There's no mistaking the power of a gut feeling. If you've had one (and you probably have!), you know what we mean. That revealing sensation is how your body tells you what to react to or how to feel. While a gut feeling is your brain sending signals to the rest of your body, communication goes the other way, too. Think of how you experience “brain fog” or an afternoon slump after a heavy lunch. The gut and brain are connected and in constant communication with each other, and their back-and-forth is what we call the gut-brain axis.
The gut-brain axis allows the gut to influence the brain and vice versa, and communication is key in making sure everything is running smoothly. The vagus nerve, which is the main component of your parasympathetic nervous system, establishes one of the communication channels between your gut and brain. Tasked with overseeing several bodily functions including mood control, immune response, digestion, and heart rate, stress on the vagus nerve can impact both your gut and brain. Likewise, enhancing beneficial bacteria in the gut has the potential to improve mood and brain health.
Read on for more information regarding how your brain and gut work together to impact how you feel, as well as some tips for how to support both.
First, some news that may surprise you. Did you know that neurotransmitters, like those associated with mood, are actually produced in the gut?1 So are chemicals that have been shown to support brain function.2 Your gut is doing a lot of important work and you may not even be aware of all of it.
Caring for your digestive system as a whole should be a priority, as the overall health of your gut may influence your behavior, how you respond to stress, and your mood.3 Immune function may also be impacted, as specialized immune tissue called GALT (Gastric Associated Lymphoid Tissue) is found in your intestines.4 As you can guess, food plays a huge role in gut (and thus brain) health. Foods high in prebiotic fibers like certain fruits, legumes, and oats are beneficial to the gut's microbiome, as are fermented foods such as yogurt and kimchi. Probiotic supplements have also been linked to restoration of the gut's microbiota.
The brain can also impact the quality of the digestive tract lining and the release of chemicals to support healthy digestive function.1 Your brain controls the speed at which food moves through the digestive tract.5 Ever had to run to the bathroom when you're stressed? You know what we mean. Support your brain and lessen stress with physical exercise, proper sleep, and mindfulness exercises such as meditation.
The gut-brain axis is a powerful connection and maintaining both a healthy digestive tract and brain can help you feel better all-around.
- Cirillo C, et al. Minerva Endocrinol. 2011;36(4):311–324.
- Bathina S, et al. Arch Med Sci. 2015;11(6):1164-78.
- Rea K, et al. Neurobiology of Stress. 2016;4:23-33.
- Donaldson DS, et al. Journal of Virology. 2015;89(18): 9532-9547.
- Schemann M. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2005;41 Suppl 1:S4–S6. doi:10.1097/01.scs.0000180285.51365.55