The Gut-Brain Connection

By Charlotte Harbour, BANT registered nutritional therapist, BSc (Hons) CNHC

Did you know that you have more bacterial cells in your body than you do human cells? There are around 30 trillion human cells that make up ‘you’ and approximately 100 trillion bacterial cells than inhabit your gut, skin, lungs, urinogenital tract and maybe even your brain – collectively, these are known as the human microbiome and it’s composition is as unique as your fingerprint.

The importance of the bacteria in the gut, known as the gut microbiome, has been prevalent in the media for a couple of years now. You may have noticed some interesting additions to the supermarket shelves, such as kombucha, kefir and fresh sauerkraut that support beneficial bacteria in our guts too.

Attention has turned towards how else the human microbiome impacts our health and wellbeing. One particular area of research is how the bacteria in the gut microbiome influence brain health and whether we can alter the composition to achieve better health and improved cognition. It may seem counter-intuitive to think that what’s in our belly impacts our brain – however, those of us who’ve enjoyed an alcoholic drink will have had first-hand experience of these direct effects. This amazing two-way connection between the gut and the brain is called the “gut-brain axis”.

So, how exactly does the gut-brain axis work? Whilst we’re still researching the exact mechanisms, it is thought to be through two key mechanisms: neurotransmitters and the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is a long, tree-like nerve that starts at the brain stem and travels all the way down the body to the large intestine. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers and up to 90% of the body’s serotonin, which regulates mood, is found in gut cells and is able to travel to the brain via vagus nerve signals.

So, what does this mean for our students? There are some exciting possibilities ahead to potentially enhance learning, attention and memory through gut health. We know that a high fibre, nutrient-rich diet is key for a healthy gut microbiome. The Mediterranean Diet continues to prove itself as an excellent, simple to follow lifestyle. We also recommend enjoying food and drink such as green tea, berries, walnuts, omega-3 rich fish and eggs plus wholegrains.

If you want to talk brain food, find us on LinkedIn at Russell Partnership Collection.

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