The gut is the body’s second brain that talks to our real brain, and they both rely on what we eat.The gut is connected to the brain along the gut-brain axis via the vagus nerve. The stomach contains more than 500 million neurons, and it produces more of neurotransmitters to talk to the body than the brain actually does. Bacteria that live in the gut send information to the brain and the brain sends information back, creating a feedback loop in a stream of constant messages.
Good gut health, which results in part from diet, ensures those neurotransmitters form correctly. When they don’t, the brain’s function is disordered. This is why improving gut health with the right diet, supplements, and lifestyle choices can help restore balance between the gut and brain.
The Gut-Brain Connection
If your gut isn’t healthy, your brain isn’t healthy.
When the gut’s function is dysbiotic, the neurochemicals and the neurotransmitters that keep our brains happy by regulating fear and anxiety, promoting better sleep patterns, and improving focus and memory all decline.
January is a notorious time for people to have disordered guts because most Americans spend six weeks—from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day—eating poorly. During the holidays, people consume too much sugar and too many carbohydrates. Poor eating habits disrupt the good bacteria in your body over time.
People also tend to get stressed, sleep less, and drink more alcohol this time of year. When this happens, your good-gut bacteria don’t work as efficiently as they should, failing to produce the neurotransmitters the brain needs to do its job.
January is also the start of cold and flu season, which presents us with a whole other set of challenges. People are getting sick at a higher rate, and many of them take antibiotics that kill the gut’s good microorganisms.
Other medications also have a tendency to cause gut imbalance, such as birth control, steroids, antibiotics, and statin medications.
The Gut's Impact On the Immune System
The immune system is also linked to the gut and brain, a relationship practitioners refer to as the gut-immune-brain triad.
A portion of the immune system’s tissue—called gut associated lymphatic tissue—is actually located in the stomach. Depleted stomach flora can suppress the immune system’s efficiency. The gut’s microbiome can also impact inflammation, depending on what’s passed into the bloodstream. With leaky gut, for example, toxins are reabsorbed into the blood stream rather than eliminated from the body, which weakens the immune system.
Gut Neurotransmitters Keep You Happy
Neurotransmitters are the “happy-making” chemicals that most people have heard of—norepinephrine, dopamine, serotonin—all of those things many people take antidepressants for.
These medications keep the neurotransmitters alive and functioning properly. However, if the gut is working correctly, the neurotransmitters can help suppress anxiety, allowing the people to avoid antidepressant medication in some cases.
When the gut bugs are killed off by medications, overrun by yeast, or compromised by another problem, they don’t produce enough dopamine or serotonin, so it affects the brain’s ability to manage stress levels, regulate cortisol, and help us sleep better.
Poor sleep causes loss of focus and concentration, depletes energy, and compromises memory function. Paired with shorter winter days and insufficient Vitamin D, the brain struggles to function as it should.
Getting Back On Track
To get the gut and brain working well together again, begin with eliminating sugar and carbohydrates from the diet.
That means no white rice, no breads, no pasta. I have a detox diet I like to give people that basically resets the body. It’s a three-step process that primes the body to eliminate all toxins that have built up in the system. I also recommend a nutritional supplement and a good probiotic to clear up the gut and restore healthy bacteria.
The mitochondria is the fuel supply that creates all the energy in the body. Supplements like Octacosanol, ribose, astragalosides, and robovits help increase energy right away and work on the mitochondrial level of the body.
For gut repair, probiotics are a good place to start, but there’s also aloe, marshmallow, and glutamine. Look for a product, typically found in powder form, that combines these ingredients to promote gut health.
You can also assess lifestyle factors and routines in your home: turn off appliances an hour before bedtime, and make sure the bedroom is dark for sleeping. The bugs that live in the gut have a biorhythm, too, and if it isn’t aligned with ours, all sorts of things can go awry, including anxiety, depression, lack of sleep, and decreased focus and memory.
Gut health has a far reaching impact on how our cells communicate with each other and how our brain and immune systems function. By understanding how good gut bacteria facilitates cellular communication and how our diet supports them, people can shake off the brain fog they commonly feel after the holidays and find a renewed sense of focus and happiness.
Fred Pescatore, MD, is one of the most sought-after natural physicians in the country, specializing in making you feel like the best version of you. Visit him online here.