The Brain In Your Gut
We have another brain, in our gut. Its massive impact on our bodies is only being discoverer now, Nutritionist Honor Tremain explains,fitness First personal trainer, Cato Rutherford, likes to cover all bases, which is why he looks for “gut brain” issues if his clients aren’t getting results from their training. The theory that your stomach – and the bacteria in it – may influence your performance and wellbeing has been around for a while, but to Cato it’s more than just talk. For him, issues arising from the interplay between the “gut brain” and rest of the body are real and have a direct impact on his clients. Like some other health professionals, Cato takes the so-called gut brain axis seriously, and actually treats his clients using this knowledge. Cato says he’s able to spot whether a client has inflammation in a part of his or her body that’s due to the gut bacteria “being out of whack.”
In fact, he’s convinced gut brain problems are one of the main reasons some clients may not make progress despite working really hard. He believes that if he can educate people on how to eat to help their gut brain, they will get faster results. “I see a lot of stress related gut problems, and gut related brain problems,” Rutherford says. “Gut bacteria is so essential to weight loss and training outcomes, not to mention overall health, that probiotics and prebiotics are like the penicillin of the 21st century.”
So What Is The Gut Brain? Also referred to as our enteric nervous system or ENS, the gut brain is a completely different nervous system to the central nervous system that’s attached to the brain in our skulls. The gut brain is made up of roughly 500 million neurons or nerve cells, which is around 400 million more than in a normal rat’s brain (the human brain has around 90 billion). The gut brain is woven throughout the many layers of the wall of the entire digestive tract.
It starts at our esophagus, travels along our stomach and small intestine and finishes off where the colon exits our butt. It’s considered to be a single entity of its own that stretches an estimated nine metres from our mouths to our anuses. The gut brain is connected to the main brain by one cable: the vagus nerve. But the gut brain is so sophisticated that even severing this one connection between the two brains leads to no change in the functioning of most of its physiological tasks. The gut brain thinks and feels and is responsible for releasing hormones and neurotransmitters just like the brain in our skull.
It can even sense danger, record experiences,respond to emotions and environmental threats before our “head brain” can.
And in a slightly sci-fi way, it can learn too.
While this second nervous system has long been known to have control over digestion, what’s been a huge surprise is the significant effects it has over one’s thoughts, behaviour and emotional health. In a sense, the gut brain is the main area responsible for our happiness and sadness, because our gut is also the major producer and releaser of the neurotransmitter serotonin – commonly known as the “happy hormone”, -and it also contains dopamine, glutamate, norepinephrine, and even nitric oxide_Gut Bacteria But here is the kicker: our food choices and bacteria in our gut have a profound influence on our gut brain.
The discovery of this second brain is giving new meaning to old sayings such as: “trust your gut feeling”, “listen to your gut instincts”, “go with your gut” or “I had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach.” Where It All Started The story of our second brain begins many years ago in a primitive world. The gut brain was, it seems, the original nervous system and thinking centre for most vertebrates more than SO0 million years ago. And, as vertebrates evolved, becoming more complex, a new brain was born – our “head brain”. So our second brain should really be called our first, and vice versa, but what can you do? The gut brain – or enteric nervous system (ENS) – is a part of the nervous system and is somewhat automated, meaning we don’t need to think about it in order for it to work- like you do to move your arm up and down.
And being a nervous system, it’s made up of a network of neurons, which are basically a type of cell that processes, carries and transmits information via electrical signals or chemical messengers to other parts of the body.The information these particular enteric neurons commonly carry is the kind affects the movement of organs and secretion of glands. We now know that the ENS can work in conjunction with the brain, sending information to the brain from the gut relating to well-being and the safety of the environment, all of which may not ever come into your conscious thought, but you will still respond to it adequately without knowing you just did.
Gut Bacteria Wars
As strange as it sounds, cell for cell, humans are mostly bacteria, with bacteria outnumbering cells by 10 to 1. Most of this bacteria – 3kg to 4kg of it – reside in our gut. The gut brain has evolved over time in order to protect and use this bacterial ecosystem to our advantage, both physically and mentally. These bacteria control the gut and how it functions, helping us to digest foods and affecting our metabolism. They also manufacture vitamins from what we have eaten. And the gut bacteria literally design and program our entire immune system, build and strengthen the gut wall, influence emotional behavior, perception of pain and even stress responses. Gut bacteria also manufacture hundreds of neurochemicals that are used by our “head brain” to regulate basic mental processes, such as memory, learning and mood.
A study found that higher levels of good bacteria in the gut affected brain chemistry in such a way that the host felt and acted more boldly.
The “insipid badness” of bad bacteria, on the other hand, could make the host highly anxious. Think of it this way: you basically have a country of individuals residing in your abdomen. There are varying nationalities there and differing religious beliefs. Wars can break out for supremacy between the different camps. Some are good and some are bad. It’s a bit like the complicated conflict in the Middle East: there’s lots of fighting going on, many wars between many different groups and nations. They all think they are good, but the point is that whichever group is dominant determines how that country is run – or how you feel – thereafter.
In the gut there’s an ongoing battle between what we loosely term as “good gut bacteria” and “bad bacteria,” which are so called because they can cause disease and illness when they thrive.
Probiotics and Prebiotics We can support the “good bacteria” with the food we eat. This type of bacteria is also known as “probiotics,” a name derived from the Greek meaning: “For Life”. They are a type of microorganism that keeps the intestines healthy, helps with digestion, boosts the immune system, fights the bad bacteria that can cause diseases and illnesses, and even affects how we think and feel. The number and types of good gut bacteria strains is very important, as each strain fulfills a slightly different function within the body. Some, such as the Lactobacillus strains, have been proven to protect against bacteria that causes diarrhoea.
Some, such as Bifidobacterium infantis 35624, help patients with chronic fatigue syndrome improve.
Foods that naturally contain probiotics are yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, aged cheeses, miso, Tempe and kimichi. It’s believed we need from ten to 25 billion good bacteria per dose to actually make an impact on our health therapeutically, but these foods contain far lower amounts than that. It’s for this reason that supplements are usually recommended over food for treating specific health issues. For the most part, taking them around five minutes before eating a meal is best. But guess what? We don’t just need probiotics to be present in our gut for us to feel and be healthy; we also need to supply them with food to keep them alive.
This is where prebiotics come into play. A prebiotic is a non-digestible carbohydrate, which provides food to the good bacteria so they can survive. Naturally occurring prebiotic foods are yoghurt, whole grains, honey, garlic, onions, bananas and artichokes. And some probiotic supplements contain prebiotics too.
Relaxation techniques -can lower stress, which can physiologically lower the inflammation response, and help with weight loss. “If you feel great and are exercising well, life’s good” Cato says. While it’s complicated, the gut brain shows us that our whole being can basically be influenced by what we eat and the bacteria within us; food for thought…
;”>HONOR TREMAIN Honor is a qualified naturopathic nutritionist and health writer. She is verg passionate about nutrition and health, and has been working in the field for almost 20 gears. Follow her on Facebook at on.fb.me/ HKvHjn NOV/DEC 2013 FITNESS FIRST 29