The gut-brain connection: how digestive health influences mental well-being and cognitive functions

The connection between the brain and the gut, the “first” and “second” brains, has been a hot topic lately. These two brains control a much wider range of processes than an average person might think. The brain influences how the gastrointestinal tract functions, not only through direct commands via nerve endings but also indirectly by releasing specific substances. The gut, or rather its microbiome, controls the psyche, cognitive abilities, and can both cause nervous system diseases and create a good mood.

The brain-gut connection is complex and multifaceted. It seems extremely difficult to help one organ without harming the other. The good news: you can simultaneously improve cognitive abilities, strengthen the psyche, and enhance the functioning of the gastrointestinal tract. But first, let’s figure out how it all works.

How does the “second brain” influence the “first”?

Every person is an entire Universe, and not just figuratively. For the trillions of creatures inside us, we make up their whole world. When it comes to the number of cells in the body, the gut microbiome easily wins in terms of sheer numbers. The gastrointestinal tract alone houses three times more microorganisms than the total number of cells in our body.

Bacteria, fungi, and other microscopic organisms eat, reproduce, and excrete the results of their vital functions. Since all organs and tissues in the human body are not closed systems but constantly interact with each other, exchanging fluids and various substances, the influence of microorganisms is not limited to the intestines. This influence can be both beneficial and harmful.

Scientists guessed that the vital functions and composition of intestinal bacteria are connected with the work of the human psyche back at the end of the 19th century, proving the link between gut health and emotions. Today, experts even clarify aspects such as the composition of the microflora and the behavior of children. Research shows that hyperactive kids have a different set of bacteria in their feces. So, the gut microbiome has been dubbed the “second brain”. But how does it all work?

The gut-brain axis: how it works

Scientists claim that humans have a “gut-brain axis”. It linearly shows the connection between the psyche and the gut microbiome. It is based on four factors:

Serotonin production – this “feel-good hormone” is produced in the intestinal walls, among other places. It can influence brain function.

Cytokine production – immune cells produced in response to the activity of the gut population. The brain reacts to these inflammatory compounds.

Gut bacteria can influence the vagus nerve. It connects the brain and the abdominal cavity, sending impulses directly to brain tissues.

Metabolites of intestinal bacteria – the products of their vital functions can change the permeability of the blood-brain barrier. They increase or decrease its permeability, the delivery of nutrients, and drugs to brain tissues. For example, some drugs for heart and neurological pathologies may work worse simply because there are bacteria in the gut. They change the active substances, making them ineffective and even toxic.

Experts say that both brain diseases and disorders of the intestines or the composition of their microbiome affect both ways. The first brain can change the work of the “second” (remember the “bear disease”, a sharp bowel disorder during a panic attack). The composition of the gut microflora is associated with conditions such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic syndrome, and even autism.

Scientists report almost every day about how our cognitive and mental health is related to the microorganisms inhabiting the intestines. There is data on the connection between the gut microbiome and schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and also about a “vicious circle”. If you have problems with the intestines, the brain function worsens, and the gastrointestinal problems increase. What to do?

Balanced help: synergy in action

Numerous clinical studies show that changing the composition of the gut microbiota can indeed improve not only the functioning of the gastrointestinal tract but also alleviate or even completely eliminate the symptoms of various neurological and mental disorders. The statement “You are what you eat” has taken on a deeper meaning.

The most accessible way to improve various aspects of health lies on the surface: proper nutrition – consuming foods high in dietary fiber, fermented foods, and modern metabiotics (“meta” – after, “bios” – life (from ancient Greek) – effective preparations containing the vital products of beneficial bacteria. The fundamental feature of metabiotics is that they are not bacteria, but an environment. When entering our body, it promotes the reproduction of beneficial bacteria and blocks the development of pathogenic ones. This principle means that the drug works individually with the specific microbiome of each person, without “settling” foreign bacteria.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *