Brain health is integrally linked to the health of our guts. Our bodies contain trillions of harmless bacteria that are important for our health, with hundreds of species living in our gut.
A variety of good gut bacteria has been tied to better mood, mental health and immune systems. Absence of certain good bacteria has been linked to autoimmune diseases, endocrine disorders, skin conditions, and cancer.
The Gut Microbiome and the Brain
We have all seen the recent hype in the media over the importance of nutrition in gut health. However what does this actually mean; how does our gut health affect our brain health? And how can we seek to achieve optimal gut health?
Firstly, the gut and the brain are inextricably linked, being connected physically via the vagus nerve and chemically by neurotransmitters such as GABA and serotonin. This connection is known as the ‘gut-brain axis’. Notably, our gut affects our brain health and brain affects our gut health, e.g.; anxious feelings often cause bowel symptoms, similarly, stomach or intestinal trouble can elicit anxiety or depressive like symptoms.
The gut contains more microbes than there are cells in the entirety of our body, with the collection of these organisms known as our microbiota. These bacteria are hugely important for the health of not only our gut, but the rest of the body, with roles in digestion, nutrient absorption, immune system regulation and reducing inflammation.
Altering and manipulating the bacteria within our gut, via nutrition, can directly improve brain health. Interestingly a diverse microbiota obtained through a diverse diet full of antioxidants and vitamins is associated with lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Furthermore, beneficial bacteria in gut is associated with reducing inflammatory associated diseases, type 2 diabetes and obesity.
Our gut health and brain health, amongst other systems, are influenced by the health of our microbiome and this is mostly optimised through having a diverse diet, which helps the gut to flourish and protects against one species dominating.
Important foods for gut health
Aside from a diverse diet, incorporating a range of food groups and a range of colours. Key foods for gut health are:
• Fermentable foods; kefir, sauerkraut, cheese – contain beneficial microbes and have positive influence on brain activity.
• Omega 3 fatty acids; oily fish – increase good bacteria and reduce risk of brain associated disorders
• High fibre; wholegrains, vegetables, nuts and seeds – good sources of prebiotics to help ‘feed’ the bacteria in our gut
• Polyphenol rich foods; coffee, green tea – important to increase the beneficial bacteria in our gut