Gut health 101 – the truth about your body’s second brain – how it can affect your mood

Gut health: Dr Chris George on how to improve microbiome

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Numerous studies have demonstrated links between gut health and the immune system, mental health and autoimmune diseases. The organ starts in the mouth and teeth and finished at the end of the large intestine. It includes the oesophagus, the stomach, the small intestine, the colon or large intestine. It is the first bodily system to alert the brain when something is wrong. The gut’s microbial proteins also influence the host control of appetite. It is often referred to as the ‘second brain’, because if the nerve between brain and gut were cut, the gut would still function independently.

The gut microbiome refers speifically to the microorganism living in the intestines. 

A person has about 300 to 500 diffeent species of bacteria in their digestive tract. 

While some microorganisms are harmful to our health, many are incredibly beneficial and necessary to a healthy body.

Different foods contain benefical live microbiota that can later one’s microbiome. 

The Vagus Nerve

The gut communicates to the brain via the vagus nerve, which is the longest cranial nerve in the body.

It plays a part in both movement and relaying sensory information.

The nerve, which originates in the brain, travels widely throughout the body, affecting several organ systems and regions, including the tongue, heart, and gastrointestinal system.

The vagus nerve is bidirectional, which means information can be sent both to and from the brain.

How the gut affects mood

The bacteria in the gut helps regulate the production of signals that are sent from the gut to the brain via the vagus nerve.

Thorpe noted: “The gut is increasingly being seen as the second brain, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that studies are showing promising results in mood disorders from interventions designed to improve gut microbial balance.

Scientist have found that gut bacteria produce many other neurotransmitters such as dopamine, norepinephrine and acetylcholine, which are critical for mood, anxiety, concentration, reward and motivation.

Vagal tone

The vagal tone refers to the biological process that represents the activity of the vagus nerve.

A healthy vagal tone usually indicates that when you inhale, the heartbeat increases slightly, and when you exhale, it decreases slightly.

Thorpe explained: “The higher your vagal tone, that is the more you look after the vagus nerve, the more your overall health will improve.

“Therefore it makes total sense to keep your vagus nerve in top condition to better your chances of a healthier body.”

According to Thorp, some things you can do improve your vagal tone include:

Take a cold shower: The cold stimulates the vagus nerve. Try to simulate a hot and cold plunge, where you swap from hot to cold water for five-minute increments.

Sing: Singing releases Oxytocin and serotonin, hormones designed to relieve stress and give your mood a boost. Research suggests that the vagal circuit and emotional regulation are linked.

Intermittent Fasting: Some studies suggest fasting can activate the vagus nerve. Experts suggest starting with a 16-hour fast overnight.

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