Protect Your Gut to Protect Your Brain
As you are reading this, trillions of tiny living bodies are crawling around inside your very gut.
Gross? Not at all. Without these tiny organisms inside your gut, you won’t be able to digest any food, have no immune system to speak of, and will be wallowing in severe depression for the very short life you then get to live.
The human gut is home to a whole multitude of different kinds of bacteria, both good and bad, who together make up our microbiome. All of them perform significant functions in our bodies, and most importantly, in our brains.
Scientific research in the past few decades is increasingly making it clear that an imbalance of good/bad bacteria in our gut can throw our brain into complete disarray, leading to severe long-term diseases. Good news is, it is possible to change the make-up and balance of our microbiome by introducing dietary changes, and that can significantly counter their adverse effect on the brain.
In this article, we will discuss the way our gut-brain axis functions and what food we can eat (and avoid) to keep it healthy.
The gut-brain axis
The human brain is home to approximately 100 billion neurons. That’s a huge number, but guess what? The gut has more, about five times to be precise. A massive amount of information passes through and gets processed there every day, and then gets passed on to the brain. Below are the primary ways your gut and brain are connected:
The Vagus nerve or one of the most important nerves in the central nervous system. Information passes both ways from gut to brain and back through this.
Neurotransmitters, most importantly serotonin. About 90% of all the serotonin reserve in your body gets produced in the gut and then gets transmitted to the brain. Serotonin plays a big role in regulating our mood, calmness, and body temperature among other things. Disturbances in your gut microbiome can disrupt serotonin production, causing depression and anxiety.
The immune system of your body. The gut microbiome plays an important role in regulating the response of your immune system. A hyperactive immune response can lead to inflammation in the gut-brain axis, causing serious problems like Alzheimer’s Disease, Depression, and various auto-immune diseases.
How to keep your gut healthy
Like fingerprints, microbiome too is unique to every individual. That means, all of us do not have the same gut types of gut bacteria. Now, the function of good bacteria is to keep the adverse effects of the bad bacteria in check. But the amount of ‘good’ vis-à-vis ‘bad’ bacteria in your gut is determined by several factors, including genetics, early feeding habits, environment etc.
That means, some of us are inherently more prone to bacteria-imbalance in the gut, and therefore problems in the gut-brain axis. Fortunately, it is possible to change the makeup of our microbiome through dietary changes. Here are some food elements that can help us with that.
Probiotic: Probiotics are a type of bacteria that are extremely beneficial to your gut and brain health. Some type of probiotics have been proven to alleviate symptoms of Depression, stress, and Anxiety in people with chronic irritable bowel syndrome. Fermented foods like pickles, kimchi, natural vinegars, yogurt, some types of cheese are rich in probiotics.
Lactic acid: food that are rich in lactic acid are especially beneficial for your gut-brain axis, for example curd, yogurt, cottage cheese, feta cheese, kefir etc. They have been shown to improve brain activity.
Omega-3 fats: The human brain contains a lot of Omega-3 fats, and hence foods that are rich in this type of fat are super-healthy for brain, and can prevent brain disorders. Omega-3 is mostly found in oily fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel etc. Walnuts, Flaxseeds, Soybean oil, and canola oil too are rich in Omega-3.
Fiber: Nuts, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables all contain fiber, which is a form of prebiotic and is beneficial to your gut bacteria. They reduce the effects of stress hormones like cortisol.
Polyphenol: This plant-based chemical improve gut bacteria and helps cognitive functioning. Chocolate, coffee, olive oil, and green tea are among foods rich in polyphenol.
Tryptophan: A type of amino acid, tryptophan is the main element that helps produce serotonin in your gut. Eggs, cheese, turkey meat, soy products, some types of nuts, spinach all contain tryptophan and help increase the production of serotonin.
We cannot determine our genetics, neither the original composition of our gut bacteria. But we can control what food we eat so that our gut, and in turn our brain, reaps the maximum benefit and are shielded from the adverse effects of the bad bacteria we may be saddled with. Happy eating!