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Have you ever felt a wave of emotions after eating certain foods? The gut-brain axis, or GABA, is an increasingly studied system that explains why your mood can be affected by what you eat or drink. It is the connection between your digestive system and your central nervous system, and when the two work harmoniously, they can cause positive mental and physical reactions. Gut health can influence decreased stress, improved cognitive function, more balanced emotions and better sleep.


In the past, scientists have considered the brain the most important organ for mental health. However, more and more evidence is beginning to reveal the importance of gut health. This blog will discuss the gut-brain axis, why the gut can affect mood, recent research and studies, gut-brain axis disorders, and tips to improve the gut-brain axis.

What is the Gut-Brain Axis?

The gut-brain axis is a communication link between the gut and the brain. It includes four main pathways that enable your brain and digestive system to send and receive signals to and from one another. 

The pathways of the gut-brain axis are as follows:

Neuroendocrine Pathway – This pathway communicates between the hypothalamus and the gastrointestinal tract. The hypothalamus, the part of your brain responsible for emotion and motivation, receives behavioural and cognitive signals that affect your hormones and gut symptoms.


Autonomic Nervous System – This pathway transmits signals from the brain to organs in the digestive system that control digestion and is responsible for digestion-related processes such as the production of digestive enzymes and the speed of the digestive process.


Immune Response – This pathway determines how the body reacts to specific foods, bacteria or viruses within the digestive system and how the body communicates those reactions to the brain. It maintains a balance between the immune system and the rest of the body, as an imbalance can cause digestive issues.


Enteric Nervous System – Lastly, the enteric nervous system connects the neurons of the gastrointestinal tract to the brain and is responsible for digesting food, absorption, and secretion of digestive juices in the gastrointestinal tract.

Gut affecting brain health

Why Does the Gut Affect Mood?

The gut-brain axis is responsible for taking signals from the brain and communicating them to the gut, ultimately affecting overall health. In order to discuss why the gut affects mood, one must understand the current research and studies conducted to develop this subject.

Current Research & Studies

Research has found that the gut-brain axis has a profound effect on mental health. According to an article published by the BBC it had shown that disturbances in the microbiota within the gut can impair communication between the gut and brain, resulting in a variety of mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.


This research reinforces the view that the gut-brain axis is closely connected with mental well-being. Furthermore, research conducted at King’s College London discovered that bacterial imbalance in the gastrointestinal tract can damage the brain’s hippocampus – overwhelmingly responsible for learning and memory – resulting in poor cognition and memory.

Anxious Person

Gut-Brain Axis Disorders

It is important to note that the gut-brain axis does not only have a positive effect – it is estimated that up to 90% of all mental health issues can be attributed to gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), depression and anxiety.


Depression and anxiety are arguably two of the most common mental health issues associated with an impaired gut-brain axis. Studies have found that imbalanced gut microbiota can affect the hippocampus – responsible for regulating mood – resulting in increased anxiety and depression.


Gastrointestinal issues are also highly linked to depression – several studies have indicated that those with GI issues are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety than those without. The connection between the gut and the brain is complex, and disorders caused by an impairment in the gut-brain axis can be difficult to diagnose and treat. However, understanding the connection between the two can be beneficial in treating and improving mental health

Tips to Improve Gut-Brain Axis Tips to Improve Gut-Brain Axis

The importance of treating gut-brain axis disorders is increasing in light of recent research – with gut health being linked to mental health, it is becoming more and more crucial to understand and treat issues connected to the gut-brain axis.

Balanced diet for gut health

Here are some tips to help improve your gut-brain axis:

Eat a balanced diet – Eating a balanced diet rich in probiotics, prebiotics and polyphenols can help restore balance to the gut microbiota and improve gut-brain axis function.

  1. Eat a diverse range of foods: This can lead to a diverse microbiome, an indicator of good gut health. In particular, legumes, beans and fruit contain lots of fibre and can promote the growth of healthy Bifidobacteria.

  2. Eat fermented foods: Fermented foods such as yoghurt, sauerkraut and kefir all contain healthy bacteria, mainly Lactobacilli, and can reduce the amount of disease-causing species in the gut.

  3. Limit your intake of artificial sweeteners: Some evidence has shown that artificial sweeteners like aspartame increase blood sugar by stimulating the growth of unhealthy bacteria like Enterobacteriaceae in the gut microbiome.

  4. Eat prebiotic foods: Prebiotics are a type of fibre that stimulates the growth of healthy bacteria. Prebiotic-rich foods include artichokes, bananas, asparagus, oats and apples.

Manage stress levels – Unmanaged stress can damage the gut-brain axis, as it can cause damage to both the neurons in the gut and the hippocampus of the brain.


Exercise regularly– Regular exercise encourages the release of endorphins, which can help improve mood and reduce stress levels, as well as increase the amount of beneficial bacteria in the gut.


Prioritize sleep – Poor sleep can have a detrimental effect on mental health, and can damage your gut-brain axis. 

Summary

In conclusion, the gut-brain axis is a complex system that explains why the gut can affect our mood. While more research is needed to fully understand the effects of the gut-brain axis, it is clear that it is becoming increasingly important to maintain a healthy gut in order to maintain good mental health.


Understanding the current research and studies surrounding the gut-brain axis, how it can cause disorders, and how to improve it, is key to maintaining a healthy gut-brain axis and improving overall health.

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