A lot of us have probably felt that knot in our stomach when we’re stressed, or a loss of appetite due to nerves.
Recent studies suggest that the brain does affect gut health, and vice versa. The vagus nerve is one of the biggest nerves connecting your brain and your gut. Animal studies have shown that stress inhibits the signals sent through the vagus nerve, causing gastrointestinal problems. Others found that probiotics reduced the amount of stress hormone in their blood, but when the vagus nerve was cut, the probiotics had no effect.
The gut is also connected to the brain in other ways – for example, neurotransmitters such as serotonin, which contributes to feelings of happiness, are largely produced in the gut. Other chemicals that affect your brain also live in the gut.
So because the gut affects the brain, it makes sense that taking care of our gut can lead to improved brain health. For example, certain probiotics have been shown to improve symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression. Prebiotics also help to improve gut health (see this article for more info).
Diet is one of the most important factors that influences gut bacteria. The following food groups are especially good for the gut-brain axis:
- Omega-3 fats can increase good bacteria in the gut and have a positive effect on brain health. They are mainly found in oily fish, and they can also be found in chia seeds, brussels sprouts, hemp seed, walnuts and flaxseeds.
- Fermented foods such as kefir, probiotic yogurt, sauerkraut, tempeh, kombucha, miso and kimchi all contain good bacteria and have been shown to improve brain health.
- High fiber foods improve gut bacteria and can help to reduce stress. This includes foods such as whole grains, nuts, seeds, and many fruits and vegetables.
- Foods that are high in polyphenols are also very beneficial, such as green tea, cocoa/dark chocolate, olive oil, berries, beans, nuts, and red wine!
Taking probiotics and prebiotics in supplement form can also be a good option in addition to a balanced diet!