Gut Brain Axis

We have long since discovered the brain to be the master control center of of the body and its organ systems. More recently we have begun to understand that the body has a “second brain” via the vast network of neurons in the gut known as the enteric nervous system. The number of neurons in our gut equals that in our spinal cord which we suspect is so vast for the purpose of regulating the trillions of microbes that reside there.

Though it seems some people still want to believe that what we eat doesn’t have a big impact on health, there is plenty of research to suggest otherwise. For example, our diet and gut health directly impacts our mood because ninety percent of the serotonin in our system is made in the gut. Serotonin keeps our mood balanced and a deficiency leads to depression. In turn, neurotransmitters including serotonin are key regulators in gut function.

The brain is still the master controller of the body and it communicates with the gut via neurons, neurotransmitters and hormones. We would have to further discuss each one of these pathways to see all the ways our digestion can be affected. Digestion is so much more than eating and having a bowel movement. It determines the health and integrity of our tissues and if structure is negatively impacted then so will function.

Let’s see what poor function means for the two systems in question. Some indications of poor brain function are poor memory, inability to find words, and difficulty learning new things. Indications of poor digestive function are difficulty digesting food, constant episodes of bloating and gas, alternating constipation, etc.

The first thing we can do to directly impact and help our gut’s micro biome is to take probiotics. If there has been no significant change after a course of probiotics, it would be wise to do an anti-inflammatory diet or a blood test to rule out any food intolerances that would be causing inflammation and an adverse environment in the gut. We can also rule out vagal nerve involvement by doing a few tests in the office. Let’s discuss the vagus nerve more and give it its due reverence.

The vagus nerve is the direct nerve pathway by which the brain communicates with the gut but it also innervates the heart, lungs, throat and facial muscles. The vagus nerve is responsible for calming down the organs after stress or a period of the fight or flight response. The better your vagus nerve is working, the more quickly your body can be calm again and resume its healthy and regular activities. If the vagus nerve is functioning sub optimally and one of its organs, such as the gut, is compromised we can prescribe exercises that would bring it back into full gear. The vagus nerve can also be kick started with coffee enemas.

Here is the take-home message: If your brain or gut function is not working at the level you want it to, you can take steps now to begin to address that. We can help.