We’re often taught to think of the digestive system as a machine that processes food. But it’s actually far more complicated.
Understanding our brain-gut connection is the key to optimal health and wellness, both physically and mentally.
Before we dig deeper into the brain-gut connection, let’s take a look at some interesting facts about the gut.
Aside from the brain, the gut is the only organ that has its own nervous system, which is known as the enteric nervous system or ENS.
Recent research on the gut microbiome has highlighted how the gut-microbiome-brain axis affects different aspects of our health and well-being.
This has a profound impact on a variety of physical and mental health conditions.
Dysbiosis: A severe disturbance in the bacterial ecosystem and an imbalance of gut bacteria is linked to:
Some research shows that certain bacteria affect our responses to immunotherapy treatment for cancer and our immune system’s ability to fight cancer.
So, how do we best care for the gut-microbiome-axis, promoting longevity and holistic wellness and healing?
Your diet plays a major role in supporting a healthy gut.
1. Eat more dietary fiber from whole foods.
This can help reduce inflammation, regulate blood sugar and cholesterol, and improve immunity.
2. Introduce probiotics into your diet.
Probiotics are living strains of bacteria that add to the population of good bacteria in your digestive system.
Their consumption dates back to ancient societies, such as Greece, Rome, China and India.
Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, pao cai, cheese, yogurt, sourdough bread and kombucha are popular ways to add probiotics to your diet.
You can also take probiotics, however food sources offer a more diverse source.
3. In addition to probiotics, be sure to incorporate prebiotics.
Prebiotics act as food for the good bacteria.
Prebiotic foods include kiwi, mango, peaches, apricots, cherries, broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, cabbage, kale, rutabaga, turnips, arugula, pumpernickel bread, cacao, chickpeas, lentils, black beans, navy beans, walnuts, and mushrooms like shiitake, lion’s mane and white button.
Drinking oolong, black and green teas, as well as cranberry and Concord grape juice will also add prebiotics to your diet.
Be mindful of what you eat while also acknowledging the parameters of your life.
Make small changes at a time.
Leave behind the mindset of healthy vs. unhealthy, which just adds judgment.
Think about being in a partnership with your gut bacteria. If you feed them well, they’ll give you health benefits in return.
Tip: Roast a big batch of vegetables on Sunday for a “snack of the week.”
And remember to forgive yourself, recover and make different choices when necessary.
What happens in your gut is inextricably tied to what happens in your brain — and vice versa.
Rich sensory information generated in the gut, such as “butterflies” or your “stomach in knots,” is sent to the brain.
Likewise, the brain’s limbic system generates nerve signals that express emotions in the digestive tract in much the same way that signals are sent to the facial muscles, resulting in expressions.
Try to postpone eating when you’re managing something emotional, and seek ways to manage stress for the sake of your emotional well-being and physical health.
It doesn’t matter what you eat if you can’t digest it well.
The wisdom of Ayurveda, the traditional healing system of India, offers guidance on promoting healthy digestion.
In Ayurveda, Agni (or the digestive fire) is key.
One way to support Agni is to consume an Agni “kindler” 10 minutes before a meal. These include foods like:
Other Ayurvedic tips include:
As much as possible, eat locally grown, fresh, seasonal foods that are nutrient-dense, and avoid overeating.
Allow space between your meals for other activities like sleep, exercise and meditation.
Research on the gut-microbiome-brain axis shows how gut health and our microbiome profoundly impact the body’s natural defense system and our emotional well-being.
To further explore strategies for taking care of your gut-microbiome-axis and promote holistic wellness, including a brief mindfulness practice to enhance your ability to digest and process what you are eating, listen to the full podcast episode:
As a holistic coach, psychologist, mindfulness, meditation & yoga instructor, & Ayurvedic doula I offer personalized paths to growth & healing.