You probably don’t know how much of an impact your gut makes on your brain health. Not many people do. Not many people would associate the state of their gut with brain health issues.
But Dr. Joseph Mercola says that your gut IS a perfect place to look when dealing with mental health conditions, as doing so may prove to be effective in improving your mood, your brain’s overall health, and preventing brain-related illnesses such as Parkinson’s.
Why Your Gut is Your ‘Second Brain’
Have you ever had butterflies in your stomach when you were anxious or nervous? Have you had an upset stomach stressed or angry? This shows that there is a connection between your brain and your gut.
During your development in the womb, two nervous systems are formed from one tissue:
- Central nervous system, which is made out of your brain and spinal cord
- Enteric nervous system, which is found in your intestinal tract
These two nervous systems are connected by the vagus nerve, or the 10th cranial nerve that runs from your brain to your abdomen. This nerve helps transmit information to your brain. Although many people see the brain as the master organ, your gut transmits more to your brain than the other way around. Furthermore, any problem in your gut can impact your brain health, raising your risk of anxiety, depression, autism, and related problems.
According to studies, your intestines contain neurons just like your brain does. This includes neurons that produce neurotransmitters like serotonin – known to help control mood, depression, and aggression. Dr. Mercola says, “Perhaps this is one reason why antidepressants, which raise serotonin levels in your brain, are often ineffective in treating depression, whereas proper dietary changes often help.”
GAPS: How Your Brain and Gut Are Connected
According to Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, a doctor well-versed in mental disorders, there is a strong link between an abnormal gut flora and abnormal mental development. She calls this condition Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS).
Due to imbalanced gut flora, a number of symptoms related to brain disorders may manifest, including symptoms of autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), attention deficit disorder (ADD), dyslexia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, just to name a few.
She adds that autistic children do not have this problem when they are born. They start with normal brains and sensory organs. Upon the exposure of the digestive system to toxic elements, these children can develop autistic symptoms.
Research by the American Society for Microbiology also revealed the discovery of a bacterium called Sutterella that is found in the intestines of children with autism. (link) The researchers state that autistic children may have gastrointestinal problems that may contribute to behavioral issues. Moreover, they reported:
“These findings elevate this little-recognized bacterium to the forefront by demonstrating that Sutterella is a major component of the microbiota in over half of children with autism and gastrointestinal dysfunction (AUT-GI) and is absent in children with only gastrointestinal dysfunction (Control-GI) evaluated in this study.”
It is through gene profiling that these researchers were able to find that an imbalance in gut bacteria caused problems in genes and pathways that are involved in memory, learning, and motor control. This finding suggests gut bacteria’s close association with brain development and behavior.
Threats to Your Gut’s Wellbeing
Dr. Mercola says, “Your gut bacteria are an active and integrated part of your body, and as such are heavily dependent on your diet and vulnerable to your lifestyle.”
There are a number of reasons why your gut’s healthy bacteria are severely compromised:
- Consuming of processed and sweetened foods – sugar of all forms feed bad bacteria and yeast
- Taking antibiotics
- Drinking chlorinated and fluoridated water
- Using antibacterial soaps
- Exposure to agricultural chemicals and pollution
While this information is crucial for everyone’s wellness, pregnant women should be extra careful, because a newborn relies on his mother’s supply of good bacteria for his initial gut flora. Nevertheless, women of reproductive age are deficient in many essential probiotic strains.
Dr. Campbell explains that a woman’s birth canal is highly populated with vaginal flora, which comes from the bowel. Whatever resides here becomes the baby’s gut flora. If the mother has abnormal gut flora, her vaginal flora will also be of the same nature.
How to Reseed Your Healthy Bacteria
Now that you have an idea of how your gut is your “second brain,” it is important to look out for its health, especially for the microorganisms that reside inside it. The solution is simple: “reseed” the good bacteria in your body.
To optimize your gut flora, Dr. Mercola recommends:
- Eat more fermented foods – Consuming traditionally-made, unpasteurized fermented foods are one of the most important routes to optimal digestive health. Examples of these are kimchee, natto, sauerkraut, tempeh, kefir, and many others. Pasteurized foods can compromise your gut flora as pasteurization kills the probiotics in the food.
- Take a probiotic supplement – An alternative to eating probiotic-rich foods is taking a high-quality probiotic supplement. This is an option for those who do not eat fermented foods.
- Breastfeed your baby – Breast milk is far superior to formula. Research says that while breast milk contains vitamins, minerals, proteins, and healthy fat, it also contains other substances that can help enhance your baby’s gut and brain development. This advantage can contribute to your child even as he or she becomes an adult.
To learn more about GAPS, listen to Dr. Mercola’s interview with Dr. Campbell.