Gut-Brain Axis: There’s a ‘Mini Brain’ In Your Gut

gut brain_microbiome

Feed Your Microbiome Right and Grow Younger

There are more critters than you can count living in your gut. Upwards of 100 trillion microorganisms,  bacteria, viruses, fungi, and others, make up your gut flora, the microbiome of your intestinal tract. Though it may seem like a long distance between your gut and your brain, mounting research suggests there’s a close connection, called the gut-brain axis. Some researchers describe it as a “mini-brain” in the gut. 

The gut-brain axis is a biochemical communications pathway that plays a significant role in your mood and mental health, your hormones, digestion, immune system, and more. With so many ties to your overall well-being, your microbiome, and gut-brain axis greatly impact your health as you age. 

aging well via gut health

Research suggests that an unbalanced microbiome boosts systemic inflammation in the body and compromises the immune system. Poor gut health has been linked to potential increased risk for heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and auto-immune diseases such as celiac. It’s also been linked to mood and mental health disorders.

Recent research funded by the National Institutes of Health points to a possible connection between certain unhealthy gut microbes and Alzheimer’s disease. The study conducted by the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center found that Alzheimer’s patients had a less diverse community of gut bacteria and the types of microbes that produce certain proteins linked to the disease when compared to individuals not suffering from Alzheimer’s. 

The good news is that we are learning more about how to improve the makeup of our gut flora and strengthen the gut-brain pathway. This is mainly through nutrition, micronutrients, and other lifestyle changes. Here’s how it all connects, and what you can do to foster a healthier microbiome. 

What Is the Gut-Brain Axis?

gut brain connection

Your gut and brain are connected by a communication network that runs both ways. The enteric nervous system, or ENS, is made up of 100 million nerve cells packed into two thin layers within the lining of your gastrointestinal tract. It runs from your esophagus to your rectum. It also connects to your central nervous system, or CNS, which comprises the brain and spinal cord. From there, the web of nerves that is your peripheral nervous system branches off. It goes from your spinal cord and connects to the rest of the body.

Your gut’s main job is to control digestion, break down food, release necessary enzymes, absorb nutrients, and eliminate waste. That has been the driving principle for quite a while. However, the gut is much more than all of those functions. It controls absorption and metabolism of nutrients, working in sync with these other critters.

The gut also impacts your emotions, mood, and more by communicating with your brain. For example, doctors used to believe that depression and anxiety contributed to the mood shifts that accompany stomach upset, constipation, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Now, new research suggests that the ENS is telling the brain how to feel when experiencing these conditions. Since up to 40% of people deal with functional bowel problems at some point in their lives, this could have a huge impact on how we think and feel. This is just one small example of how your gut health can impact your brain, healthspan, and quality of life. 

The Gut Microbiome and Longevity

While the gut-brain axis can bring on changes to your mood, it also has much deeper implications. A large part of your immune system is actually located in your gastrointestinal tract. This means that your gut plays an integral role in the development of common illnesses, inflammation, and chronic disease, as well as aging. A growing body of research suggests that creating a balance of bacteria in the gut through food and supplements is vital to avoiding the chronic diseases of aging. 

 A 2018 study suggests that we may be able to extend longevity by supporting the microbiome with probiotics. In the study, scientists found that giving fruit flies this combination of supplements that promote healthy gut bacteria prolonged the flies’ lifespan by 60%. The study found that researchers could lower the markers of metabolic stress and manage insulin resistance with these probiotic supplements. The study also noted a significant decrease in oxidative stress and inflammation. Since fruit flies share about 70% similarity to mammals in biochemical pathways, this finding suggests that we should get similar results in humans, and is therefore deserving of further study, researchers say.

Many human studies have shown that our diet wields considerable influence over the balance of healthy and unhealthy bacteria in the gut. For example, processed foods, fried foods and sugars are known to tip the balance toward unhealthy bacteria in the microbiome. By contrast, a plant-based, whole food diet provides polyphenols and dietary fiber. These feed the growth of species with anti-pathogenic and anti-inflammatory effects and promote glucose metabolism and cardiovascular protection. (Eat your fruits and veggies!) Put simply, a diverse microbiome is a healthy microbiome. When we support our microbiota, the body uses the gut-brain axis to heal other areas of the body. This helps lower the risk factors for chronic disease and aging.  

Three Foods to Feed Your Gut-Brain Axis

fiber rich foods

Boost your chances for healthy longevity through nutrition that strengthens your GI tract and its link to your brain. 

  1. Fiber: High-fiber foods act as a prebiotic, which feeds and supports your gut bacteria. They also reduce stress hormones. Fill your fiber quota by eating more vegetables, whole grains, nuts, fruits, and seeds.
  2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3s reduce the risk of brain disorders and increase your good gut bacteria. You can find these essential fats in oily fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel, tuna, and herring.
  3. Fermented Food: Fermented foods, like sauerkraut, kimchi, cheese, and yogurt contain lactic acid bacteria and other healthy microbes that can aid in healthy brain activity, including emotional regulation.

So, if you want to boost your healthspan, caring for your gut microbiome is vital. Only when we support our gut-brain axis can we truly improve longevity and enjoy long, healthy lives. That’s where our Groq Health app comes in – we predict, detect, prevent, and reverse the disorders of aging with in-depth highly personalized care delivered to your smartphone.

Read more about Groq Health here or go with your gut and sign up for our waitlist now. 

Florence Comite, MD, is a Yale-educated endocrinologist, has trained as a clinical research scientist at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and is the founder of the Comite Center for Precision Medicine & Health in New York City, Palo Alto, and Miami Beach. She is the CEO and founder of Groq Health, which delivers precision medicine and health care through a digital clinic.  

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