Happy Gut, Happy Brain: Is There a Link Between Probiotics and the ENS?
Have you ever felt butterflies in your stomach or that feeling in your gut that you shouldn't do something? When we are nervous or overwhelmed, we are likely to get signals from our "second brain." No, it's not some scientific breakthrough that scientists have found a second brain in the human body that has never been discovered. Rather, hidden in the walls of our digestive system, this second brain or the brain in your gut, is changing medicine's understanding of how digestion, depression, mood swings, and even how we think are related to each other.
How Are the Gut and Brain Linked?
It sounds surprising, yet sometimes depression and anxiety can be related to gut health. Scientists say this is due to the "gut-brain" ENS (enteric nervous system). The ENS consists of two thin layers with more than 100 million nerve cells lining the gastrointestinal tract – starting at the esophagus and running all the way through to the rectum.
ENS, unfortunately, cannot write content nor do math for you. It doesn't provide any type of critical thinking or creativity. Its primary role is to control digestion – starting from the swallowing of food in order to release enzymes to help break down food, to blood flow control, and even helping with nutrient absorption all the way through waste elimination. Briefly, it takes care of the digestion process, which is one of our body's essential functions. While the ENS is not related to any thoughts per se, it does communicate with our brain.
Gut health and the brain are connected in two main ways:
- Physically: Gut and brain are connected through the vagus nerve. It is the nerve that controls messages to the gut and the lungs, heart, and other crucial organs.
- Chemically: Our gut is also connected to our brain through chemicals such as hormones and neurotransmitters.
The chemical messages that are passing from the gut and brain, and vice versa, can be affected by the viruses, bacteria, and fungi that live in the gut. It is called the gut microbiome.
The gut microbiome can be harmful, harmless, and sometimes beneficial as well.
Gut Microbiome and Mental Health: What's the Relation?
There is a strong link between suffering from mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, fatigue, and gut health-related issues such as indigestion, heartburn, bloating, acid reflux, constipation, etc.
Have you ever felt that uneasy feeling deep in your gut when you are stressed? It is not merely "in your head," and the physical symptoms can be closely related. Having depression or anxiety can cause a change in your gut microbiome because of what happens in your body when you are stressed.
Related Article: Gut-Brain Axis 101 — Can Gut Health Improve Mental Health?
Gut bacteria also create hundreds of neurochemicals that our brain uses to perform basic psychological processes and mental health functions such as memory, mood, and learning. For instance, gut bacteria create around 95% of our body's serotonin supply that influences both GI (gastrointestinal) activity and mood.
How Gut Microbes Affect the Brain Through Other Chemicals
There are trillions of microbes that live in our gut, and they make other chemicals that can affect our brain functioning.
Gut microbes produce a hefty amount of SCFA (short-chain fatty acids) such as propionate, acetate, and butyrate. They make SCFA when we consume fiber. SCVA affects how our brain works in several ways, such as loss of appetite.
Gut microbes also metabolize amino acids and bile acids to create other chemicals that affect the brain.
Gut health and gut microbes also play a crucial role in our immune system and inflammation, as it controls what is passed onto the body and what is eliminated.
Additionally, inflammation can lead to several mental health disorders such as depression and Alzheimer's disease.
How Do Probiotics Improve Gut Health?
Since gut bacteria affects mental health, changing your gut bacteria can improve your mental health. In other words, you can eat healthy bacteria, which help improve your overall gut health. I know what you're thinking, "I'm eating what? Bacteria?" You're not the only person with a raised eyebrow, but don't be alarmed, as we are talking about probiotics in some of the food we consume. Probiotics are live bacteria that exist in certain foods (which we will touch on shortly).
Some probiotics have been shown to bring positive change to symptoms of anxiety, stress, and depression. Clearly, you cannot market probiotics in such a way as to say they can prevent or cure anything, but the research surrounding the topic is quite interesting.
Now, consuming probiotics can be challenging. The amounts and types of bacteria in probiotics differ, and when the food is heated, there is a high probability that the healthy bacteria may die.
That said, some examples of food and liquids that contain probiotics are:
- Greek Yogurt
- Miso Soup
- Apple Cider Vinegar
It's a Tag-Team Effort
Gut health and brain health (and performance) are relatively co-dependent, as both can be given the tag of "brain."
Millions of neurons and nerves run between our brain and gut. Neurotransmitters, along with several other chemicals formed in our gut, also affect our brain.
When the types of gut bacteria are altered in the system, it may be possible to bring a positive impact on our brain health and mood.
Fermented foods, probiotics, omega-3 fatty acids, and some polyphenol-rich foods can improve your gut health. This, in turn, can be extremely beneficial for your brain health and mental performance.
What If You Don't Like the Foods Containing Probiotics?
This is actually a common question asked. It's not uncommon for people to not enjoy fermented foods or certain foods that contain probiotics – they can have an acquired taste to them. However, that doesn't mean you should throw your hands up in the air and walk away. There is one way to take in probiotics that is changing the way we look at healthy bacteria.
Now, you can take in two billion CFU (colony-forming units) probiotics in enjoyable flavors like fruit punch, chocolate, berry, and lemon mint. How? Through Evogen Nutrition Evogreens. Gut health never tasted so good! Best of all, it's part of the Evogen Naturals line that contains no artificial sweeteners or flavors, and is gluten and soy-free.
Evogen Nutrition Evogreens is a premium performance greens formula that contains six servings of fruits and vegetables (which most people don't get enough of in their daily nutrition), shelf-stable healthy probiotics, spirulina, patented VitaGranate®, and more to help improve gut health, performance, and immunity.
If you want a happy guy and happy brain, look no further than Evogen Nutrition Evogreens!