An analysis of the connection between the gut, brain health, and the impact our microbial biome has on our mood, behaviors, and decision making.
So we all know that a cornerstone of yoga is awareness. Awareness of the body and how we are feeling, becoming in touch with our inner emotions, experiencing each sensation as it happens, and staying fully rooted and anchored in the present moment… These are some sentiments we hear everywhere these days but why is this body and mind connection so vital?
As is so beautifully displayed in this book, The Mind-Gut Connection by Emeran Mayer, MD, he offers scientific evidence connecting the bacteria living in our guts, with our brain health and even intuitive decision making. This book has been such an insightful read, expressing the inter-connectedness of the mind, gut, and the ecological landscape of the planet as a whole, and beyond.
Going into this review of the principles I learned therein, I will examine feedback loops, mood + behavior, and health implications relating to the gut microbiome. Examining the ways these systems work together to create positive or negative responses in the body and unfolding how our diets affect this bacteria and in turn these subconscious feedback loops.
INTEROCEPTIVE // VAGUS NERVE //FEEDBACK LOOP
Relating to stimuli produced within an organism, especially in the gut and other internal organs. the sense of the internal state of the body
People who are highly interoceptive can sense more sensation in the body such as digestion and heartbeat
Interoception refers to the signalling and perception of internal bodily sensations especially within the digestive organs
Our internal organs carry memory which when detected can alter our brain state. By being more in touch with the way our body feels, which muscles are tensing, how quickly our heart is beating and other interoceptive cues, we can lead our mind into calming the body and correcting any maladies of being. The correct use of these interceptive clues can help us to attain higher emotional states, while the sensation of our heart beating or a stomach growl can trigger internal cues which when fed to the brain can cause a looping reaction, one affecting the other and causing exponential growth.
This happens over time as an intestine wall which has been weakened due to poor diet and low grade chronic inflammation, leaks more of these signaling chemicals into the brain via a more permeable intestine lining. Allowing these bacteria to escape and increase further. – Making sure to maintain our gut health along with mental health is so important over time! Treating one without the other won’t lead to lasting health, but approaching our body as a whole can heal us naturally and fully over time. This connection between internal and external feelings lays the groundwork for a scientific reasoning that asks, why is this so in so many people?
The Vagus Nerve — the longest nerve in the human body, wanders from the brainstem to the lowest viscera of the intestines. A main characteristic of this system is its bidirectionality, where 90% of the signals actually travel from the gut back up to the brain! While 90% of this nerve is used to send direct signals from our digestive organs to the brain, the 10% which is bidirectionally feeding back from the brain —> the gut creates a loop of real time communication!!
This nerve is the superhighway, connecting the digestive organs and internal gut feelings with our brain. There have been some methods shown to improve the strength and toning of the vagus nerve. Some of these behaviors are Loving Kindness Meditation LKM and being of service to others. These practices devoted to empathy and good will have been shown to improve the vagal tone of the nerve allowing for a better connection between feelings and choices.
Understanding this connection between the gut and brain we learn how to properly handle it, we can recognize when our gut microbiome is getting out of whack and fix it before the symptoms take over creating more and more problems. While a healthy body can increase health more easily, a weak or susceptible body can succumb to disease and infection more quickly. Decreasing unhealthy habits by creating and sustaining systems of health in the body, we can reach new levels of vitality and awareness. Expanding on upon the other.
Although these brain and gut connections can run deep and some these grooves are hardlined into our behavior, being human (using our prefrontal cortex) we have the opportunity to grow and change as we consciously choose to override any built in systems of call and responses. Re-Imprinting our brain to remain calm in fight or flight mode will then send those corresponding signals to the gut and start to create a positive healthy feedback loop.
SCIENCE // SOCIAL
In the beginning…
“The human gut harbors over 100 trillion microorganisms—this is approximately 10 times the number of cells in the human body.”
As a baby is first introduced to bacteria from the mother at birth, this provides the ability for the baby to later digest sugars and carbohydrates from the mothers milk! The mothers biome will in part transfer, creating the basis for her babies bodies composition and its’ microbial gut biome. This means that not only mothers DNA will help to code the babies life, but the transfer of her bacteria in milk will also create the foundation for her babies health.
Each cell in our body is built with instinctual knowledge of how to behave, which proteins to produce, and how to arrange itself atomically. With this divinity driven knowledge in each living atom, who is to say that consciousness only resides in the mind or heart? Consciousness is arising independently in every area of our body, coming together to form a whole – being carried on through the generations from mother to child in a variety of ways. ♥
Eating Lovingly, socially…
How often has this piece of wisdom felt intuitive? You eat a good home cooked meal with your family, made from local ingredients in a loving way. The food goes down easy and digestion occurs naturally as you buzz from the delicious meal and conversation. In comparison to a heavy or greasy meal eaten in a hurry. We do not need science to feel this empherical fact.
The state of being we are in while consuming food can very well affect the rate of digestion, amount of vitamin / mineral absorption / assimilation and generally the happier you are while eating the more efficiently you processes food. If we choose to eat with people who lift us up and increase our mood this can have a significant impact on the effectiveness of your digestion and theirs!
and exercising, duh…
“Exercise affects many aspects of health, both metabolic and mental, and people are only now starting to look at the plasticity of these gut microbes, that is one of the novel aspects of this research. A robust, healthy community of gut microbes also appears to promote healthy brain function and provide anti-depressant effects.”
