Dr. Andy’s Desk: The Gut-Brain Connection, Explained

Dr. Andy’s Desk: The Gut-Brain Connection, Explained

Why “Go with Your Gut” Actually Makes Sense!

Have you ever shrugged off a gut feeling or waved off those butterflies in your stomach when you’ve been nervous? We may think that these subtle feelings have little substance to them, but actually, there’s a scientifically-proven link between the gut and the brain, and how it impacts digestion, mood, health and even the way we think!


Enteric Nervous System


This system – embedded within the walls of the digestive system – is called the enteric nervous system (ENS). And recent studies have shown that your brain affects your gut health, and that your gut may affect your brain health.


What Does ENS Do Exactly?


The main function of the ENS is regulating and controlling digestion – everything from swallowing to breaking down food with the right enzymes, to managing the blood flow that helps with nutrient absorption and elimination. 

You may have heard that anxiety can trigger stomach issues. Now, there’s evidence that it can be the other way around, too: irritation in the gastrointestinal system may alert the central nervous system that something is off – triggering mood changes.

70 percent of our immune system lives in the guts. It produces many of the same neurotransmitters as the brain does, like serotonin, dopamine and gamma-aminobutyric acid – all of which play a big role in regulating mood. It’s been estimated that 90 percent of serotonin is created in the digestive tract!

The Gut-Brain Axis

The primary information connection between the brain and gut/ENS is the vagus nerve – the longest nerve in the body. This two-way communication between the central nervous system and the gut is referred to as the “gut-brain axis.”


How Can Probiotics Help the Brain?


So now that we know a bit more about the connection between gut and brain, let’s also talk about how and why probiotics matter in keeping that connection a happy one.

You’ve likely heard that probiotics can improve your gut health. This is because when the gut’s microflora is in a good state, it can support the immune system and overall well-being. It aids in the absorption of nutrients and suppresses the growth of harmful bacteria that can cause gas, cramping and irregularity. 

When we undergo stress or take medication, that microflora balance can be impacted, and it can keep our bodies from successfully regenerating the good bacteria needed to keep potentially harmful bacteria in check. When the “good” bacteria in your gut is in balance, it can affect your mood and brain’s function. 

Because probiotics help protect the body from pathogens by restoring the gut’s protective barrier, taking a daily probiotic can provide the help your body needs to restore that balance. 


Kids Gut Health

And, kids’ gut health follows the same science, so they, too, will benefit from taking a probiotic daily. Not only can it help with brain function and immune system support, but a quality probiotic can also aid in common childhood digestive issues, such as constipation.

What’s more, as part of the ongoing research on the gut-brain axis, there’s growing evidence that using probiotics can help manage altered gut flora in individuals with autism spectrum disorders.

Next month, we’re thrilled to re-introduce our probiotic for kids, Good Day Chocolate Tummy supplement: a fair-trade dark chocolate probiotic for kids that contains 1 billion CFU (colony forming units) of Lactospore® - a well-researched, shelf-stable probiotic strain. Stay tuned for our official announcement!

Other ways to help improve your gut health – which can benefit the gut-brain axis – are to eat fermented foods, Omega-3 fatty acids, and polyphenol-rich foods.

In summary, there is a very real and very important connection between the gut and the brain. And, one of the best ways to nurture that connection and maintain a happy brain and happy belly is by taking measures to improve your gut flora!


As always, please consult with your physician prior to taking any new supplements.