Brain Gut Connection

illustration of brain
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How aware are you that there is an actual brain gut connection?

Tied together they are akin to a super computer.

For most of history, our bodies have been viewed by doctors as complicated machines built with independent parts that come together to make a whole. The thought was, that like a machine, if you took proper care of your body, it would last about 75 years. But, you had to ensure it was always fed the proper fuel and maintained in order to get there. When your body broke down, you can have surgical procedures and medicines to get you back into as optimal operating condition again as possible.

The problem though, is over the last 40 to 50 years, our health has been taking a downturn, and the old ways of thinking about our bodies is now recognized as being outdated. We now have health problems that are not always easy to diagnose and fix. Doctors can no longer explain away our ailments by blaming a malfunctioning organ or gene. We now have a health problem where the regulatory mechanisms that help our bodies and brains adapt to our rapidly changing environments are being impacted by our changing lifestyles.

When it comes to our health and wellbeing, it is painfully obvious that our lifestyles of today are making us obese and unhealthy. It is not enough to think that you can simply reduce your calories and your weight is going to decrease. When it comes to your obesity, you must think of treating yourself as a whole. This is where the brain, gut connection comes into play.

The Brain Gut Connection

Our brain and gut are part of a mechanism that works as a whole. They are not independent of each other.  The brain gut connection regulates our food intake, metabolism and body weight, our immune system, and the development and health of our brains. What ties the brain and gut together are the microbes that live in our gut. This gut microbiota and the signaling they produce from their vast number of genes constitute one of the major components of the regulatory systems.

The entire medical field has actually done an extraordinary job with certain acute diseases that come on suddenly. Our medical community should be applauded for how well they have done with treating infections, heart attacks, and surgical procedures. We now have diseases that can be cured through the use of antibiotics. Internal organs can now be replaced through routine surgical procedures. The problem is, the minute engineering details of our body’s individual parts that make the machine work is still somewhat of a mystery. Even so, our medical professionals are quite optimistic that even the most chronic and deadly health problems will eventually be solved.

We Have a Problem!

The medical community has relied heavily on broad spectrum antibiotics to treat, or wipe out disease causing bacteria. Collateral damage from the use of antibiotics has become an acceptable risk of antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria.

As a society, our thinking about medical treatments has become too simplistic. We get sick, and we want cured and care very little about the underlying cause of our sickness. We just want the doctor to fix us, and for them to do this quickly. Now, people will not change their lifestyles to fix themselves as long as they  can get medicines to lower their high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Because these approaches have worked, there has been too little emphasis placed on changing the approach to treating them.

Nor has there been enough pressure placed on patients to do anything themselves to order to help themselves.  Not enough emphasis has been placed on the brain, gut connection that plays a role in most of what ails us. Most of what ails us can be prevented if we as a society were willing to give up the self destructive lifestyles we have adopted.

Modern medicine needs to make some changes, as do we the people who rely on the medical community when we become sick with chronic ailments. Despite all the advances we have seen in medicine, there is actually little progress in treating chronic pain conditions, brain gut disorders like IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), and mental illnesses including neurodegenerative disorders.

Our Declining Health

Since the 1970’s there have been new challenges to our health, and a good portion of that is related to our rising rates of obesity. With the rise of obesity has come metabolic disorders, autoimmune disorders such as inflammatory bowel diseases, asthma, allergies, and diseases such autism, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s Disease.

The obesity rate in America has risen from 13% of the population in 1972 to 35% in 2012. Today, 68% of our population is either overweight or obese, including 17% of our children ages 2 to 19. At least 2.8 million people each year die as a result of being overweight  or obese. Now, let that number sink in for a minute. Around the world, 44% of diabetes, 23% of ischemic heart disease, and 7 to 41% of cancers are a direct result of being overweight or obese. When does it all end?

What is the role of the two most critical systems in our bodies?

When it comes to maintaining our overall health, the gut (digestive system) and brain (the nervous system) cannot be ignored. The brain gut connection is not a myth that can be ignored my friends. This connection is a biological fact and an essential link that needs understood when it comes to our whole body health.

