Love your gut, your second brain – Advice from Registered Dietitian Jo Travers on the gut-brain axis and how to nurture it for good gut health

Our gut health has the power to impact not only our physical wellbeing, but also our mental health and mood. This is due to a direct link between the gut and the brain, called the gut-brain axis.

The gut and the brain ‘talk’ to each other on a regular basis, using special chemical messengers produced by the billions of different bacteria that live in our gut. For example, among these we can find dopamine and serotonin – also known as happiness or ‘feel-good’ hormones. Although gut-brain axis communication is two-way, over 80% of the messages are actually sent from the gut to the brain rather than the other way round. So, it really does pay to give your gut some love!

As Jo Travers, Registered Dietitian for Love Your Gut Week (20 – 26 September) explains: “The gut is connected to many of the body’s organs, whether it’s through digestive enzymes or the link to the immune system, and its connection with the brain is one we can absolutely use to our advantage.

“Although scientists are still working to fully understand this two way street, it appears that the gut is attuned to the signalling and functionality of the brain and vice versa, so if conditions are less favourable in either place, then this can affect the other.”

To help us give our gut (and brain!) the love and attention it deserves, Jo has shared her top tips on how we can begin:

  1. Get enough sleep

Sufficient sleep is something everyone needs. Found yourself resisting sleep to watch another episode of that favourite box set? This unfortunately means you may be depriving yourself of sleep which in turn, won’t help communication between the gut and the brain.

The bacteria in the gut directly communicate with the central nervous system[i] and disrupted sleep can affect the levels of bacteria in the gut[ii].

  1. Manage your stress levels

Because of the unique link between the gut and the brain, mental stress can affect what happens in the gut. We’ve all had “butterflies” when we are nervous and many people who suffer with IBS notice their symptoms getting worse if they are stressed.

This mental stress can actually alter hormones that work on the gut[iii]. By practicing meditation, or any relaxing activity, you can reduce stress[iv] and help your gut get back to normal functioning again.

  1. Nourish the gut (bacteria)

There is some evidence that what you eat can affect how you feel mentally, via the gut-brain axis[v]. Fibre from plants feeds the bacteria in the gut that, in turn, produce chemicals to communicate with the brain.

The greater variety of plant foods you eat, the broader the range of useful bacteria your gut can support.

  1. Include Fermented foods

Fermented foods like kombucha, kefir or other fermented milk products actually contain bacteria that can alter brain activity via signalling pathways in the gut-brain axis. The consumption of fermented food was shown to reduce social anxiety[vi] in young women.

  1. Increase polyphenols

Polyphenols are plant compounds that are thought to be involved in the gut-brain axis. Polyphenols help gut health by encouraging the growth of useful bacteria like Bifidobacterium strains and inhibiting the growth of “bad” bacteria such as C. difficile[vii]. Eating foods that are high in polyphenols has also been shown to affect cognition[viii]

For further information on Love Your Gut Week, as well as access to helpful resources and delicious recipes, visit www.loveyourgut.com.

For more information and useful resources including those below, visit www.loveyourgut.com.


[i] The Brain-Gut-Microbiome Axis. Clair R. Martin, Vadim Osadchiy, Amir Kalani, and Emeran A. Mayer https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6047317/#

[ii] Gut microbiome diversity is associated with sleep physiology in humans

Robert P. Smith, Cole Easson, Sarah M. Lyle, Ritishka Kapoor, Chase P. Donnelly, Eileen J. Davidson, Esha Parikh, Jose V. Lopez, Jaime L. Tartar . Published: October 7, 2019

https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0222394

 

[iii] Current opinion in behavioral sciences Stress, depression, diet, and the gut microbiota: human–bacteria interactions at the core of psychoneuroimmunology and nutrition

Annelise Madison and Janice K Kiecolt-Glaser 2019

 

[iv]  Am J Pharm Educ. 2019 Jun;83(5):7001. doi: 10.5688/ajpe7001. Impact of a Yoga and Meditation Intervention on Students’ Stress and Anxiety Levels

Virginia Lemay 1John Hoolahan 1Ashley Buchanan 1

 

[v] Clara Seira Oriach, Ruairi C. Robertson, Catherine Stanton, John F. Cryan, Timothy G. Dinan,Food for thought: The role of nutrition in the microbiota-gut–brain axis, Clinical Nutrition Experimental,Volume 6,2016,Pages 25-38, ISSN 2352-9393, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.yclnex.2016.01.003.

[vi] Matthew R. Hilimire, Jordan E. DeVylder, Catherine A. Forestell,

Fermented foods, neuroticism, and social anxiety: An interaction model,

Psychiatry Research,Volume 228, Issue 2,2015,Pages 203-208,ISSN 0165-1781,https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2015.04.023.(https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0165178115002140)

[vii] Cardona, Fernando & Andres-Lacueva, Cristina & Tulipani, Sara & Tinahones, Francisco & Queipo Ortuño, Mª Isabel. (2013). Benefits of polyphenols on gut microbiota and implications in human health. The Journal of nutritional biochemistry. 24. 1415-1422. 10.1016/j.jnutbio.2013.05.001.

 

[viii] Filosa S, Di Meo F, Crispi S. Polyphenols-gut microbiota interplay and brain neuromodulation. Neural Regen Res. 2018;13(12):2055-2059. doi:10.4103/1673-5374.241429