Neuroscience: The Mind-Gut Connection

The correlation between the gut and brain has recently been brought into the spotlight. It has been found that there is a direct communication system between the gut and brain known as the gut-brain axis. The gut-brain axis consists of the central and enteric nervous systems and links the emotional and cognitive parts of the brain to peripheral intestinal functions. There are around 100 billion neurons in the brain and around 500 million neurons in the gut. Those 500 million neurons in the gut are connected to the brain and this is noteworthy because neurons are responsible for conveying information throughout the body.

This is also why it has been found that the gut-brain connection can contribute to anxiety and many digestion problems. Emotions like sadness, happiness, and anxiousness can elicit symptoms in the gut. There are many feelings and expressions that also allude to this like feeling nauseous, having a gut-wrenching/gut feeling, or having butterflies in your stomach. These expressions have some truth behind them as there is a direct connection between the brain and the gut. Our bodies go into “fight or flight” mode as soon as a fear of danger is perceived, and the enteric nervous system responds by slowing down or stopping digestion to conserve energy.  The gut is also known as the “second brain” since the gut sends signals to the brain. This is what allows us to make decisions based off of our gut. It also means that nervousness and anger can cause our bodies to produce unwanted symptoms like heart palpitations or stomach problems.

There are trillions of microbes in our bodies. These microbes make up our microbiome. A microbiome is an ecosystem of bacteria that helps out the cells in our body. A lot of these microbes are in our gut and help to balance blood sugar, absorb nutrients, combat inflammation, aid in digestion, and control the immune system. Gut health has a direct effect on the brain, so this also means that things like probiotics can have an effect on memory. The good bacteria in the gut produce a bulk of the neurotransmitters in the body and those neurotransmitters send signals to the rest of the body. Naturally, that can have an effect on brain health.