In a study, the rats who had been active since early life had superior brain and metabolic functions when compared to both their sedentary counterparts and rats who only began to exercise regularly in adulthood. Proving that starting healthy patterns in early life leads to overall increased health in mind and body.
MOOD // BEHAVIOR
The development of your gut…
People who experience trauma as children are more likely to suffer from poor health, stroke, diabetes, and heart attacks as adults. Unhealthy development of the gut microbiome can lead to brain degenerative diseases as well as physchicatric symptoms tracing back to fluctuations early in life. Traumatic experiences can program the brain, the gut, and microbes to react in an unhealthy way to certain stimuli.
In mice, caring mothers who groomed their young more frequently, lead to increased oxytocin (the trusting love chemical), increased growth hormone, and an infusion of microbial bacteria through touch. This increase in microbial bacteria leads to a higher resistance to infection and less inflammation in general.
When something goes wrong…
Disruptions of the gut-brain axis are associated with a diverse spectrum of disorders that include Parkinson’s disease, anxiety, depression, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Brain inflammation is worsened when the gut is infected with bacteria.
When an emotion is sensed in the gut there is a sequence of hormones, enzymes, peptides, stomach acid, and other digestive juices which release to reinforce the emotion. These pre-progamed feelings take over as our body plays out a previous memory in the gut.
Lifestyle choices …
Microbiomes are communities of microorganisms that are a combination of both beneficial and potentially harmful bacteria. Lifestyle factors such as exercise and managing stress appear to dramatically affect the diversity and quantity of healthy microbiome in the intestines. This healthy microbiome has a direct affect on brain health and emotional health.
Lifestyle choices that improve psychological states of mind appear to be part of a feedback loop that also improves the health of microbiome communities in the gut brain axis.
For the recent study on the link between stress and microbiome, researchers from the University of Guelph, in Ontario, Canada tested squirrel microbiomes and analyzed the animals’ stress hormones. Microbiomes were found to be more diverse in squirrels with lower stress hormones.
FOOD // DIET
“The phytochemicals we gain from eating a diet rich in diverse plant foods integrates so naturally into our bodies ecosystem that this complex reaction creates inner harmony, connecting us to the outside world.”
Diets low in animal fat, such as the Mediterranean diet, have positive benefits not only to the waistline but also to the cardiovascular system and brain! Spanish researchers found people who followed the Mediterranean lifestyle closest were 50 percent less likely to develop depression than those who didn’t follow the diet as well. Interesting to note that polyphenols (antioxidants) in olive oil and red wine have the ability to calm inflammation in the body!
Westerners gut microbes have decreased in diversity by 33% –> this has decreased as ecological biodiversity in urban regions decreases as well. What we do to our environment will also reflect the universe inside our bodies. That is why many of the old olive trees, and the untouched landscape maintained in traditional ways in Italy produces the richest nutrients and most health benefits, such as antioxidants.
Foods that are high in sugars (artificial or natural) and fats have been clinically proven to trigger food addiction in animals and humans. With these addictions come strong reward response mechanisms which become deeper engrained with each sugary food we eat. High fat and sugary foods over time can lead to the permeability (leakiness) of the intestine wall allowing more chemicals into the bloodstream. Making breaking this addiction cycle that much more difficult the longer these foods have been consumed.
The meat we eat nowadays is from animals who are not free to roam and are being fed corn instead of grass to speed up and increase the fattening process. Not only are the animals we consume sedentary most of their lives, they also are not eating a diet that is in line with their evolutionary bacteria. With this jolt in unnatural eating the gut microbiome of these animals is disrupted, leading to infection and inflammation which is then halted with loads of antibiotics.
“All of that communication isn’t just coordinating your basic digestive functions – it also impacts our human experience, including how we feel, how we make decisions, how we socialize, and how much we eat” – Emeran Mayer, MD The Mind-Gut Connection
So, GET THIS. We are made up of about ~3 lbs of gut bacteria, this is relatively the same weight as your brain and many functions within the gut are known the function INDEPENDENTLY of the brain. As different bacteria species thrive in the gut these bacteria also start to crave the various sugars and carbohydrates which keep them thriving. Whenever we eat a piece of bread or muffin, we tend to think it was our brains that made the decision. This ‘brain hi-jacking’ comes from the gut microbes ability to modulate the serotonin response, literally making us feel depressed until we cave in and eat a certain food.
The best way we can ensure that we have a thriving gut microbiome is to eat vegetables and fruits of every color to activate a variety of positive gut sensors, exercise daily, and cultivate an anti-stress practice such as yoga, meditation, reading, art, etc.. Even reading this article, always be sure to take other peoples suggestions with a grain of salt; as while we share 90% of our genetic code with all other human beings we only share 5% of the same gut bacteria with any other person!!! Our biomes are individual to us, so listening to and trusting these unique gut signals will lead to higher realms of vitality that you and everyone else can feel 🙂
Right now we treat disease more than wellness, so how can we step forward and be proactive in creating a new baseline for optimal health? By understanding this mind body connection not only on a spiritual level but also with a scientific understanding, we can better assess how the two work together and observe these changes in our own body. The gut microbiota is a complex universe on its own, so don’t worry that one factor like not taking a probiotic, or eliminating all carbs and sugar will have a detrimental impact on your health. The overall effort you put into your health is more important than each specific choice!! Thank you so much for reading ❤
Xoxo, Marisa N. Moonbeamz ♥
Book: The Mind-Gut Connection by Emeran Mayer, MD