9 Mind-Blowing Gut Brain Connection Facts You Need To Know

The gut has increasingly gained recognition for its integral role in our overall health and well-being over the past decade. Often referred to as our “second brain,” the gut houses a complex nervous system called the enteric nervous system (ENS), which communicates with our brain through the gut-brain axis.

In this second installment of our series exploring gut health and pain, we will delve deeper into the fascinating gut brain connection and its implications for our health.

As we explore part two we will explore unravelling the gut-brain connection in more detail.

In our previous article, we introduced the concept of gut health, its impact on our well-being, and its connection to pain. This time, we will discuss the following topics:

How Does Nutrition Affect Mood and Pain?

Our brain’s optimal functioning depends on a balanced diet, much like a car relies on quality fuel. Insufficient nutrition can negatively impact mental health, mood, sleep, physical health, immune function, and pain. This is one aspect of why the importance of understanding the nature of the gut brain connection is critical to overall health.

Studies have found alarming connections between chronic pain and mental health in Australia:

  • Nearly 50% of those with chronic pain also suffer from depression and anxiety 1
  • Suicide rates are two to three times higher among chronic pain patients compared to the general population
  • Major depression in chronic pain patients is linked to reduced functioning, poorer treatment outcomes, and increased healthcare costs, and
  • High rates of generalised anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and substance abuse are also reported among chronic pain patients.

Researchers believe that the key to understanding the role of nutrition in mental health and chronic pain lies in the gut brain connection. 2 3

Understanding the Gut Brain Connection

The gut and brain are intimately connected through a bidirectional communication system. The central nervous system, comprising the brain and spinal cord, communicates with the enteric nervous system (ENS) through the gut-brain axis.

This complex communication network involves several components, including the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, immune cells, the vagus nerve, short-chain fatty acids, neurotransmitters, gut permeability, the gut microbiome, and the autonomic nervous system (ANS). 4

The Enteric Nervous System (ENS) and its Role

The topic of the gut brain connection would be incomplete without discussing the role of the ENS. The ENS is part of the autonomic nervous system, which regulates our internal organs subconsciously. Housing an intricate network of 50-100 million nerve cells, the gut has earned the title of the “second brain.”

This complex network enables communication and integration of information from our gut to the rest of the body while controlling gut movement (peristalsis), fluid exchange for digestion (digestive juices), and blood flow.

Mood and the Gut: An Intricate Connection

Numerous studies support the link between gut health and mood, with the gut-brain axis being the key. Researchers have discovered that the gut produces nearly 90% of our serotonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for happiness, sleep regulation, pain modulation, and general well-being. 5 6

An imbalance in serotonin and other neurotransmitters can significantly affect mood, sleep, and behaviour. 7 8

Current research on this topic includes:

  • The impact of the gut-brain axis on neurotransmitters and vice versa
  • The manipulation of neurotransmitters by introducing bacteria into the gut 9 10
  • The role of gut microbiome in mood, and
  • The influence of the gut microbiome on brain function. 11

This influence of the gut microbiome on brain function is through neuroimmune and neuroendocrine pathways, as well as the nervous system.

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Preliminary findings indicate significant changes in microbial diversity among individuals with mood disorders, suggesting that the brain-gut-microbiota axis could be a promising target for disease diagnosis and therapeutic intervention.

The Relationship Between Nutrition, Sleep, and Pain

The bidirectional link between sleep and pain is well-established. Sleep disturbances are common among individuals with chronic pain, with pain directly affecting sleep quality and duration. Poor sleep, in turn, exacerbates the pain cycle, affecting pain sensitivity, episode duration, and intensity. 12 13 14

Furthermore, inadequate sleep impacts mood, memory, energy levels, and rational thinking. Interestingly, research has also uncovered a bidirectional relationship between nutrition and sleep: 15

