The gut-brain connection: how the food you eat affects your brain health?

"Anything that affects the gut also affects the brain", said Dr.Charles Major. Have you known that what you eat has a direct, long-lasting impact on your brain? You probably must have heard the famous adage, 'You are what you eat'. Well, it turns out to be true. This might sound ridiculous but Depression, Stress, Anxiety, and related disorders are also linked to poor gut health along with other causes. In this article, we shall discuss how the food we eat affects our brains. And the gut-brain connection. Let's dive right in.


The gut as the second brain

 Our brain and gut are connected by the Vagus nerve. Unlike other organs in our body, the gut can function by itself even without the brain's interference. This means, even if the connection between the brain and gut is severed, nothing changes. This suggests that the gut has a brain of its own.
 We human beings have only one brain which forms a major part of the Central Nervous System along with millions of neurons, nerves, and nerve cells. Our gut is called the second brain because it relies on the same system of neuron connections as that of our brain. It's also called the Enteric nervous system.
Moreover, neurotransmitters like serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, etc are produced in the gut as well as the brain. In fact, 90% of serotonin is produced in the gut while the rest is done in the brain. 

What you eat matters

Our brain makes nearly 2% of our body weight and uses about 20% of our energy resources.
The compounds of the food we eat stimulate the brain to release mood-altering neurotransmitters. So, what you eat matters. For, it affects the gut-brain connection.

Glycemic index-  Taking sugars and foods high in glycemic index suddenly increases your glucose levels, for a little while, and then drastically drops the same, making you feel gloomy and low.  This is because our frontal lobes are sensitive to drops in glucose. 

 Fats - While long-term consumption of trans and saturated fats compromise your brain health, Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids are proven to prevent degenerative brain conditions. 

Proteins and Amino acids- Proteins and amino acids are building blocks of growth and development in our body. These manipulate how we feel and behave like controlling our mood, sleep, attentiveness, etc.
Micronutrients- Micronutrients like B6, B12, folic acid, etc strengthen your brain to fight away free radicals and oxidative stress ( the waste produced when the body uses oxygen ). Trace amounts of Copper, Zinc, Iron, etc are fundamental to brain health. Lack of Magnesium causes mood swings, headaches, and insomnia.


The gut-brain connection

Within our gut exists millions of microorganisms termed as the gut bacteria. They perform several functions in our body. Taking healthy, nutritious food makes your gut microbiota diverse and rich. Harvard medical connects gut bacteria to fighting disease, improving the immune system, and even regulating our mood. The gut microbiome is the central part of our nervous system. Disturbance in it causes disturbance in the whole body. If this disturbance prolongs, the chances that it affects your brain health, are extremely high.

 Conversely, if you ingest unhealthy food, this natural balance is destroyed, and therefore you pave the way to physical and mental disorders. Nutritional psychiatry has established this fact by proving that depression, stress, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, etc are linked to poor gut health. Studies have shown that gastrointestinal problems cause anxiety and vice versa due to the primordial gut-brain connection. And also because our gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to emotions.

How can unhealthy food affect your brain functioning?

Unhealthy food affects brain functioning in many ways.

1. Can make you dumb. Diets that contain an excessive amount of sugar, over time, alter the way your brain functions. It shrinks your capacity to learn. In a research, some teenage rats were made to take sugar water for a span of time, and later when they were tested on decision-making tasks, it was found that the rats that were on a sugary diet found it hard to follow rules. Moreover, just five days on a sugary diet can lead to inflammation of the hippocampus, the part of the brain that makes you realize that you are full. 

2. Reduces Neuroplasticity, the brain's ability to learn new things. Eating junk food can reduce the birth rate of neurons in the hippocampus and you might even experience symptoms of depression.

3. Food for mood. In our daily lives, we experience situations that make us 'feel' certain emotions like happiness, anger, excitement, anxiety, grief, etc. We feel those emotions because of the neurotransmitters responsible for that particular action. Without those chemicals, we wouldn't feel that way.
 Consumption of unhealthy food leads to an imbalance in the production of neurotransmitters.
Your food controls your mood. We all have experienced this in our lives. Like feeling angry when you are hungry, sleepy after eating too much, feeling restless when suffering from constipation, not being hungry when you are either too happy or too sad, etc.

4. Inflammation. When our digestive system breaks down unhealthy food, chronic inflammation of blood vessels and brain cells takes place resulting in organ and tissue damage.

Scientific research to establish the fact

According to Ruairi Robertson, a scientist researching the gut microbiome, when mice are colonized by the microbe toxoplasma gondii, they lose their fear of cats. What's more interesting here is that the mice get attracted to the cats, instead. This microbe ingested by the animal takes control of its brain and changes the way it thinks.

How does a healthy gut promote your holistic well-being?

As rightly quoted by Mahatma Gandhi, "It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver". Health comes from the gut. 70% of our immune system is housed in the gut. Moreover, your gut affects your brain just as the brain affects your gut.

Compared to people who take traditional diets, people who take a western diet are 25-35% more prone to develop symptoms of depression, as shown by studies.

A healthy gut implicitly means better mental clarity, clearer vision of your goals, increase in performance, and decrease in sickness. If you want to be wealthy, you got to be healthy. 

Hope my article, 'The gut-brain connection: how the food you eat affects your brain health?' is of some help to you. Feel free to express your views in the comments section below. Subscribe for updates. And the best is yet to come. Do share your feedback with us.

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