We have many expressions linking our emotions to our gut – from the simple intuitive “gut feeling”, to anxious “butterflies in your stomach”, to the traumatic “gut wrenching”. That’s because the brain and the gastrointestinal system are intimately connected. The brain-gut axis is a two way communication system, and with nearly 100 trillion microorganisms in our gut that is a lot of communication!
Collectively these naturally occurring bacteria make up a happy population termed the commensal intestinal microbiome. They are crucial to our health and have been part of our evolutionary story, and us theirs. Alterations in the brain-gut axis may lead to many health changes including general low-grade inflammation; increased stress reactivity; increased anxiety and depression; and increased fat storage, all of which impact upon brain health either directly or indirectly.
By maintaining the good resident populations of bacteria we are able to: keep the numbers of pathogenic bacteria which make us sick low; potentially turn off the chronic systemic stress response; reduce inflammation; and importantly keep up the production of neurotrophins which are like fertiliser for brain growth and enable neuroplasticity. Put in simple terms, a happy guts helps the brain to grow.
An extract from Dr Nicola Gate’s book
[image source: www.ucsf.edu]