The growing distrust over antibiotic overuse and associated rise of interest probiotics have both led to an increase in education about gut health. Millions of individuals who perhaps once knew very little about gastrointestinal health now understand the importance of microflora in overall health, from absorption of nutrients to the ability to fight off disease. One area of research that is getting more interesting with each passing year is the connection between the gut and mental health—commonly referred to as the “Gut-Brain Axis.”
Evidence has shown that the microbiome of the gut is not only a robust bacterial ecosystem, but one that can actually influence the ways in which we think and feel. On a high level, this could potentially mean a connection between gut health and mental health issues like anxiety and depression. As scientists look closer at how the gut works, it’s becoming increasingly evident that the sensation of “butterflies” in the stomach when we get nervous is due to more than just sheer coincidence. The gut, it appears, is capable of far more than what most people believe, and it all comes down to the function of the enteric nervous system (ENS).
Ever been told to trust your gut? Here are 10 science-based reasons why you actually should.
1. The Gut is—Surprisingly—Autonomous
As most people would guess, the vast majority of systems within the body are completely incapable of functioning without the support of the brain. The gut, however, is an entirely different story—a rebel, even. Signals from the brain influence some, but not all of the gut’s inherent activity, which means it’s essentially capable of acting on its own. Even the heart can’t pull this off, which makes the gut the “smartest” organ in the body outside of the brain.
2. Your Intestines are Immune
How exactly is it that you’re able to stay healthy after eating raw fish, or any food that may contain harmful bacteria at that rate? It all comes down to the gut and its insatiable ability to deal with bad bacteria, viruses and pathogens. As much as 70% of the body’s immune system can be found within the gut, effectively labeling it the central point in the body of staying healthy. If your intestines are even slightly “out of whack,” your immune system will be, too.
3. Your GI Tract Contains Over 100 Million “Brain Cells”
Just because they don’t actually live within the brain doesn’t make your gut’s “brain cells” any less powerful. In fact, the gut contains over 100 million neurons across its unbelievable 9 meters of length—far more neurons than can be found within both the spinal cord and the peripheral nervous system. It’s just another case for the gut being one of the body’s most intelligent systems.
4. Microbes Outnumber Cells by a Wide Margin
Did you know that the human body is made up of a whopping 37 trillion cells? If that number alone isn’t enough to surprise you, you’ll be shocked to learn that microbes actually outnumber cells within the human body by about 10x. Each and every microbe works to form a community that lives in symbiosis with the body, and the health of the overall community (typically referred to as the “microbiome”) influences the overall health of the body as a whole.
5. The Vagus Nerve: An In-between for Your Brain and Gut
So, how exactly does this all work? A lot of the connection between the brain and the gut comes down to the vagus nerve, which is located near the bottom of the brain stem. The nerve gets its name from the Latin word for “wander,” as its numerous endings travel between the brain and the body’s vital organs in order to transmit information. In the end, overall effects of the vagus nerve can result in increased anxiety and stress that can truly be felt within the body—the nerve has even been proven to be linked to fear conditioning. The emotional ‘rush’ that comes from a feeling of sadness, compassion and empathy, when we identify with the suffering of others and feel it within the body—the chest fills and the chin quivers and breath quickens, tears might well-up—are signs that the vagus nerve has been activated.
6. The Enteric Nervous System (ENS) Is Truly Amazing
When it comes down to what truly sets the gut apart from the rest of the body, the enteric nervous system (ENS) reigns supreme. It’s the mechanism that controls digestion and elimination within the body—two crucial functions that no one could possibly live without. It’s unclear at this point whether or not the ENS is part of the central nervous system, but many scientists believe it lives as a completely separate entity. The enteric nervous system is responsible for letting the body know it’s time for elimination, occurring without the need for the brain’s input.
7. The Gut Manufactures More Neurotransmitters than the Brain
Everyone is well aware of the fact that the brain is an impressive organ. The gut, on the other hand, is an unsung hero of sorts—one of the more incredible systems in the body for countless reasons. Add to the list the fact that more neurotransmitters are found within the gut than the brain itself. Serotonin, for example—the chemical often thought to be responsible for elevated mood—is primarily produced within the gut and goes through a complex process before finally metabolizing in the brain.
8. This May Mean Healthier Bones
Bone health is something that a lot of people get fixated on with age, and for good reason—it can easily contribute to longevity. Emerging research has shown that bone density reduction in mice has actually been reversed by serotonin released within the gut—the same process that occurs within the human body. This research has informed a closer look at osteoporosis and what can be done to prevent it from affecting quality of life.
9. Autism May Be Linked, Too
One link between gut health and overall well-being that has surprised many researchers is the overwhelming amount of gut health imbalances among those who suffer from autism—more specifically, leaky gut and irritable bowel syndrome. While it’s still unclear just how autism and gut microflora imbalances play off of one another, the fact that nine out of every ten cases of autism shows a GI issue is certainly worth paying closer attention to as research moves forward.
10. Food Influences Your Mood
It’s commonly assumed at this point that the food we eat matters, but the connection between diet and brain health isn’t always given the focus it deserves. When we eat fat-laden foods, for example, feelings of happiness tend to increase. Chow-down on carbs and all of a sudden, serotonin levels are boosted. Why? It all comes down to how the ENS and the gut process certain foods, and the overall results on mood and mental health are astounding to say the very least.
“Trusting your gut” may be something you learned as a motivating tool at a young age, but it turns out that the science of a connection between gut health and your mind is actually worth paying attention to. So treat your GI tract right—your brain may depend upon it.
About Innovia Nectar
Innovia Nectar is the first probiotic exclusively using innovative technology that guarantees an excellent probiotic shelf stability for 24 months. Unlike other probiotics, it’s designed with a micro-shot system that separates the powder probiotic from the plant extract- and vitamin-fortified liquid until the moment the packaging seal is broken and the two are combined. This unique system keeps the probiotic fresh, dry and stable until the moment of consumption
SOFAR Americas, Inc. is owned by Italian pharmaceutical manufacturing firm SOFAR S.p.A., who has 45 years of experience in the Pharmaceutical and Nutritional field producing branded pharmaceuticals, medical devices and dietary supplements of the highest quality. Expertise, flexibility, and innovation are the guiding values and allow the design, development, production, and distribution of the innovative products for the health and the well-being of the people.