How the Gut and the Brain are Really Connected

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We hear it every day how the gut and the brain are connected but most are not aware of what this intricate bond means to us on a daily basis. You have probably heard of psychosomatic disorders but have also not really delved into their meaning. The gut and the brain play a central role in many disorders in the body and here’s why. 

These two parts of your body send messages to each other. If you are mentally upset, your gut feels this and reacts. The same happens the other way around. The nerves that bind the brain with the gut help you feel and understand your inner body and emotions. Understanding is an essential part of feeding your mind. Bad eating habits and negative feelings can reinforce nervousness, a potential lack in focus, or even lead to feelings of depression. 

The Intestines Role

The intestine is also known as our second brain. It is embedded with 100 million neurotransmitters that are responsible for digestion. These neurotransmitters also have a connection to the brain. This connection influences our daily mental state. It can have an impact on many diseases within the body and can determine how we feel. The number of neurons in our gut is actually the highest out of every part of the nervous system. Furthermore, 90% of the fibers of the vagus nerve (found in our 10th cranial nerve) send information from the intestine to the brain, and not the other way around. 

Because of this we know that our state of mind is affected when the intestine sends disturbed signals to the brain. The popular saying “I have butterflies in my stomach” would be a good example of the gut reacting to stress or anxiety. 

Food Intolerances and Peptides  

You also have to take into account any intolerances that might occur. Many people suffer from digestive deficiencies such as lactose intolerance or gluten intolerance. These are the result of incomplete digestion of food, meaning proteins are not broken down into amino acids (that are easily digestible) but stay in their peptide form and enter the bloodstream. These inevitably cause an immune reaction leading to inflammation.

Some proteins that are not broken down into amino acids, are degraded into polypeptides chains and can mimic hormones such as insulin, adrenaline and thyroid hormones. These polypeptides, if they cross the blood-brain barrier, can also bind to opiate receptors. This then creates chains known as morphine peptides. Let’s break it down. 

Take for example the milk protein, casein. If it enters the blood stream as a polypeptide it is able to cross the blood-brain barrier, where it can bind to opiate receptors. It is then mimicking a morphine peptide and the body reacts accordingly. This peptide chain is called Casomorphin. This can induce behavioral outbursts, autism, ADHD and other mental illnesses. When this protein is removed from a diet, many have adverse reactions, as if they were in withdrawal. The problem is that peptides should not enter the blood stream in the first place, they should be broken down in the intestine into an amino acid form first. If these proteins are not absorbed as amino acids, then the gut lacks the essential enzymes needed and it has become permeable, hence the term ‘leaky gut’.

In contrast to this, many are familiar with the term lactose intolerance. This is different than what is mentioned above. For a person to be lactose intolerant, they must lack the enzyme needed to break down lactose, lactase. The inherent lack of this enzyme in the intestine and the incorrect digestion of the lactose, may cause stomach issues such as diarrhea or stomach cramps. 

Sleeping, Eating, Loving and Serotonin 

Poor sleep, mood swings, depression and a reduction in libido can all be caused by a serotonin deficiency. Serotonin is a chemical produced from the amino acid Tryptophan. The majority of the serotonin in the body is produced and found in the intestine. When digestion is not functioning correctly, the tryptophan is not broken down properly and remains as a peptide and is therefore unable to create the amino acid that creates the neurotransmitter, serotonin. 

Both the brains in our body – our actual brain and the gut, known as our second brain rely on hormones to function. Chemical changes in the mind can provoke intestinal issues, and vice versa. For example, the true cause of Irritable Bowel Disease is unknown, however, many doctors attribute stress and an excess of serotonin as a cause. It is, therefore, considered a mental illness of the gut.

As you can see the gut and the brain have a very close tie and the state of the intestine will often determine your mental state. It is therefore important to take care of the intestine by eating healthy so as to maintain a body brain balance. 

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