The gut-brain connection: how it works

Currently, more and more research suggests that the gut affects the psycho-emotional state and human behavior. This may seem surprising because the direct function of the intestines is to digest, assimilate food and remove toxic substances and waste. How can the intestines influence our minds and consciousness? We will deal with these questions in this article.

The gut-brain connection: how it works

Perhaps you have noticed how from fear, excitement or stress appear cramps and pains in the abdomen, or maybe in a state of love you felt like butterflies flutter in your stomach.

Our body is an integrated biological system. Therefore, internal organs should not be viewed as separate, independent participants. Yes, each of them performs its own function, but our body functions as a single orchestra, the processes in it are largely interconnected.

How the gut and brain are connected

People knew about the connection between the intestines and the brain, about the influence of food on the behavior and mentality of a person in ancient times, it is not for nothing that whole treatises were devoted to this direction. For example, according to Ayurveda, sattvic (blissful) food supports a person's behavior in harmony and clarity, rajasic (dynamic) - stimulates arousal and movement, tamasic (inert) - leads to dullness and laziness.

Studies of the gut-brain connection in evidence-based medicine have begun relatively recently, but a pattern has already been identified between disorders in the gut and, for example, human depression, it has been proven that improving digestion improves mood, attention and concentration.

The relationship between the intestines and the brain is due to the following features of human physiology:

  • the intestines and the brain in the embryonic period develop from the same tissue group;
  • the intestines and the brain are connected by the longest cranial nerve - the vagus;
  • in the intestine, as in the brain, hormones and neurotransmitters are synthesized.

A huge neural network is found under the intestinal mucosa, which is called the enteral, or second, brain. Thanks to this, the intestine continues its activity even in an unconscious state, for example, in a person who is in a coma. That is, the intestine works autonomously, even when there is no connection with the brain and spinal cord.


The intestines are the second brain

Communication between the intestine and the brain occurs through the vagus nerve. Modern scientists have found that 90% of the signals transmitted along the vagus nerve come from the intestine to the brain, and only 10% - in the opposite direction - from the brain to the intestine. The intestine signals the central nervous system about the toxicity of food or about the ingress of infection, due to which the cleansing processes are triggered. This ancient mechanism was formed in the process of human evolution. The intestine sends reporting information about its work to the brain, the brain, having perceived it, produces certain substances, and our consciousness responds with a reaction in the form of emotions, feelings and mental states. The intestine, through its neural network, directly influences our decision-making, especially with regard to the general mental state and the choice of food. Therefore, it is important for us to understand


Intestines and hormones

Neurons (cells of the nervous system) produce a wide variety of substances - neurotransmitters (neurotransmitters), which transmit information between nerves through impulses. These substances include serotonin and dopamine - neutrotransmitters, the production of which is reflected in the appearance of our feelings of pleasure and joy.

According to some reports, it is in the intestines that 50% of dopamine and 95% of serotonin are synthesized (for comparison: in the brain - 50% of dopamine and 5% of serotonin).

Serotonin is the main hormone of joy and a state of well-being, which regulates mood, enhances the activity of secretion and peristalsis of the gastrointestinal tract. In case of imbalance of microflora and in a number of diseases, the production of serotonin in the intestine decreases, and its deficiency causes depression.

Dopamine is the main substance responsible for feelings of pleasure or satisfaction. Thanks to him, a person gets motivation and priorities are determined, we remember pleasant events and want to repeat them. The production of dopamine is necessary to maintain the survival system, thus our ancestors learned to distinguish edible plants from poisonous ones. In the modern world, addiction to high levels of dopamine occurs with the use of drugs, alcohol and similar intoxicants, cheese, sweets, chocolate and cakes.

This is exploited by food manufacturers by encouraging the use of sweet, salty, fatty foods, especially those with a crispy crust and creamy texture, because these foods stimulate the production of a large number of pleasure neurotransmitters. And the more they are produced, the faster a person develops food addiction.

If we understand the above-described principles of our body's work, this knowledge will become a support when choosing our type of nutrition, because our good mood and well-being depends on it.

The connection between hormones and nutrition, their influence on our psyche is natural and provided by nature. We are responsible for the choice of food and its effect on the body. Unhealthy eating habits limit the body's resources. Try to keep track of your food preferences, especially if you have difficulties in refusing any specific foods. Stress and fatigue make us vulnerable, so when these conditions occur, it is difficult to resist the bait. It is very important to rest on time and form good habits, it is equally important to balance your diet in terms of macro- and micronutrients, calories and tastes.


How gut microflora affects our actions

An active participant in the intestinal-cerebral communication is the intestinal microflora, or, in other words, the microbiome.

