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The Gut and Brain Connection

The Gut-Brain Connection and How To Improve Your Gut Health

If you’re trying to better your health, you might focus on consuming more vegetables, fruit, increasing your vitamin and mineral intake, and exercise.

However, an essential part of good health is a balanced, supported, and healthy gut.

When it comes to thinking about gut health, most people assume that all they need to do is ensure that they don’t have diarrhoea or constipation, and if they don’t, they think they’re healthy!

However, gut health is much more complex than this and this is due to the fact that the gut is linked to the brain, meaning that if you’re brain or gut health isn’t in tip-top shape, then they will both become affected.

In this article, I’m going to give you all of the information you need to properly understand the gut-brain connection, as well as tell you exactly how you can improve your gut health to bring you to higher levels of health and wellbeing.

What Is The Gut-Brain Connection?

The gut and the brain are linked together in a variety of ways and therefore have a close-knit relationship with each other.

The enteric nervous system is the nervous system of the gastrointestinal tract, the tract that includes all of the major organs used for digestion.

This nervous system is commonly known as the second brain due to the fact that it controls a number of important digestive functions independently from the central nervous system (including everything from swallowing to absorption in the intestines), whilst also communicating with it when it needs to through neurons.

Gut Health Photo

The communication between the brain and the gastrointestinal tract via the enteric nervous system is what’s known as the gut-brain axis.

The gut is also home to the most immune cells within the entire body, and immune cells are closely linked with mental health. If your immune system is on high alert for too long, this can lead to chronic inflammation.

Similarly, if you’re consuming foods that cause inflammation or you are dealing with high levels of stress for a long period of time that cause inflammation, your immune system will suffer.

In addition, a large proportion of neurotransmitters that are produced in the body, such as serotonin (a neurotransmitter that supports our mood and feelings of wellbeing) and gamma-aminobutyric acid (a neurotransmitter that controls fear and anxiety levels) are created in the digestive system by gut cells and microbes.

Therefore, the gut needs to be healthy and have an optimal balance of bacteria to support the brain, and mental health and cognitive function need to be supported in order for the gut to be in an optimal state of health.

How Can You Monitor Your Gut Health?

Although you should keep a track of any changes in your bathroom habits/feeling in the gut/stool, there are also extra tests that you can do to monitor your gut.

You don’t just have to test your gut health if you think you have problems, testing your gut is a great idea for all since a lot of gut issues don’t show physical symptoms for all.

The best test that you can do to check your gut health is a comprehensive stool test. You can do this at specific gut health labs or at your doctors.

All you need to do is take a stool sample and then once the lab/doctor receives your sample, they will be able to get an idea of what the microbiome of your gut looks like.

If your microbiome is diverse and you have sufficient colonies of healthy bacteria, the better your gut health and overall health will be.

In addition, this type of test will show if there are any parasites, bad bacteria, or infections, as well as show the inflammation levels, immune function, and the amount of short-chain fatty acids.

Once you have your results, you can make changes to your diet and lifestyle to support better gut health.

The lab/doctor that does this test for you should be able to provide you with specific information about how you can improve your gut health.

Although, before you take a gut test, you might want to be aware of what type of symptoms you should look out for, in relation to the gut-brain connection.

Stress-Related Gut Problems and Symptoms

One of the most common reasons for gut problems is stress.

If you are experiencing high levels of stress, cortisol levels are higher, and this negatively impacts the digestive system.

The gastrointestinal tract will become less able to digest food and absorb nutrients.

Therefore, issues such as increased gas, diarrhea, constipation, indigestion, nausea, and loss of energy may occur.

In addition, stress promotes inflammation.

Therefore, you may also succumb to issues associated with Inflammatory Bowel Disease if the inflammation is allowed to occur for a long period of time, such as stomach pain, blood in your stool, and even Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis.

If you experience any of the symptoms mentioned above, you need to start prioritizing your gut health, and in particular, thinking about the importance of the gut-brain connection.

Probiotics benefits

How To Improve Your Gut Health

Now you know exactly what the gut-brain connection is, how important this connection is in achieving a good state of overall health, how you can test your gut, and how you can spot the symptoms of an unhealthy gut, it’s time to look at how you can improve your gut health.

Although each individual body works uniquely, here are the most important things that you need to focus on if you want to improve your gut health.

1Reduce Stress Levels

Due to the fact that the gut-brain connection is so strong and stress levels affect the health of the gut (as well as the overall health of your body and mind, of course), you need to reduce your stress levels.

You can reduce your stress levels by doing two things: changing your lifestyle and supplementing with adaptogens.

If you live a lifestyle that promotes feeling stressed, you can try and promote more of a work-life balance in your life, exercise daily, practice mindfulness, and prioritize sleep and rest.

You can also reduce stress levels by supplementing with adaptogens.

Adaptogens, such as ashwagandha, can literally adapt the way that your body responds and reacts to stress, with the aim of reducing stress levels and promoting relaxation.

Check out my top recommendations for ashwagandha supplements online.

2Eat An Anti-Inflammatory Diet

To reduce inflammation in the body, in addition to reducing your stress levels, you need to eat an anti-inflammatory diet and avoid foods that can cause inflammation.

Of course, everyone’s personal intolerances and allergies are different, and different foods promote inflammation in different people.

Therefore, make sure you’re aware of what foods make you bloat, give you digestive problems, and make you feel sick.