We all know that we chew and swallow our food which is then transported to our stomachs where it is further broken down. In our stomach the food is broken down with mechanical grinding forces assisted by concentrated hydrochloric acid before dumping the food paste into the small intestine. Inside the small intestine, the calories and nutrients are absorbed by our body. Once this is complete, what remains is sent to the large intestine and later excreted from our bodies. Pretty straight forward and simple, right?

Actually, that is a simplistic explanation of what happens when we eat. But it ignores the brain gut connection.  Our brain and our gut are intricately connected with each other.  Realizing this, we should know that this system is actually rather complex and powerful. When we feed our gut, we are also feeding microbes that exist within it. And these microbes are now known to influence our basic emotions, our pain sensitivity, and our social interactions.  You probably never knew that your gut instinct was a real thing did you? The complex connection between our brain and our gut plays a role when we make some of the most important decisions in our lives.

The brain gut connection is hardwired in the form of anatomical connections between the brain and the gut. This connection is facilitated by biological communication signals carried through our bloodstream. My friends, your gut is actually far more complex than just a place to process the foods you eat.

Our gut actually has capabilities that surpass all your other organs and even rivals that of your brain.

Did  you know that your gut has its own nervous system which is known as the enteric nervous system (ENS) which is referred to as your second brain? The ENS is comprised of 50 to 100 million nerve cells, or as many that are contained in your spinal cord.

The immune cells that live in your gut make up the largest component of your body’s immune system. There are more immune cells living in the lining of your gut than anywhere else in your body. This gut based immune system is capable of identifying and destroying a single species of bacterial invaders that make their way into our digestive system when we consume contaminated food or drink. Out of trillions of benevolent microbes in your gut, small amounts of lethal bacteria can be identified and destroyed. This is why it is critical for us to keep our gut microbiome in balance and good working order.

Are you aware of all the endocrine cells that contain up to 20 different types of of hormones that can be released into the bloodstream if called upon? Also, did you know that the gut is the largest storage facility for serotonin in your body, and not the brain? 95% of the serotonin in your body is actually stored in your gut.

In numerous articles here at David’s Way, we have discussed how the foods we eat affect our serotonin. Serotonin is the signaling molecule that plays a crucial role in the gut-brain axis. Serotonin not only controls our moods, it also is essential for normal intestinal functions, such as the coordinated contractions that move food through our digestive system. Because of the widespread involvement in our brain systems, serotonin is the main target of the major classes of antidepressants, serotonin reuptake inhibitors.

What Happens When the Brain Gut Connection Become Out of Balance? 

The foods we eat, and the lifestyle we live are responsible for the balance or out of balance conditions of our gut microbiota. When you eat and drink just anything your heart desires on a regular basis, you will eventually throw this system out of balance and your health will suffer. When we get our gut microbiota out of whack, we can experience several gut disorders. One of these is a direct result of treatments with antibiotics. Antibiotics kill good and bad bacteria, remember when I mentioned collateral damage?

Antibiotics get our gut microbes out of balance and can result in Clostridium difficile colitis. C-Diff for short. When this sickness occurs, the diversity and abundance of the guts normal bacteria are diminished which allows the invasion of C-Diff. When we get C-Diff, we get gut inflammation and diarrhea. When our gut microbiota is not right, we also become susceptible to disorders such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, or the brain-gut disorder irritable bowel syndrome.

As much as 15% of the world wide population suffers from IBS, altered bowel habits, and abdominal pain and discomfort.

You Are What You Eat

Your gut gathers information about your food and your environment every millisecond. It does this even as you sleep. The well being of your your gut microbes depends on the foods that you eat. No matter what you eat, these microbes will use their enormous amount of information stored in their millions of genes to transform partially digested food into hundreds of thousands of metabolites. When we make poor food choices, microbe-produced molecules induce a state of low grade inflammation in their target organs, which has been implicated in obesity, heart disease, chronic pain, and degenerative diseases of the brain.

It is a fact that we need to take care of our brain gut connection. Science is showing how the integrated gut microbiota-brain system is being kept intact, or not fully intact, by the foods that we consume. The foods we consume can either keep us healthy, or they can leave us vulnerable to a growing number of diseases.

How you live your life is your choice. Choose wisely.

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