I wish to share something I’ve been learning a lot about lately. I have been experiencing a bad and surprisingly virulent intestinal infection in the past few months. Through this I have learned BIG TIME that nearly everything about our health, for example, how we feel both physically and emotionally, hinges on the state of our microbiome or intestinal organisms. Since I started having intestinal distress, it has become quite clear to me that dysfunction in my gut causes much confusion in my brain.
Most have no idea that our intestinal organisms, or microbiome, participates in a wide variety of bodily systems, including immunity, detoxification, inflammation, neurotransmitter and vitamin production, nutrient absorption, feelings of hunger or fullness, and how we utilize carbohydrates and fat. All of these processes factor into whether you experience chronic health problems like allergies, asthma, ADHD, cancer, type 2 diabetes, or dementia.
Your microbiome also affects your mood, your libido, your perceptions of the world and especially your clarity of thought. A dysfunctional microbiome can be at the root of headaches, anxiety, inability to concentrate, and even a negative outlook on life. Neurologists are now finding that no other system in the body is more sensitive to changes in gut bacteria than the central nervous system. The good news? They are now seeing dramatic turnarounds in brain-related conditions with simple dietary modifications or with techniques to reestablish a healthy microbiome.
Scientists are learning that this intimate relationship between the gut and the brain goes both ways, which means that just as your brain can send pain to your gut, your gut can relay its own state of calm or alarm to the brain.
The vagus nerve, the longest of 12 cranial nerves, is the primary channel between millions of nerve cells in our intestinal nervous system and our central nervous system. The vagus extends from the brain stem to the abdomen, directing many bodily processes that don’t require thought, like heart rate and digestion. Bacteria in your gut directly affect the function of the cells along the vagus nerve, in other words, our gut’s nerve cells and microbes release neurotransmitters that speak to the brain in its own language.
We have so many neurons in our gut that many scientists are now calling this our “second brain.” This brain not only regulates muscle function, immune cells, but also manufactures an estimated 80 to 90 percent of the serotonin, our “feel-good” neurotransmitter. This means your gut’s brain makes more serotonin than the brain in your head.
This is why many neurologists and psychiatrists are now realizing antidepressants can be less effective in treating depression than proper dietary changes.