The Gut-Brain Connection and Your "Second Brain"
Did you know that what goes on in your gastrointestinal system has a major impact on your thinking, emotions, and immune function? Yep—it turns out that “having a gut feeling” is a real thing. In fact, your gut is a key control center in your body, which is why researchers call it your “second brain.” There is a gut-brain connection and I’ll tell you why keeping this second brain in great shape is so crucial to your mood, thinking, and health.
Your gut can make you happy—or sad.
Here’s a quick science lesson. Your gastrointestinal tract has its very own nervous system, called the enteric nervous system, or ENS. This system sends information to your brain via your vagus nerve, which runs from your abdomen to your brainstem.
Believe it or not, your gut sends more messages to your brain than your brain sends to your gut. (That’s amazing, isn’t it?) Because the gut is home to more than 90% of the body’s serotonin and about 50% of its dopamine, people suffering from depression or anxiety often experience profound relief when they improve their diets.
I’m able to wean many of my patients off of antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs entirely, simply by getting them to eat healthy, natural foods. In short, how you feel emotionally isn’t just about what’s going on in your head—it’s also about what’s going on in your gut!
Immunity is a gutsy thing.
Your digestive tract is also where 80% of your immune system is located. Research is revealing links between an unhealthy gut and a wide range of medical problems, including obesity, allergies, asthma, and cancer. In fact, many researchers believe that diseases often stem from a communication breakdown between the gut and other parts of the body.
Ground zero for disease prevention in the GI tract is a specific group of lymphatic tissues called “Peyer’s patches.” These little patches are responsible for roughly 70% of your immune system’s function. They work as a surveillance system, analyzing all the food that passes through and then sending one of the following messages to the rest of your intestinal tract:
- This is healthy food … digest it and take up the nutrients.
- This is a foreign invader … attack and destroy.
If your Peyer’s patches falter, your body starts absorbing things it should reject and rejecting things it should absorb. Generally, people have about 30 to 40 Peyer’s patches. Unfortunately, as we age, they tend to atrophy and decrease in number. This is one big reason why we’re more susceptible to disease as we age. Fortunately, a few simple strategies will help optimize the health of your Peyer’s patches and your gut overall. The more of these strategies you implement, the healthier your gut will be.
Here’s are 8 ways to a healthier "second brain":
1. Limit or stop your consumption of:
- Processed foods - Refined sugars - Alcohol - Caffeine - Grains - Seed oils (these are high in omega-6 oils, which are pro-inflammatory)
2. Take antibiotics only when absolutely necessary; these play a major role in killing off healthy gut flora.
3. Avoid exposure to pollutants, pesticides, and other chemicals.
4. Eat coconut milk yogurt, coconut milk kefir, sauerkraut, refrigerated pickles, and kimchi. These are probiotic foods that supply your body with good bacteria.
5. Eat prebiotic foods such as jicama, onions, garlic, asparagus, leeks, bananas, chicory root, and Jerusalem artichokes. These supply the soluble fiber that your good gut bugs love to eat.
6. Take a powerful probiotic supplement to flood your system with good bacteria such as lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidobacterium lactis.
7. Manage your stress. Activities like yoga and meditation don’t just calm your mind; they help heal your “second brain” as well.
8. Drink bone broth every day. The gelatin and anti-inflammatory nutrients in bone broth soothe and heal your gut.
Follow these rules, and you’ll keep your gut running like a well-tuned engine. As a result, you’ll think more clearly, feel happier and less anxious, and lower your risk for everything from the flu to cancer. More than 2,000 years ago, Hippocrates said that all disease begins in the gut. Today, we know that glowing health and a cheerful mood start in the gut as well. So treat your hard-working second brain with the respect it deserves, and pamper it every single day!