  • Quality sleep supports hormonal and metabolic balance, stress response reversal, and the repair, recovery, and rebooting of the brain and body 16 17 18
  • Sleep affects hunger hormones, with good sleep increasing leptin (appetite suppressant) and decreasing ghrelin (appetite stimulant) 19 20 21
  • Poor sleep is associated with irregular eating habits, snacking, high-calorie meal choices, and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and obesity 22
  • Sleep plays a crucial role in the nervous system, as it improves the brain’s waste removal system – the glymphatic system, and 23
  • The gut microbiome influences sleep quality and circadian rhythm, with research suggesting that gut bacteria can affect sleep onset and quality. 24 25 26
gut brain connection and sleep
The Gut-Brain Connection and Sleep are Bidirectional

The links between sleep, metabolism, microbiome, weight, nutrition, and pain are the subject of ongoing research. If poor sleep contributes to increased pain and unhealthy eating habits, could a change in diet improve sleep and pain outcomes?

Exploring the Gut-Liver, Gut-Lung, and Gut-Kidney Axes

Did you know that there is a lot more complexity in the connectivity than just a broad gut brain connection? Scientists are also investigating three additional axes that highlight the intricate connections between the gut and other organs in our body:

  1. Gut-liver axis
    • Researchers are examining the role of gut bacteria in the risk of developing fatty liver disease, as 70% of blood flow to the liver comes directly from the gut
  2. Gut-lung axis
    • Ongoing research explores the impact of gut microbiota on asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pneumonia, and some cancer development
  3. Gut-kidney axis
    • Studies are investigating how diseased kidneys affect microbiota and how microbiota increase toxin release in chronic kidney disease

These complex networks demonstrate how gut health is linked to numerous diseases throughout the body, explaining why we are only just beginning to uncover the vast potential of this fascinating area of medicine. 27

As a result, the field of psychobiotics has emerged to study the relationship between live bacteria, gut health, brain health, and the manipulation of these factors to improve overall well-being. 28

The Importance of a Healthy Gut for Mental Health

It almost seems like stating that a healthy gut supports good mental health about the gut brain connection goes without saying. As we continue to uncover the intricate connections between the gut, brain, and overall health, it is essential to understand the role a healthy gut plays in maintaining mental well-being.

gut brain connection
The Gut Brain Connection is inextricably bonded to Metal Heath

A well-balanced diet, rich in fiber and nutrients, provides the foundation for a flourishing gut microbiome, which in turn supports various aspects of mental health, including mood regulation, stress management, and sleep quality.

The Role of Probiotics and Prebiotics in Gut Health

Probiotics, or live beneficial bacteria, and prebiotics, which are non-digestible food ingredients that promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut, can play a critical role in maintaining and improving gut health.

By introducing specific strains of probiotics and consuming prebiotic-rich foods, individuals may be able to positively influence the composition of their gut microbiome, leading to better brain function, mood regulation, and overall well-being.

The Future of Gut Brain Connection Study

As research in the gut brain connection expands, scientists hope to develop new and innovative therapies and interventions that target the gut microbiome to treat various mental health disorders and chronic pain conditions.

As our understanding of the gut-brain axis and its implications for overall health continues to grow, personalised nutrition and medicine that considers an individual’s gut microbiome could become a reality.

FAQs

How do I fix my gut brain connection?

To improve your gut brain connection, start by adopting a well-balanced diet rich in fiber, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. This nourishes beneficial gut bacteria and supports a healthy gut microbiome.

Additionally, incorporate probiotics and prebiotics in your diet to promote the growth of good bacteria. Manage stress through relaxation techniques like meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises, as stress can negatively impact gut health. Prioritise getting quality sleep, since it plays a crucial role in maintaining the gut brain connection.

Finally, consider consulting a healthcare professional for personalised advice tailored to your specific needs.

Is the gut brain connection real?

Yes, the gut brain connection is real and has been extensively researched. This connection refers to the complex communication network between the gut and the brain, facilitated by the enteric nervous system (ENS) in the gut and the central nervous system (CNS).

The gut brain connection involves various components, including neurotransmitters, immune cells, the vagus nerve, and the gut microbiome. This bidirectional communication influences various aspects of our health, such as mood, mental well-being, and pain perception. A healthy gut brain connection is essential for maintaining overall health and well-being.

Can gut health affect your brain?