However, in general, there are certain inflammatory foods you should be avoided, and certain foods that can help reduce inflammation.

Foods to avoid:

  • Refined carbs, eg white bread, baked goods
  • Fried food
  • Fizzy drinks
  • Processed food
  • Sugary confectionary
  • Red meat

Foods to consume:

  • Olive oil
  • Tomatoes
  • Leafy greens, eg kale and spinach
  • Almonds and walnuts
  • Fish
  • Fresh berries

3Eat Foods That Improve Gut Health

As well as following an inflammatory diet, you should consume foods that promote good digestive health.

Although some of these foods are already mentioned in the “foods to consume” section above, there are additional foods that you should add to your diet to promote better gut health.

High Fiber Foods

Fiber improves the softness of your stool, therefore, reducing the likelihood of constipation, as well as promotes healthy bacteria within the gut.

Examples of high fiber foods are lentils, beans, whole grains, leafy greens, chickpeas, and berries.

Fermented Foods

Fermented foods are rich in probiotics and enzymes and therefore they promote a healthier gut microbiome and boost the immune system.

Some of the best-fermented foods/drinks are yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, and kefir.

Prebiotic Foods

Prebiotic foods are fibers and natural sugars that help to feed good bacteria that already exist within the gut.

Although there is a wide range of prebiotic foods out there, the most commonly known prebiotic-rich foods/drinks are artichokes, oatmeal, honey, legumes, and red wine.

Polyphenol Rich Foods

Polyphenols are plant compounds that help to reduce stress levels and inflammation, as well as promote healthy gut bacteria. Most polyphenols can’t actually be absorbed and therefore they are digested by gut bacteria.

Food/drinks rich in polyphenols include dark chocolate, red wine, grapes, green tea, berries, and onions.

4Eat Foods That Improve Mental Health

Now you know about the foods that are good for your gut, it’s just as important that you know about foods that can boost your mental health and cognitive function.

Generally, the most powerful foods that promote good mental health and cognitive function are foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B, vitamin D, zinc, magnesium, and iron.

Therefore, some of the best foods you can take to support your mental health are:

  • Fatty fish, such as salmon
  • Avocado
  • Whole grains
  • Chicken
  • Leafy greens, such as spinach and kale
  • Nuts, such as walnuts and cashews
  • Olive oil
  • Dark chocolate

5Think About Supplementing With Probiotics and Prebiotics

If you’re consuming enough probiotics and prebiotics through your diet, you may want to supplement them.

Probiotics

Probiotics, as mentioned briefly above, are supposed to help balance the bacteria in the gut, prevent digestive issues such as diarrhea and constipation, reduce symptoms of IBS and other digestive illnesses, and might even boost mental health.

Although you can supplement with probiotics if you really want to, they are extremely fragile and therefore it’s difficult for them to survive through the manufacturing process of making a supplement, especially when it comes to being treated with heat.

Therefore, the probiotics in a supplement may actually already be destroyed before you take them.

So, although you could supplement with a probiotics powder or capsule supplement and it may provide you benefits, you are much more likely to experience the benefits of probiotics if you choose to consume probiotic-rich foods.

Prebiotics

Prebiotics can be consumed as a supplement much more easily due to the fact that they’re much less affected by heat and the manufacturing process.

Therefore, consuming a prebiotic supplement may provide you with the benefits that would occur when consuming prebiotic-rich foods.

6Make Sure You Consume Essential Micronutrients

You should constantly prioritize consuming the correct amount of essential vitamins and minerals daily to ensure you’re body and mind are in the highest possible state of health.

This includes your gut health!

If you struggle to consume enough micronutrients, you should supplement.

Forget insufficiently dosed, artificially made capsule multivitamin supplements though, and start looking towards the world of superfoods.

Superfood powders, and in particular super greens powders, can supply you with all of the essential micronutrients that your body needs whilst also supplying you with specific health benefits.

For example, my own super greens formula, Super Green TONIK, provides a wide range of essential micronutrients but also supports mental health, energy levels, gut health, cognitive function, and performance.

Just make sure that you choose a super greens supplement that has sufficiently dosed ingredients, a fully disclosed ingredients label, and a selection of potent ingredients that will definitely provide you with the essential micronutrients you need.

If you’re interested in purchasing a super greens formula, take a look at the 5 best super greens formulas on the market!

The Bottom Line – Focus On Improving The Gut-Brain Connection

The gut-brain connection is absolutely essential to focus on and support when you are trying to achieve a better level of health, and especially if you are dealing with gut or mental health problems, since the two are intricately linked.

Promoting good gut health is actually quite simple though, just make sure you’re eating the right foods to support you, supplementing if you need to, avoiding foods that can cause inflammation, and changing your lifestyle so that you’re less stressed!

Good luck and here’s to better gut health!

Adam Author

About the LifeHacker Guy

Hi, I'm Adam the founder of the LifeHacker Guy.

I have a First Class Honours degree in Sports Science from Brighton University, specialising in exercise physiology and nutrition. In my youth I was a competitive Triathlete and long-distance runner placing top 10 in most triathlon races I completed.

Since suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, I moved into web development, after a couple of years I then moved onto developing a number of online businesses. I've recently taken a sabbatical and I'm now looking to make big changes in my life, hopefully this may resonate with you - join me in my journey!

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