In the realm of health, the gut-brain connection has sparked numerous discussions in our blog and social media, and we're diving deeper than ever before. Unveiling the intricate relationship between the gut, the brain, and the often elusive territory of weight management is our mission in this article. By understanding the science behind this relationship, we gain insights into how these systems collaborate to impact our overall well-being.
How are the Gut and Brain connected?
In case you didn’t know, the brain and the gut are intricately connected both physically and biochemically in several ways. This network is known as the gut-brain axis. The gut-brain axis is a sophisticated network that bridges the gap between our gastrointestinal tract and the brain. This intricate system relies on neural pathways, hormonal signals, and immune responses to facilitate communication between these two crucial components of our body.
One of the main conduits of communication between the gut and the brain is the vagus nerve, a major nerve that runs from the brainstem to the abdomen, and plays a crucial role in transmitting signals between the gut and the brain. This nerve acts as a messenger, relaying information about gut activities, nutrient absorption, and microbial balance to the brain. Conversely, the brain uses the vagus nerve to influence gut functions, impacting digestion and movement.
The gut produces and releases various hormones, such as serotonin and ghrelin, which play a pivotal role in shaping our mood, appetite, and brain functions. Serotonin, often referred to as the "feel-good" neurotransmitter, is produced in substantial amounts in the gut and plays a role in regulating mood and emotions.
Our gut is also home to a vast community of microorganisms known as the gut microbiota. These microbes produce signaling molecules and metabolites that influence both gut and brain functions. The gut microbiota can affect neurotransmitter production, and immune responses, and even contribute to conditions like anxiety and depression.
The immune systems of the gut and the brain engage in a cross-talk of immune cells and molecules. Immune responses in the gut can release cytokines and other signaling molecules that affect brain function. Simultaneously, the brain can trigger signals that influence immune responses in the gut.
How does this connection affect weight loss?
Now you may be wondering how this gut-brain axis affects weight loss, right? Well, disruptions or imbalances in the gut-brain axis have been associated with various health conditions, including gastrointestinal disorders, neurological disorders, and mental health disorders. Often referred to as our second brain, the gut plays a pivotal role in our overall well-being.
In case you didn’t know, here are some fun facts about your gut:
- There are more nerve endings in this area than in your entire central nervous system
- Over 70% of the immune system you have, exists within the gut
- This is why eating clean and healthy is so important to have good overall health
When we consume food, our gut becomes the central hub for digestion, metabolism, and nutrient absorption. The nutrients derived from food are then supplied to our cells, providing essential energy for our body's functions. Therefore, it truly all starts with what we eat but also, with how our body fulfills these processes according to each food. A diet dominated by ultra-processed and poor-quality foods sends skewed signals to the brain, resulting in reduced satiety, increased cravings, and potential feelings of anxiety or depression. If we change our eating habits instead and adopt a healthy diet, it triggers positive responses such as feeling full after meals and cultivating a sense of balance and well-being.
Going back to the connection with weight loss, if we follow a clean, healthy diet with no sugars, filled with healthy fats, low in carbs, and, of course, not highly processed foods, our gut microbiome will be balanced. When this happens, the brain receives positive messages, such as the feeling of fullness after a meal and stable blood sugar levels which will lead to eating less in between meals or eating just the amount you need to eat which will lead to weight loss. Choosing healthier options over time becomes a habit, a conscious shift that allows the brain to opt for nourishing choices instead of less favorable ones.
What can you do to help the Gut-Brain axis?
Creating a harmonious gut-brain axis requires a deliberate shift in lifestyle practices that not only enhance physical health but also contribute to a more fulfilled life. Of course, embracing adjustments will help you live a healthier, happier, and more fulfilled life since these changes can significantly impact two of life's most crucial areas.
When it comes to food and diet, prioritize foods that foster beneficial gut bacteria, such as healthy fats, whole foods, and vegetables. Incorporate sources of fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha, which contain probiotics that support gut health. Consider adding prebiotic-rich foods such as garlic, onions, leek, or asparagus to your diet to boost it. If appropriate, consider taking high-quality probiotic supplements to help maintain a healthy gut microbiota.
You should also include in your diet foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as fatty fish, flaxseeds, and walnuts, which have been associated with improved brain function. Avoid consuming highly processed foods, and definitely skip the sugar, as these have been shown to negatively impact gut bacteria and overall health.
Try to limit antibiotics and medication and only take them when necessary, as excessive use can disrupt the balance of gut bacteria.
To see major benefits and improvements:
- try to aim for a clean high-fat low-carb diet
- consume alcohol and caffeine in moderation, as excessive intake can affect gut health and sleep patterns
- practice mindful eating by eating slowly and mindfully
- pay attention to hunger and fullness cues as it can support healthy digestion and nutrient absorption
- drink plenty of water and staying hydrated will support the digestive processes and maintain a healthy gut lining
When it comes to your lifestyle, there are some things you can do that will help promote your gut health.
Physical activity contributes to the growth of beneficial gut bacteria while enhancing mood and cognitive function.
Aside from daily movement, you should prioritize getting enough restful sleep, as sleep is essential for both gut and brain repair and maintenance. There are 7 types of rest and sleep is only one of them, so you should also focus on the other 6 to enjoy brain and gut health. Try to find a way to manage your stress by engaging in stress-reducing activities such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, yoga, and mindfulness to help regulate the stress response, which can influence the gut-brain axis.
Also, maintain strong social connections and engage in positive social interactions, as these can positively impact both mental well-being and gut health. Try to stay away from negative people or people who don’t align with your goals, and focus on people who are aligned with you, your values, and your lifestyle. This will positively impact your mental health and your overall health.
Remember, the connection between the gut and brain goes beyond a simple link – it's a complex network that can significantly shape our weight loss journey and overall health.