Absolutely, gut health can affect your brain due to the gut brain connection. This connection is a complex communication network that links the gut’s enteric nervous system (ENS) with the brain’s central nervous system (CNS).

The gut microbiome plays a crucial role in this connection, influencing mood, mental well-being, and even cognitive function. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood and sleep, is predominantly produced in the gut.

Imbalances in the gut microbiome can impact the production of serotonin and other neurotransmitters, ultimately affecting brain function and mental health. Maintaining good gut health is essential for a healthy brain.

What are the signs of an unhealthy gut?

Signs of an unhealthy gut can manifest in various ways due to the gut brain connection. Common symptoms include digestive issues like bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, and heartburn.

Additionally, unexplained weight changes, fatigue, skin irritations, and food intolerances might indicate an imbalanced gut microbiome. Poor gut health can also affect mental well-being, leading to mood swings, anxiety, and depression. A weakened immune system and frequent infections may be associated with gut issues as well.

Addressing these symptoms through a balanced diet, regular exercise, and stress management can help improve gut health and strengthen the gut brain connection.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the gut brain connection is a complex and fascinating field of study that holds significant promise for improving our understanding of the relationship between gut health and overall well-being. By maintaining a healthy gut through a well-balanced diet, stress management, and quality sleep, individuals can support their mental health and potentially alleviate symptoms of chronic pain and other related conditions.

The future of gut brain research is undoubtedly exciting, with the potential to transform how we approach health and wellness.

Join the conversation on the gut brain connection and share your thoughts on Instagram and Pinterest with us! Also, check out some of the amazing products on offer that are relevant to gut health, such as Shilajit and Ultimate Fibre.

