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Why Gut Bacteria Can Hijack Your Brain?


Are gut bacteria and the brain really connected?

Did you ever get this feeling of butterflies moving in your gut? Well, this feeling you get in your belly shows that there is a link between your brain and your gut bacteria. Current studies suggest that the brain can directly affect your gut's health. In turn, the gut can also affect the brain as well. This communication link between the two systems is known as the gut-brain axis.

So, what is the gut-brain axis?

This term defines the communication network that links the alimentary and nervous systems. The gut and brain connect both in various ways.


Neurons are nerve cells in the CNS that let your body know how to act. There are around 100 billion of them in the brain. Conversely, the gut has 500 million nerve cells. These are linked to the brain through the nerves in your body.

The vagus nerve is one of the largest ones linking the gut to the brain. It transfers signals both ways. Studies show that stress stops the signals being sent through this nerve. This, in turn, can cause gastrointestinal issues.

Another study found that humans with gut issues like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, etc. lower vagal tone. This shows a lowered function of the vagus nerve. These studies show that nerves play an important role in the gut-brain axis and stress.


The gut and brain also use chemicals known as neurotransmitters to communicate. These are made in the brain and can manage mental and emotional health. One such neurotransmitter is serotonin. This can cause feelings of happiness, as well as manage your biological clock. A lot of these chemicals are also released by your gut bacteria in the body. In fact, a huge chunk of serotonin is produced by the gut.

Your gut bacteria also make a chemical known as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). This neurotransmitter can manage feelings of stress or anxiety. Animal studies show that some gut bacteria can increase GABA production. This can help minimize symptoms of anxiety or depression.

Gut bacteria have more chemicals to manage the brain

Your gut bacteria also produce more chemicals that can affect brain function. They can make a lot of short-chain fatty acids, or SCFA. Examples include butyrate and acetate.

SCFA is produced by breaking down the fiber in the gut. These, in turn, affect the brain in many different ways. This includes the function of lowering appetite. So how do SCFAs actually affect the brain then? Well, taking in propionate can lower your food intake. This then lowers the activity of the brain in response to high-energy nutrients.

Butyrate, as well as the gut bacteria that make it, are also essential. They make up the blood-brain barrier. This is an important separation between the blood and brain. Gut bacteria also break down bile and amino acids to make other chemicals that control the brain. Bile is a chemical made in the liver that is needed to absorb dietary fats. But they are just as important in affecting the brain.

Gut bacteria control inflammation

The gut-brain axis doesn't just involve these two organs. It also involves the immune system. Your gut microbes play a crucial role in the inflammation process. This is done by managing what is entering into the body and what is being expelled out as waste.

If your immunity is kept active for a long period of time, it can cause inflammation. Inflammation is linked to plenty of neurological disorders. These include depression, dementia, schizophrenia or Alzheimer’s disease.

Lipopolysaccharides are inflammatory chemicals produced by some gut bacteria. They result in inflammation if excess moves from the gut to the blood. That can occur when your gut becomes leaky. This means that the bacteria and the LPS can move into the blood. These, in turn, reach the brain and result in the brain disorders mentioned above.

How to use probiotics and prebiotics to control the gut-brain axis?

Since gut microbes can affect the brain, altering them can help improve brain health. Probiotics are living bacteria that can benefit health when eaten. That said, not all probiotics are equal.

Probiotics that manage the brain are commonly known as “psychobiotics”. Some of them have proven to better the symptoms of stress and anxiety. Meanwhile, prebiotics is fibers made by your gut bacteria. These are also known to affect brain function. Studies show that having prebiotic galactooligosaccharide for three weeks can lower stress. This is because it significantly lowers the level of the stress hormone cortisol in the body.

What foods should you have for your mental health?

There are some foods that are specifically helpful for your gut-brain connection. Here are a few of the more beneficial ones:

Omega-3 fats

Fats like these can be found in fish and fish oils and are also found in high levels in our brains. Studies show that omega-2 fatty acids can help gut bacteria increase in number. This, in turn, lowers the chance of getting brain conditions.

Fermented foods

Dairy products like yogurt, sauerkraut or cheese have healthy bacteria. These include lactic acid microbes. Fermented foods are also known to change brain function.

High-fiber foods

Legumes, grains, nuts, fruits, and vegetables all have prebiotic fibers. These are great for lowering stress hormone levels in people.

Polyphenol-rich foods

Green tea, olive oil, and cocoa have polyphenols. These promote healthy gut microbial growth which can better your brain health.

Tryptophan-rich foods

The amino acid tryptophan is needed to make serotonin. This is the happy chemical of the "human body". Turkey, eggs or cheese are good sources.

Healthy Nutrition Is the Best Way to Manage Brain Health

Millions and millions of nerves connect your gut and your brain. Then you have neurotransmitters and other biochemicals to further affect brain health. So, by changing the kinds of bacteria in the gut, it is possible to improve your mental health. Relying on proper diets and foods can help improve your gut and therefore your brain health.

Holistic nutrition is a great way to maintain a healthy diet with the most benefits. With the right nutrition and proper guidance, you can be sure your gut will keep you happy!

Should you be around Burlington, Ontario. Feel free to visit Pillars of Wellness. A multidisciplinary clinic offering a one-stop health solution including naturopathy, nutrition, acupuncture, physiotherapy, and chiropractic to name a few.
Laurent Pinci
Laurent Pinci
Pillars of Wellness is a truly Integrated Healthcare Centre providing a high degree of collaboration and communication among health providers.
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