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There are 100 billion neurons in the human brain, and the gut contains 500 million neurons. The neurons in the gut then connect to the brain through groups of neurons in the nervous system. This connection is important to maintaining proper functioning within the human body, as it can affect a variety of aspects of well-being. A word that is used to describe the wide range of connections from the gut to the brain is the gut-brain axis.
There are a variety of important facets of the gut-brain axis. The vagus nerve, which is a prominent nerve that connects the brain to the gut, is still being studied, but there are a variety of possible areas of importance such as stress signals and the vagus nerve’s importance to IBS symptoms.
Another connection of the gut-brain axis is neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters that are produced in the brain produce feelings and emotions, but interestingly enough, these neurotransmitters are also produced in the gut. Gut microbes also produce another neurotransmitter known as gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, which controls feelings of fear and anxiety. Those same gut microbes make other chemicals that affect the brain in different ways, such as metabolizing acids.
The gut-brain axis is also connected through the immune system. The gut and gut microbes are essential to the immune system, as they help regulate the body. An overactive immune system can lead to inflammation. There is a barrier in the gut that is responsible for protecting against inflammation, but if that barrier becomes leaky, bacteria and other toxins are able to pass into the blood.
Gut bacteria regulates the gut, so improving gut bacteria can help to improve brain health as well. Some ways to help improve gut health include probiotics and prebiotics, which can be taken in a variety of ways. Both probiotics and prebiotics can be useful tools to help improve overall well-being through the gut-brain axis!