What Is the Gut-Brain Axis and How Do You Improve It?
The thoughts and the feelings your brain processes are often reflected physically by sensations in the gut. This link, recognized as the gut-brain axis, indicates a strong connection between your central nervous system and belly.
Today, research on the overall relationship between the central nervous system and the gut’s enteric microbiota paints an even clearer picture of the role that the gut plays in brain activity. Both brain development and functionality are closely tied to the gut, including the various bacteria and fungi living in your digestive tract.
How Are the Brain and Gut Connected?
The gut-brain axis is the close connection between your gut and your brain. The brain and gut regularly communicate with one another in a bidirectional manner. Through links in your body’s systems, your gut and brain freely communicate in both directions.
Specific neurotransmitters in our central nervous system are reserved for communication with the gut across the gut-brain axis. This correspondence covers far more than feelings or butterflies in your stomach.
Rather, the gut-brain axis is important for maintaining the balance between your body’s systems. According to the Annals of Gastroenterology medical journal, the brain keeps the gut well informed — and vice versa — through specific links in your neural, endocrine, immune, and humoral systems.
How to Improve Your Brain-Gut Connection
This axis may affect your mood, mental health, and overall homeostasis. If you can improve the connection between your brain and your gut, you can improve your body in several ways. Each of the strategies below represents one way to strengthen your gut-brain axis, enhancing the way your body communicates with itself and operates.
Choose the Right Food
One easy choice to make is selecting foods that complement your body’s natural processes. It’s important to consume a diverse range of foods, with a particular focus on food items that promote healthy brain and gut environments.
Consider prioritizing some of the following food items to improve your brain-gut connection:
- High-fiber foods like beans, seeds, whole grains, berries, and nuts;
- Omega-3 fatty foods like fish, avocados, eggs, and peanut butter;
- Fermented foods like yogurt, cheese, pickles, tempeh, and kimchi;
- Polyphenol-rich foods like cocoa powder, vegetables, olives, and herbs.
From fish to berries to dark chocolate, these and other food items can help you improve your brain-gut connection by increasing the number of positive bacteria in your gut.
Even if it’s only a walk around your neighborhood or a quick jog to the mailbox and back, exercise can yield serious benefits. Research on the link between exercise and the gut-brain axis found that even moderate aerobic activity can improve brain functionality, regulate mood, and enhance memory.
As long as you can increase your heart rate, you’re free to exercise in any way you choose. Whether you’re a sports enthusiast or a reluctant runner, there are options to help you maximize your workout and improve your brain-gut connection.
On top of a healthy diet and regular exercise, supplements can help you further improve the connection between your gut and your brain. Supplements may offer various benefits to your brain, your gut, and the various systems that both the brain and gut rely on for consistent communication.
Critical for continued brain activity and proper body function, vitamin B12 supplements can be key for ongoing central nervous system functionality. Available in both injectable and troche formulas, B12 methylcobalamin and hydroxocobalamin help boost your immune system, improve circulatory function, and even stave off hangovers.
Glutathione supplements help further support the good work that your gut-brain axis is accomplishing. A substance naturally produced by the liver, glutathione may help fight damage caused by stress, injury, and infection-related free radicals.
Other supplements useful to the gut-brain axis include amino acids, which help you develop muscles and establish cell balance. In addition, weight-loss supplements may assist in regulating neurotransmitters in the brain, supporting healthy weight levels, and staving off unnecessary cravings.
In today’s fast-paced environment, it’s important that you occasionally take time for yourself. Taking time to relax and recharge is crucial for your mental health and for the state of your gut-brain axis.
Often, there’s a certain guilt associated with relaxing and not accomplishing daily tasks. However, that’s the exact goal of relaxation therapy: to take time away from the daily grind to reset your mind and your body.
You can experience relaxation in a variety of simple ways. Try journaling or meditation to address your thoughts and feelings in a controlled environment. Counseling is also a beneficial outlet for relaxation, as you work through your emotions with a licensed healthcare professional. You can also work on your mental health from home, as long as you take the time away from work to relax.
Avoid Antibiotics When Possible
Sometimes antibiotics can serve as powerful advocates in your fight against disease or infection. In other circumstances, antibiotics will only weaken your brain-gut connection.
Antibiotics work by killing off bacteria. However, this often means killing off both good and bad bacteria all at once. Since your gut-brain axis relies on healthy bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract, antibiotics can weaken the connection between your gut and your central nervous system.
The microorganisms in your gut survive because of an active environment where the walls of your digestive tract are lined with microbiota. By definition, antibiotics are medicines that destroy microorganisms. When used specifically to kill off harmful bacteria, antibiotics can also destroy the same microorganisms that form the network of the gut-brain axis.
If you can avoid antibiotics whenever possible, you’ll help to preserve the microorganisms that protect the gut and allow the brain and gut to communicate.