The complex functions of the gut and brain are becoming better understood day by day. The main function of the intestine is digestion. “Enteric Nervous System (ENS)” cells in the intestine take part in the control and regulation of digestion . Thanks to these cells , the intestine functions as a second brain, able to manage digestion independently of the brain. With the signals coming from this second brain, the connection between the intestine and the brain is established. However, the signals transmitted from the gut to the brain can affect some mental states such as depression , anxiety and stress. However, it is possible to positively support the gut-brain connection. There are natural methods that protect intestinal health and improve mental health.
What is the Gut-Brain Connection?
The gut microbiome plays an important role in the body’s daily functions, such as digestion and nutrient absorption. Scientific studies show that the intestine has an enteric nervous system (ENS). Unlike the central nervous system, the enteric nervous system contains more than 100 million nerve cells. These cells are located on the gastrointestinal tract, also called the gastrointestinal tract. Here they help digest food by controlling secretion and blood flow. In other words, ENS cells are a second brain that manages the digestive process in the body.
Studies show that this second brain can control intestinal activities independently of the brain. According to researchers, the purpose of this is to make digestion more efficient. Rather than providing digestive system control remotely via the spinal cord and brain, it would be more effective to provide it closely with the second brain in the intestine. With this complex neural network in the gut, the brain works “bidirectionally”. This means that signals from the gut can trigger stress, anxiety and depression in the brain.
The Gut-Brain Connection’s Impact on Depression
Gut health affects depression. It has been observed that people with inflammatory bowel disease exhibit more depressive behaviors. It is thought that this situation is caused by the irregularity of the pathways involved in the gut-brain connection. Because, according to research, signals of healthy intestinal microflora and signals of neurogenesis and behavioral control are transmitted to the brain through a common pathway. Thus, a disorder in the gut can affect mental health.
Another study examined the effect of probiotics in patients with irritable bowel syndrome and symptoms of depression. “Bifidobacterium longum NCC3001” probiotic was given to the patients daily. As a result, it was observed that the symptoms of depression decreased in patients using probiotics. Increasing the proportion of the microbiome in the gastrointestinal tract has contributed to mental health. This situation shows us the close relationship between the intestine and the brain.
The Gut-Brain Connection’s Impact on Stress
Research shows that stress is also closely related to the gut. The body has a “fight or flight” response to stress, with cortisol levels regulated by the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. When suddenly confronted with something frightening, physical reactions such as sweaty palms and increased heartbeat occur. When the stress factor disappears, the body returns to normal. However, when the body is under constant stress, it has this “fight or flight” response for a long time. This constant state of stress causes chronic inflammation. The body tries to overcome stress for a long time. In this process, beneficial bacterial species in the intestine take part in regulating immune responses.
What are Natural Ways to Improve the Gut-Brain Connection?
By protecting gut health, it is possible to improve the gut-brain connection and support mental health. The steps you will follow for this are:
Avoid Processed Foods
A diet containing refined and processed foods causes the natural structure of the intestine to deteriorate. Frequently consumed white bread, chips and packaged snacks are processed foods that should be avoided.
Probiotics are beneficial intestinal bacteria that ensure nutrient absorption in digestion and support the immune system. Probiotic-rich foods such as kefir and sauerkraut contribute to gut health.
Stay Away from Gluten
Traditional methods of producing grains that are more nutritious and digestible have been abandoned today. Therefore, minimizing gluten consumption will be beneficial for the intestinal microbiome.
Eat Healthy Fats
Fats are essential for brain development. Olive oil protects cells against damage with its high antioxidant content. It helps improve memory and cognitive function. It also plays an anti-inflammatory role in the body. Avocado oil protects heart health, helps digestion and supports mental health.
Shiitake mushrooms contain plenty of vitamin B6. Vitamin B6 contributes to the production of serotonin and neurotransmitters. In this way, Shiitake mushroom helps improve mental health and reduce stress.
Research shows that nuts such as almonds, cashews, walnuts and Brazil nuts are rich in serotonin. Thus, they support mental health.