.
Does gut health affect mental health?
A number of studies conducted around the world have shown that disruptions in the gut function, including dysbiosis, can be associated with the worsening, and possibly the onset, of mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. Some studies also indicate that the use of probiotics and other gut-supporting solutions could aid in the treatment of those mood disorders.
What foods help the Gut-Brain Axis?
The best diet to support the Gut-Brain Axis includes probiotic, prebiotic, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory foods. For probiotics, you can pick fermented ingredients like sauerkraut, kombucha and yoghurt, and for prebiotics add onions, garlic and bananas to your diet. Ideal antioxidant and anti-inflammatory options would be salmon, sardines, walnuts and berries.