The intestinal microflora is a huge population of bacteria, which is important not only for healthy metabolism, but also for the correct, stable functioning of the brain, since it affects the quality of the gut-brain connection and causes neurochemical changes in the central nervous system.

According to various sources, the weight of all bacteria in the intestine can reach 2-3 kg. Scientists have proven that microflora, influencing the higher nervous centers of a person, causes certain emotional moods and even mental disorders and pathologies. That is, there is a direct relationship: what type of bacteria and microorganisms prevails in our intestines, it causes such reactions in the brain. A healthy balance of microflora consists in the predominance of good bacteria over (conditionally) pathogenic bacteria and in the general diversity of its species.


Healthy microflora creates positive thoughts

The predominance of pathogenic bacteria leads to dysbiosis; it is promoted by the consumption of meat, milk fat, sugar, alcohol, highly processed industrial food containing a large amount of dyes, preservatives, various flavor enhancers, etc. The microflora is also very sensitive to stress and lack of sleep, dehydration and other external factors. Good and friendly bacteria feed on fresh, natural foods that nature itself has prepared for us.

Good microflora ensures comfortable digestion, high-quality assimilation of vitamins and minerals, no signs of inflammation, decay, bloating and fermentation. It stands guard over intoxication and increases the body's resistance, ensures the production of substances for immune defense and the synthesis of its own vitamins and enzymes.

The microbiome (its composition and quantity) maintains the biochemical environment in various parts of the gastrointestinal tract and promotes the production of a number of hormones and neurotransmitters, including those that we discussed above.


How pathogenic microflora makes us addicted

If a person is irresistibly drawn to bakery and confectionery products, or, perhaps, to sour and salty, then, most likely, a predominance of a certain group of microorganisms has already formed in his intestines, which, through our desires, "require" a nutrient medium for themselves. People cannot refuse slaughter food, because putrefactive microflora has developed in the intestines, it requires the use of meat in order to maintain its vital activity and number.

Another example: excessive intake of carbohydrates, alcohol, medicines provokes the growth of candida fungus. By releasing toxins, it not only weakens the immune system and causes physical symptoms - abdominal pain, stool disturbance, headaches, joint pains, sinusitis, cystitis - but also leads to mental disorders - depression, anxiety, feeling fatigued, irritable, decreased memory and attention.

When treating candida, doctors recommend a specific diet - the anti-candida protocol - from which foods that feed the fungus are excluded. At the psycho-emotional level, a person during a period of restrictions may even experience a real withdrawal due to an irresistible desire for forbidden food and dependence on it.


How to keep your intestines healthy

Thus, for mental health it is necessary to maintain a healthy and high-quality microbiome in the gut; this can be done primarily through a healthy and varied diet. By adjusting our diet and lifestyle, we can have a significant impact on the development and prosperity of some microorganisms and help suppress others.

Prebiotics, probiotics and antibiotics play an important role in the formation of microflora.

Prebiotics for the intestines: a list of foods

Prebiotics are a breeding ground for bacteria living in the gastrointestinal tract. Prebiotics stimulate the growth and activity of beneficial bacteria, increase their diversity and number. Therefore, the more different foods are included in the diet, the more different types of microorganisms develop in the intestines. Prebiotics include foods rich in fiber (an important condition: they must be unrefined and unrefined), some starches and certain substances.


The main prebiotics are the following.

  1. Fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables (preferably with skin). It is worth remembering that heat treatment reduces the amount of dietary fiber and changes the structure of starches.
  2. Legumes. Unpleasant sensations in the gastrointestinal tract when eating legumes are associated with the fact that the body has an insufficiently developed population of microorganisms for their breakdown and assimilation. Introduce the beans gradually and in small amounts, feeding the desired bacteria with the nutrient medium. Gradually, their amount will become sufficient for comfortable digestion.
  3. Cereals. Diversify your diet with cereals and grains, give preference to whole grains.

Gut Probiotics: Fermented Foods

Probiotics are living cultures of beneficial bacteria and the food that contains them. Probiotics have a positive effect on human health and mood. They suppress disease-causing and pathogenic bacteria, thereby supporting and stimulating the body's immune system. Probiotics have been shown to interact with nerve cells in the intestines to help fight stress and depression.


Probiotics include strains of bifidobacteria, lactic acid and propionic acid bacteria.


Food Sources of Probiotics:

  • fermented milk products (for example, coconut or soy yogurt can be prepared using plant foods);
  • sauerkraut, fermented without vinegar fruits, roots, tubers and grains (for example, pickled apples and pears, sauerkraut, kimchi, green olives, etc.);
  • yeast-free sourdough bread;
  • Kombucha (Kombucha)
  • miso;
  • pace and others.

