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The Gut-Brain Connection


Last week we discussed nutrition tips for a healthy brain and cognitive decline. This week let’s talk about the gut-brain connection! Keep reading to find out how your food may be affecting you!


What is the gut-brain connection?

The brain and the gastrointestinal (GI) system are linked via the gut-brain axis, which is a bi-directional communication path linked between the central and enteric nervous systems. This links the cognitive and emotional parts of our brain, to our intestinal functions.


Because the GI tract and brain are so closely linked, what we eat, the bacteria in our GI tract, and our mental health can all affect both the brain and our digestive system.


How closely connected are the gut and the brain?

Have you ever had a “gut feeling” you couldn’t explain, “butterflies” in your stomach, or even felt nauseous after bad news? These feelings are not a coincidence, but a result of the gut-brain axis being in constant communication.


An example of this connection is our brain sending signals to the gut to prepare for food when we see something tasty, similarly when we eat something that makes us sick, we become weary of that food in the future often without consciously acknowledging it.


When we are anxious about something, one of the effects on the body is often an upset stomach. Recent studies have suggested that because of the gut-brain connection, chronic gut issues and an unhealthy gut microbiome can lead to the development or worsening of anxiety and depression.

What is the gut microbiome?

The gut microbiome consists of trillions of microorganisms, with thousands of different species of bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses. In a healthy microbiome, these microorganisms coexist peacefully, mostly in the large and small intestines. The main role of these microorganisms is to stimulate the immune system, break down food compounds, and synthesize certain vitamins and amino acids such as B vitamins.


Every person has their individual gut microbiome, originally decided by DNA. As you age, your microbiome and microorganisms can change from environmental exposure such as a dirty water supply and diet.


The microbiome consists of both helpful microbes and potentially harmful pathogenic microbes.


A healthy person will have a balanced, symbiotic microbiome, which helps fight off infection and digest food effectively. If there is a disruption to the balance, through diet, illness or infection, or prolonged use of antibiotics, the body may become more susceptible to disease.


How can I promote a healthy gut microbiome?

Food containing probiotics has been linked to promoting healthy bacteria in the gut, which can help with maintaining overall better health. Eating foods containing prebiotics has also been useful, as these foods help feed the healthy bacteria in probiotics.


Avoiding or limiting foods high in saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium can help to avoid harming your gut microbiome.


Below are examples of foods high in probiotics and prebiotics, and a list of what to limit or avoid to promote a healthy gut microbiome.

Foods high in probiotics:

• Yogurt

• Sauerkraut

• Kefir

• Kombucha

• Kimchi

• Pickles

• Tempeh

• Apple Cider Vinegar


Foods high in prebiotics:

• Asparagus

• Apples

• Bananas

• Oats

• Onions

• Garlic

• Mushrooms

• Persimmons

Foods to limit or avoid.

• Pre-packaged, processed meals.

• Fried or salty foods, such as potato chips and fast food.

• Refined grains such as white bread, sugary cereals, and baked goods.

• High-fat dairy items such as butter, whipped cream, cream cheese, and ice cream.

• Red and processed meat such as beef, sausage, hot dogs, and deli meats.

• Alcohol.

Now that you have read about how closely our brain and gut are linked, you may have a better understanding of how important nutrition is to your overall health and well-being. Next time you eat, pay attention to how your digestive tract feels but also pay attention to your brain. Are you thinking clearly or are your thoughts foggy? Do you feel energetic, or are you lethargic?


Noticing how different foods affect your body and mind can be a great tool to feel your best and promote a healthy gut.

If you have questions or want more tips on eating well for your gut microbiome, contact one of our Health & Fitness professionals today at personaltraining@heavensacademy.com


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