Cognitive Performance Expert and Founder of SOFOS Associates
The gut-brain connection refers to the two-way communication system between the gut and the brain. Specifically, this axis is the neurological and biochemical connection between the nervous system of the intestine and the central nervous system.
The microbiota-gut-brain axis is an exciting field of study that we’re continuing to learn more about every day. A large body of research has supported the presence of a pathway of communication between the gut and the brain, fine-tuned by gut microbiota.
There are physical and chemical connections between the gut and the brain as millions of nerves and neurons pass between these two areas. Neurotransmitters and other chemicals produced in your gut also affect your brain.
The human brain consumes 25-30% of the body’s energy so it comes as no great surprise that how we fuel our bodies and the digestive process impacts brain function.
Impact of digestion on brain function
The human brain consumes 25-30% of the body’s energy so it comes as no great surprise that how we fuel our bodies and the digestive process impacts brain function. It is why the gut microbiome affects the immune system; the nervous system, an individual’s behaviour, ability to cope with stress, their mood and issues such as anxiety and depression.
A great example to illustrate the connection comes from the saying ‘butterflies in the stomach’. This phrase is intended to highlight how a strong emotional reaction in the brain can impact a physiological response in the gut. A diagram below illustrates the interconnectedness of the brain and gut.
The changing brain
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to change over the course of an individual’s life. Research studies have shown us that the brain can shape and structure over the course of time. We have also seen through studies that new synapses can form (synaptogensis) and new brain cells can grow (neurogensis).
It is now known that the reciprocal communication between gut and brain involves neurological, metabolic, hormonal, and immunological signalling pathways and disturbance in these systems can result in altered behaviour.
For example, as we know gut inflammation is associated with changes in gut-brain interactions. Studies have shown there is a high connection between inflammatory bowels and anxiety which has led us to have a greater awareness of ensuring when we have good gut health, we feel better and perform better too.