References

  1. “Chronic Pain and Mental Health” – Pain Australia Staff, 2018 [Pain Australia] [Archive] ↩︎
  2. “The impact of whole-of-diet interventions on depression and anxiety: a systematic review of randomised controlled trials” – R. S. Opie, A. O’Neil, C. Itsiopoulos, F. N. Jacka, 3 December 2015 [Camberidge University] [Archive] ↩︎
  3. “Food pyramid for subjects with chronic pain: foods and dietary constituents as anti-inflammatory and antioxidant agents” – M. Rondanelli, M. A. Faliva, A. Miccono, M. Naso, M. Nichetti, A. Riva, F. Guerriero, M. De Gregori, G. Peroni, S. Perna, 22 April 2018 [Camberidge University] [Archive] ↩︎
  4. “Autonomic nervous system” – K. Rogers, 3 February 2023 [Britannica] [Archive] ↩︎
  5. “Recognizing Depression from the Microbiota–Gut–Brain Axis” – S. Liang, X. Wu, X. Hu, T. Wang, F. Jin, 29 May 2019 [PubMed] [Archive] ↩︎
  6. “Indigenous Bacteria from the Gut Microbiota Regulate Host Serotonin Biosynthesis” – J. M. Yano, K. Yu, G. P. Donaldson, G. G. Shastri, P. Ann, L. Ma, C. R. Nagler, R. F. Ismagilov, S. K. Mazmanian, E. Y. Hsiao, 9 April 2015 [ScienceDirect] [Archive] ↩︎
  7. “Brain Hormones” – S. Fish, 24 January 2022 [Endocrine Society] [Archive] ↩︎
  8. “Neurotransmitters: The critical modulators regulating gut-brain axis” – R. Mittal, L.H. Debs, A.P. Patel, D. Nguyen, K. Patel, G. O’Connor, M. Grati, J. Mittal, D. Yan, A.A. Eshraghi, S.K. Deo, S. Daunert, X.Z. Liu, 10 April 2017 [PubMed] [Archive] ↩︎
  9. “Neurotransmitter modulation by the gut microbiota” – P. Strandwitz, 15 August 2019 [PubMed] [Archive] ↩︎
  10. “The Role of Neurotransmitters in Pain Perception” – B. Meyer, 9 December 2016 [Beverley Meyer] [Archive] ↩︎
  11. “Current Understanding of Gut Microbiota in Mood Disorders: An Update of Human Studies” – T. T. Huang, J. B. Lai, Y. L. Du, Y. Xu, L. M. Ruan, S. H. Hu, 19 February 2019 [PubMed] [Archive] ↩︎
  12. “The association of sleep and pain: An update and a path forward” – P. H. Finan, B. R. Goodin, M. T. Smith, 1 December 2014 [PubMed] [Archive] ↩︎
  13. “Self-Reported Sleep Quality and Quality of Life for Individuals With Chronic Pain Conditions” – L. A. Menefee, E. D. Frank, K. Doghramji, K. Picarello, J. J. Park, S. Jalali, L. Perez-Schwartz, December 2000 [The Clinical Journal of Pain] [Archive] ↩︎
  14. “Sequential daily relations of sleep, pain intensity, and attention to pain among women with fibromyalgia” – G. Affleck, S. Urrows, H. Tennen, P. Higgins, M. Abeles, 15 May 1996 [ScienceDirect] [Archive] ↩︎
  15. “Sleep and Metabolism: An Overview” – S. Sharma, M. Kavuru, 2 August 2010 [PubMed] [Archive] ↩︎
  16. “Role of Sleep and Sleep Loss in Hormonal Release and Metabolism” – R. Leproult, E. Van Cauter, 28 March 2011 [PubMed] [Archive] ↩︎
  17. “The Important Role of Sleep in Metabolism” – G. Copinschi, R. Leproult, K. Spiegel, 2014 [Karger] [Archive] ↩︎
  18. “Interactions between sleep, stress, and metabolism: From physiological to pathological conditions” – C. Hirotsu, S. Tufik, M. L. Andersen, 19 November 2014 [ScienceDirect] [Archive] ↩︎
  19. “The role of leptin and ghrelin in the regulation of food intake and body weight in humans: a review” – M. D. Klok, S. Jakobsdottir, M. L. Drent, 24 August 2006 [Wiley] [Archive] ↩︎
  20. “Short Sleep Duration Is Associated with Reduced Leptin, Elevated Ghrelin, and Increased Body Mass Index” – Author, S. Taheri, L. Lin, D. Austin, T. Young, E. Mignot, 7 December 2004 [PubMed] [Archive] ↩︎
  21. “Orexins, Sleep, and Blood Pressure” – M. Sieminski, J. Szypenbejl, E. Partinen, 10 July 2018 [PubMed] [Archive] ↩︎
  22. “Sleep patterns, diet quality and energy balance” – J. P Chaput, 18 July 2013 [ScienceDirect] [Archive] ↩︎
  23. “Deep sleep cleanses the brain” – T. Lilius, 28 February 2019 [Univeristy of Helsinki] [Archive] ↩︎
  24. “Microbiota Diurnal Rhythmicity Programs HostTranscriptome Oscillations” – C. A. Thaiss, M. Levy, T. Korem, I. Amit, E. Segal, E. Elinav, 1 December 2016 [Cell Press] [Archive] ↩︎
  25. “Chapter Nine – Circadian Rhythm and the Gut Microbiome” – R.M. Voigt, C.B. Forsyth, S.J. Green, P.A. Engen, A. Keshavarzian, 6 September 2016 [ScienceDirect] [Archive] ↩︎
  26. “Time for Food: The Intimate Interplay between Nutrition, Metabolism, and the Circadian Clock” – G. Asher, P. Sassone-Corsi, 26 March 2015 [ScienceDirect] [Archive] ↩︎
  27. “The gut microbiome: Relationships with disease and opportunities for therapy” – J. Durack, S. V. Lynch, 7 January 2019 [PubMed] [Archive] ↩︎
  28. “Psychobiotics and the Manipulation of Bacteria–Gut–Brain Signals” – A. Sarkar, S. M. Lehto, S. Harty, T. G. Dinan, J. F. Cryan, P. W. J. Burnet, November 2016 [PubMed] [Archive] ↩︎

Last Updated on 4 months by D&C Editorial Team

About the Author

Christine has long been on the path to optimal health. With a history of weight loss coaching she is driven by a passion for nutrition, health and wellness. Having grown up in Africa before migrating to New Zealand, and then Australia, she has seen very strong contrasts in quality of life and is driven to help others understand the importance of taking a holistic approach to life.

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