How to Take Care of your “Second Brain”

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You’ve probably heard one your friends talk about probiotics or seen various magazines mention “gut health” while standing in line at Whole Foods. You’re probably wondering the same thing as us, why did they have to call it “GUT” health? Well, we can’t answer that question, but researchers and scientists have discovered some remarkable things about our guts (our digestive system) and how they relate to not only our physical but mental health as well.

Medical professionals have dubbed the gut our “second brain” because of its connection to the brain through the enteric nervous system, which resides in the gut. The gut and brain are in constant communication with each other. So that gut feeling you get, or butterflies you feel when you’re nervous, or upset stomach in times of stress, there’s a reason for that. Learning to “trust your gut” may be quite beneficial!

We have trillions of microbes that live on us, but a majority of them live in our gut. These bad boys pretty much run the show. Not only are they mostly in charge of our physical health, but our mental health as well. And today, with a majority of us feeling stress or anxiety, it’s imperative that we take a look at what’s going on in our gut. 

The gut and brain are connected by the vagus nerve and communicate via this “highway.” In fact, 90% of serotonin, the “happy chemical,” is produced in the gut and is just one of the numerous biochemical messengers dictating our mood and behavior that our microbes impacts.

If you ain’t eatin’ right, ya ain’t thinkin’ right! Let’s put it that way.

This community of microbes in our digestive system is called the microbiome. This is a complex ecosystem of bacteria that make up 70-80 percent of the immune system. The trillions of microbes and diverse organisms help govern nearly every function of the human body in some way and regulate our digestive system, metabolism, and immune system. Even though they are tiny in size, they’re kind of the head honchos of the body.  

The research of the microbiome and its role in the body is in its infancy. Researchers are only at the beginning of discovering exactly how important taking care of our gut is, but there is already mounds of information showing how incredibly important it is. However, way back in the day Hippocrates seemed to have an idea, stating “all disease begins in the gut.” Now that we know that the bulk of the immune system lives in the gut and there is a literal brain-gut connection,  that doesn’t seem too far off!

What determines if someone’s microbiome is in good shape or not? It comes down to the balance of “bad bacteria” versus “good bacteria.” Replenishing the microbiome with the “good bacteria” or probiotics will help support the microbiome. Eating probiotic foods, such as fermented foods or beverages can increase the good guys. But the good guys gotta eat if they are going to work for ya, so prebiotics are just as important.  More on that later. 

The good guys in your microbiome are like your personal army that works for you nonstop. These soldiers are always on patrol, deciding what to attack and what not to attack. Taking care of our microbiome will ensure that your soldiers will fight properly for you.

In order to achieve a healthy microbiome, we have to have a diet full of anti-inflammatory foods, probiotics (to replenish the good guys), prebiotics (to keep 'em fed), keep our stress levels at bay, and exercise regularly.

A good microbial balance will:

  • boost your energy levels
  • improve sleep
  • support your metabolism
  • enhance detoxification
  • improve your mood
  • improve nutrient absorption
  • decrease food sensitivities
  • balance your blood sugar
  • reduce temporary inflammation
  • protect you from disease and infections

Probiotics for Mood and Sleep

The good guys in our gut also affect our nervous system, which is a big player in our mood and energy cycles. So, by getting your gut health in check you can improve your mood, boost your overall energy, and improve your sleep.

Good bacteria speaks to the brain via the vagus nerve, which is the longest nerve in the body and the literal brain, gut connection. Certain probiotics have beneficial impacts on our mood and mental state and research shows that regular supplementation can improve mood. Good microbes produce brain chemicals like serotonin, lower cortisol which spikes during stress or anxiety and reduces inflammation, which has been linked to mood swings.

Probiotics produce and regulate neurotransmitters and hormones that impact our sleep, including tryptophan, which is crucial for melatonin production and quality sleep. So while probiotics produce chemicals to keep you from feeling stress which disrupts sleep, they at the same time produce the very chemicals that help you get some shuteye. Pretty amazing, right??

The good guys also help us absorb and assimilate nutrients, which is essential for optimal energy. Without good bacteria, we would not be able to absorb vitamins and minerals in the foods that we eat and our energy levels suffer. Probiotics also help to support balanced blood sugar levels, which is vital for maintaining a steady stream of energy in our body.

Well, the good guys gotta eat to grow strong to work for ya properly. So, you have to make sure you are consuming prebiotics as well. Prebiotics are often overlooked, but hugely important.

Think of it this way: probiotics are your gut bugs, right? Well, prebiotics are the food they need to eat in order to grow. In other words, probiotics are the seeds to your gut garden and prebiotics are the water for them to flourish.

Foods for a healthy gut garden:

Probiotic Foods:

  • Fermented vegetables (sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi)
  • Kombucha
  • Coconut Kefir
  • Natto
  • Miso
  • Tempeh
  • Yogurt

Prebiotic Foods:

*Prebiotic foods are food for your bacteria! These are fiber-rich foods that not only help with healthy bowel movements but cleanse the system of toxins that can weigh us down as well.

  • Garlic
  • Asparagus
  • Bananas
  • Cruciferous vegetables
  • Chicory root
  • Dandelion greens
  • Beans
  • Okra
  • Legumes
  • Root vegetables
  • Leeks
  • Artichokes
  • Onion

Look to add several probiotic and prebiotic foods or beverages into your daily diet. The bulk of your diet should be vegetables, so incorporating prebiotic foods can be a big part of that. Just think, your microbes need fuel too! If they aren’t fed well, they will not do the jobs they are capable of doing! Help those little guys out!

Comments 1

  1. Some great info – thanks for making what can be a confusing topic really user friendly!! A great and helpful summary 👍😊

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