What, We Have a Second Brain? The Microbiota-Gut-Brain Axis
New research emphasizes the need for a balanced brain-gut connection.
Posted Jun 17, 2016
Recently there has been much in the scientific literature surrounding the gut-brain axis. We know now that the bidirectional communication between our brain and gut --our body sending signals to the brain and the brain sending signals to the body via the vagus nerve, immune system and nervous system--assists us in achieving a better state of physiological stability. It is truly fascinating to better understand how we can learn to self-regulate our thoughts, behaviors and emotions using some of the gut-brain axis.
When your mother told you to trust your intuition, she was absolutely correct. So many signals are being given to you through this system. We need to become more aware of our somatic and physiological cues that are be given to us assisting with decision making and allostasis, that constant physiological or behavioral change process for self-regulation. This bidirectional or cross-talk system has also been called the sixth sense or second brain.
According to researcher, Dr. Patricia Lepage, healthy intestinal bacteria can be the difference between staying well and getting sick. Negative bacteria could result in a number of neurological diseases from multiple sclerosis to autoimmune disorders.
Our microbiome in the gut consists of over 1,000 different types of bacteria and about 100 trillion cells. Incredible! Another of Dr. Lepage’s statistic is our microbiome has ten times as many cells and 150 times as many genes as the human genome. So our microbiome co-exists with the body in a close symbiotic relationship. Dr. Lepage suggests that we need to help this “finely tuned ecosystem” by eating the right foods, limiting infections and stress, and of course, understanding our genetic predispositions.
Where can you start to help out this flora/microbiome in the gut? First almost every chemical that controls the brain is also located in the stomach region. Dr. Allen Ivey has written extensively on redefining gut feelings. He warns that too many negative microbes are a result of external stressors and the foods we eat.
You probably already know this, but 95% of serotonin is produced in the gut and not in the brain. What we eat does matter! Certain foods such as excessive granulated sugar, some genetically modified foods and other environmental toxins may cause inflammation in the body. The adage, “Don’t’ eat anything white except yogurt” may be true. Taking a daily probiotic may keep your microbiome in balance. If yogurt is something you enjoy, daily yogurt with active probiotics is now being recommended. Sleeping well and exercising daily also helps the gut and the mitochondria that are responsible for actually producing the needed energy to move the brain and body.
There are even more reasons than ever to practice a healthy lifestyle. Doing everything in your power to eat well with mostly whole foods truly will keep our sixth sense or second brain even happier and healthier. I challenged my graduate students last night to change just one behavior for the next three weeks of class. One student chose to cut down on his 14 cups of coffee per day, and another student committed to a better sleep hygiene pattern with at least 7 hours of sleep per night. Last year I gave up all white sugar! What one behavior will you commit to changing to help your gut microbiome flourish? Take the microbiota-gut challenge!
Until next month,