The Gut-Brain Connection Part II
I concluded the first part of this Gut-Brain post about there being a definite connection between the intestinal tract and the brain, but I pretty much left it at that. In part 2 I’d like to go a little deeper in the connection between the Gut and the Brain. There’s not just a connection however, but rather there is a complex web of connections.
How connected is it then? Well for starters, you could imagine it as a graph depicting all of the flights of the different airlines flying throughout the United States. Certain cities are going to be more heavily traveled through as they are major hubs, and other smaller cities are important, but just not as heavily traveled through. This is generally better thought of as the entire nervous system, but a part of the huge complexity of the nervous system web deals with the Enteric nervous system that is tied to the gut.
Many of these nerve cells slide their long transport axis between tightly packed cells that line the intestines. These cells are not always “tightly” packed, which leads to what is referred to as “Leaky Gut Syndrome.” When they are tightly packed together, it prevents smaller bacteria, parasites, and viral pathogens from slipping straight into the blood stream and making you ill. By sliding a nerve terminal between these packed cells, the nerve endings can sense what kind of activity is going on in the lumen (intestines) and can determine which nervous signals are necessary to regulate the whole GI tract. Again, this could be good or bad depending on the internal activity of the different bacterial colonies.
As I mentioned previously, you are only 10% human, and that’s crazy to think about. This means the other 90% of you is bacterial colonies, most of which live in the gut because it’s a perfect environment for them. It’s warm, moist, and they get free access to food. Why wouldn’t you want to live there? The bacteria break down foods direct and with the certain nutrients, the bacteria can assemble proteins and neurotransmitters for the brain to use as instructions. Since you are mostly bacteria, it is best if you think about your health as the health of your gut bacteria. Don’t forget, they are in charge of your immunity, so you better treat them nicely!
The 2 major types of bacterial colonies that live in the human gut are called Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes. There are other types of bacterial colonies that of course live in the human gut, but these are the 2 major groups. It has been found almost across the board that the humans with the higher percentage of Bacteroidetes have a better quality of health. And vice versa, those with a higher Firmicutes percentage is heavily linked with inflammation and dis-ease.
One would think if that were the case then you would want more Bacteroidetes than Firmicutes. That seems obvious. The issue is that the research is so new that science can only draw conclusions based on what has been studied. Having an understanding of metrics analysis, I can all but promise the difference in your health if you were to change your gut bacteria for the better. Since every human is slightly different, you can only attempt to change your colony species, rather than aim for a certain percentage of the different types of bacterial colonies. A small shift in the percentage can cause drastic results for better or worse.
Something of huge importance I want to point out is that people who eat more whole grains, lentils/legumes, and tend towards the vegan or vegetarian side have a much higher percent of Firmicutes. Those that eat more meat generally have a much higher percent of Bacteroidetes. This is a good indication that humans were meant to eat meat! This does not mean you can start eating just any meat. You must still be concerned with the meat being wild or grass fed.
Firmicutes are types of bacteria that enjoy sugars and appreciate less Oxygen. If this sounds like your kind of life, then sign yourself up for inflammation and dis-ease. Eating excess carbohydrates and too much sugar in addition to being dehydrated and sedentary is a recipe for these Firmicutes to thrive.
Contrary to the Firmicutes, you have the Bacteroidetes. These bacteria can handle much less sugar and be just fine to thrive. These types of colonies are found with more meat intake and are probably involved with the break down of the meats and are better able to assemble the necessary proteins that humans can only obtain from animal foods (i.e. meat, eggs, seafood). It is these proteins that allow the Bacteroidetes colonies to help create certain enzymes, hormones, and neurotransmitters for the brain.
One such neurotransmitter is known as Serotonin. Serotonin is sent from the gut’s nerve endings through the system and up to the brain for use as the sleep-wake cycle regulator. Serotonin is the critical brain chemical that allows humans to sleep and repair damaged tissue from every day wear and tear. If Serotonin is not made in large enough amounts, the brain doesn’t know when to sleep and therefore will be extremely inconsistent and not very effective in repairing damaged tissue. This leads to sleep disorders, poor performance at work and at home, and ultimately promotes inflammation and dis-ease of other body systems.
As sunlight hits the eyes, the light triggers an area in the brain (Pineal gland) to signal the hypothalamus to utilize Serotonin. This process is necessary as the body must be awake and focused to accomplish the tasks of daily living. However, if we are depleted of Serotonin production due to a lack of materials and bacterial colonies, then the body and brain get thrown for a huge loop. As the sunlight disappears in the night and no longer strikes the eyes, a transfer enzyme changes Serotonin into Melatonin. Melatonin then signals to the brain that everything is safe (no danger is near) and it can fall asleep allowing for the repair of tissue damage. This is where the issue lies. If you can’t produce the necessary Serotonin, the gut can’t connect to the brain through this pathway, therefore no Melatonin gets produced, and this ultimately screws up your sleep schedule, which will have tremendously harmful consequences to your overall health and immunity.
The Serotonin neurotransmitter is only one of many different connections the gut has to the brain. Since this particular example is crucial to human health, you can realize the importance of all the connections the gut has with the brain. They are all going to have an impact on your life experiences, including the behaviors you exhibit during social situations.
Earlier in this post I mentioned “Leaky Gut Syndrome” and I wanted to briefly discuss that before wrapping up Part 2 of the Gut-Brain connection. When our cells that line the intestinal tract our healthy, they will be tightly packed next to each other to prevent any pathogens from leaking into the blood portal. This tight packing is a natural defense mechanism for the human body, but it can easily be disturbed. Eating poorly and making lifestyle choices that are harmful to the body will undoubtedly create a loose fitting between the cells in the lining of the gut. Being dehydrated will also loosen up the tight packing of the cells. The unhealthier these cells become, the easier it is for anything (food or pathogen) to slide through into the blood portal untouched. This is exactly how a human gets an autoimmune dis-ease. The body no longer has the ability to tell which proteins are necessary for health and which ones are detrimental to health and therefore causes the immune system to attack itself, hence the name autoimmune disease.
When you think about it and even if you don’t know what “Leaky Gut Syndrome” is, it doesn’t sound like it’s a good thing does it? Rather, it sounds disturbing. Why would you want a “leaky” gut? I definitely don’t want a leaky gut. If I had one piece of advice here, it would be to clean up your eating habits and feed your bacteria the foods THEY want. When you feed your bacteria, they can perform their jobs and keep you a healthy human. Now that sounds like a great relationship! And the best part about that relationship is that you get to have total control over the input. The output is entirely dependent on your input. Remember, the bacteria can only eat what you feed them. Feed them sugar and don’t provide them water will produce disastrous results that will manifest as inflammation symptoms. BUT… feed them healthy fiber and starch and provide plenty of water and these little bacteria will produce a fabulously vibrant immune system with a healthy mind and body!
That sounds like a winning combination and great relationship to me. What are your thoughts?