Ready-made probiotic preparations contain strains of bacteria in combination with enzymes for their more complete assimilation.


Antibiotics are bacteria killers

Antibiotics are substances that shift the balance of the intestinal microflora towards pathogenic bacteria. Therefore, the use of antibiotics must be justified, otherwise do not rush to kill all parasites, just create unfavorable living conditions for unwanted species. It is worth remembering that antibiotics can enter the body not only with medications, but also with foods such as meat and milk. When raising animals for slaughter or for the production of milk, some enterprises use prophylactic doses of antibiotics so as not to create unsanitary conditions for keeping animals.

Gut health: what to watch out for

The following factors also have a negative impact on the intestinal microflora.

  1. Sterile environment. Avoid excessive use of disinfectants and detergents, create conditions for strengthening the immune system. After using chemicals, rinse the dishes and hands thoroughly so that chemical residues do not get inside and do not kill the intestinal microflora. It is necessary to properly handle hands after visiting medical institutions and public transport, since the most resistant types of pathogenic microbes live in these places.
  2. Stress and disturbed sleep and rest patterns can also negatively affect gut health. Timely rest, observance of natural biorhythms trigger the production of hormones and restoration of balance in the body.
  3. Alcohol, smoking, unnecessary medication. All this greatly inhibits the body as a whole, including the beneficial intestinal microflora.

Development of favorable microflora: general recommendations

What contributes to the development of a high-quality and diverse microflora? Let's take a look at five ways to improve your gut health.

  1. Walks and outdoor recreation. Nature is a natural environment for the normalization of microflora and the general condition of a person. It not only saturates us with the power of the elements, but also enriches our microflora through contact with soil, water bodies, plants, fresh air. Therefore, often get out of town or walk in clean and well-equipped parks.
  2. Chewing food thoroughly. Digestion begins in the oral cavity, saliva enzymes are necessary for the breakdown of food and a more complete assimilation of vitamins and microelements. The better we chew food, the easier it is processed in the next stages of digestion - in the stomach and intestines. Thus, we save energy and supply the bacteria with prepared material for their nutrition and work.
  3. Drinking water. Water fills every cell of the body and intercellular space, improves digestion, launches the processes of cleansing the body and removing toxins. It is important to consume not just liquids (tea, coffee, soups), but pure water in sufficient quantities. You can add lemon or lime juice, natural apple cider vinegar, mint and other herbs, spices, cucumber slices, berries to the water. These drinks maintain an alkaline environment in the body.
  4. Purgation. Sometimes, to switch to a new type of food, you need to cleanse the intestines. A number of studies have found that after cleansing procedures and changing the diet, a person's worldview also changes.
  5. Starvation. Hunger helps the gastrointestinal tract to unload and relax, but in some cases it may be contraindicated. There are different systems and approaches to fasting; When choosing a method, consult an experienced professional or doctor.

The intestines are a smart laboratory

The intestine is a large, intelligent laboratory where the building materials for the functioning of the body are produced and energy is released for our life. If the biochemical processes in the body are disturbed (especially hormonal functions), then distorted signals will be transmitted through the "intestine-brain" connection.


Gut health is the key to healthy reactions in the brain and an adequate perception of reality.


The pursuit of pleasures, the unconscious immersion in oneself of everything that is edible, has led humanity to a reduction in life expectancy and a decrease in its quality. With his unwillingness to change eating behavior and thinking, a person literally drives himself into illness and depressed states, with each spoon approaching the end of his own life path.

If you are worried about a gloomy mood, irritability and loss of energy, then this is a reason to pay attention to nutrition and daily routine. Psychological symptoms are not a diagnosis and are not always genetics. To begin with, just help your body, and then you will not have to keep yourself from negative experiences with an effort of will. When there are inflammations, diseases, deficiencies of macro- and micronutrients, enzymes inside, pathogenic microflora develops and hormone production is disrupted, an enormous amount of energy is spent on maintaining the body in a resource state.

Taking medications and dietary supplements is not a panacea and not a lifesaver. Their use should be temporary, only to help during the recovery period; Efforts must also be made to achieve nutritional balance, dietary diversity and overall lifestyle changes.

Start by observing your emotions, feelings and behavior, pay attention to the general condition of the body. Honest self-examination and yoga practice will help to hear your body, to understand the processes taking place inside, to feel more subtle reactions in the physical space.

Let the information from this article help you change bad attachments and habits for healthy and beneficial ones for the body and mind. As you make a choice in diet or daily routine, often ask yourself: "Will this be good for me?"

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