As humans, we often view our body systems as separate. You know, each part of our body doing its own thing in isolation – all stuck together like a life-sized Mr Potato Head.
But that’s far from the case.
Modern science is shining a light on the incredible mind-gut connection, a two-way communication system that keeps our body in a steady state. This means that what’s going on in our gut impacts our mind, and what’s going on in our mind impacts our gut.
And it’s not just a woo woo theory. The gut-brain axis is a real thing made up of the brain, the enteric nervous system, gut microbiome and the vagus nerve.
Let’s take a closer look…
How does the mind-gut connection work?
Have you ever spent a weekend indulging, only to feel mentally drained on Monday morning? Or have you ever felt “butterflies” in your stomach before a big test?
Or perhaps you’ve felt nauseous after hearing some stressful news?
These are all examples of the mind-gut connection, which is made possible thanks to a beautiful thing called the enteric nervous system (ENS).
So, what is the enteric nervous system?
Think of the ENS as the nervous system of your gastrointestinal tract, made up of nerves, neurons and neurotransmitters. The ENS runs from the oesophagus down to the anus, often called the “second-brain” as it works independently from the Central Nervous System (CNS).
Yep, it literally has a mind of its own, working to control the movement of food, blood flow and fluid excretion (just to name a few).
But I wouldn’t rely on your “second brain” to remember your wedding anniversary or Mum’s birthday, because it’s not capable of “thinking” in the traditional sense of the word. Yet somehow, it has the power to influence so many other processes, including mood, energy, sleep, immunity and digestion.
You see, our ENS is in constant communication with our actual brain via the vagus nerve. This is a two-way pathway that sends messages about digestion, swallowing, heart rate and so much more.
And interestingly, researchers have found that if our vagus nerve is disconnected, our intestines are still able to function. This supports the theory that our gut has a mind of its own… We’ll just give you a second to pick your jaw up off the floor.
So, where does the gut microbiome come into the picture?
Did you know the gut microbiome is a key contributor to the gut-brain connection?
A microbiome refers to a community of organisms living together. And in this case, they’re living together in the human gut.
The human gut is made up of trillions of microorganisms – including bacteria, viruses, fungi and protozoa. To put that in perspective, there are more microorganisms in your gut than there are cells in the human body. And your gut microbiome is also more diverse than the Amazon Rainforest. I don’t mean to alarm you, but you’re kinda like a big, walking pile of microorganisms.
And these microbes in your gut have an important job to do, including…
- Activating your vagus nerve (which sends messages to your brain)
- Controlling your immune system (a whopping 80% of immune cells are located inside your gut)
- Producing neurotransmitters and chemicals that impact the way your brain works
- And so much more
The best part? There are so many studies to back this up.
One study found that many people with psychological disorders also have gut bacteria that’s a bit out of whack. (5) Coincidence? I think not.
There was also a study on patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), which found that when they were administered with probiotics (good gut bacteria) they had reduced depression scores. (6)
Oh, oh, oh, and another mice study revealed that a diet high in probiotics reduced the stress hormone in their blood. When the vagus nerve was disconnected, the probiotic didn’t have an effect. (7)
… this list of emerging research goes on.
Our mind and gut are connected by a physical, two-way communication system – and it’s pretty dang important for overall wellbeing.
And because of this, research suggests a healthy gut creates a healthy mind, and vice versa.
This has opened so many doors for therapy – with health professionals attempting psychological therapy for bowel issues, as well as treating psychological issues with beneficial gut bacteria.
Research in this space still has a long way to go, with so much still left to learn about the mind-gut connection.
But for now, remember that the food we choose to nourish our gut microbiome with can improve our mental health, protect against disease, enhance heart health, reduce inflammation, increase energy and promote stability within our body.
We really are what we eat.
At Natura Mushrooms, our favourite extract for nourishing our microbiome is Turkey Tail. It’s rich in Beta Glucans (which play an important role in the gastrointestinal tract) and prebiotics (special plant fibres that nourish your probiotic bacteria). It’s also incredibly rich in antioxidants and a range of other bioactive compounds (but now we’re just showing off).