Researchers have proven that we do, in fact, think with our gut! Okay, well not quite, but we are discovering that many brain disorders are directly associated with how healthy our gut is. The importance of gut health is being shown to provide an incredible array of benefits for our overall system and brain health is at the forefront of this connection.
Give me the details
Think of the blood-brain barrier, BBB for short, as a gatekeeper protecting the brain from all the toxic elements that cause you harm while allowing through the various life-sustaining nutrients like water, glucose (sugar/energy), amino acids (protein), and gases (oxygen). The BBB is formed by cells that line the capillaries, the tiny end-points of our cardiovascular system. These cells are connected by a system called “tight junctions” and are similar to the cells lining our guts. This similarity is no surprise as they both are attempting to filter the bad toxins and let in the good nutrients.
There are a wide variety of disorders associated with the breakdown of the BBB from infractions all the way to cancer. Medical researchers are intensely studying what causes the breakdown of BBB and critically, what we can do to reestablish the barrier and protect our brain. How do we know the BBB is a critical issue? Let’s talk briefly about a new study.
Cool new research!
Researchers used mice (always mice) to isolate the effect of a healthy gut for the BBB. They created mice with no gut bacteria by giving them strong antibiotics. Then using very fancy brain scanning technology, the researchers showed that the blood brain barrier in these mice was compromised and allowed toxins to leak through the gate. This can be called a “leaky brain” which is similar to a “leaky gut” which occurs if your intestinal walls are not properly protecting your blood from toxins in your gut. Now is where the study gets interesting (and a little gross).
The next step was to give these “germ free” mice a fecal transfer from healthy mice. Yep, that is a thing we can do (for humans too!). Once a proper healthy gut was established, the BBB of these mice greatly improved showing that there is a direct connection between gut health and brain health.
What does this mean for me?
First, this means that we have established for the first time that the health of your gut can be a powerful therapeutic tool for a wide variety of brain disorders. By understanding that while the systems we are experiencing are occurring in our brains, a critical cause begins in the gut, therefore, we can properly address the whole system to greatly increase the potency of our treatments. Doctors could help open the BBB to allow for cancer medications to pass that otherwise would get blocked. Or we could strengthen the barrier to eliminate the toxin that is causing our dis-ease.
Second, the research adds to the mounting evidence that a wide array of health issues depend on our gut health. The diversity and complexity of the bacteria in our gut, called the microbiome, is critical for seemingly unrelated health issues. Learning how to protect your gut and create an environment for healthy bacteria is a major component to overall health and can be a critical component to your particular malady.
Create your healthy gut
Now that we understand that gut health is important, how do we do it? Here are a few ways.
Establishing a healthy gut is not always a simple quick process. We have trillions of bacteria living in our system and it may take time to promote the good ones and eliminate the troublemakers.
It starts with diet. Eating real, whole foods every day is the biggest step we can take. Get your leafy greens in to keep the system running smoothly. Eat a variety of vegetables and fruits to provide all the nutrients your system can use. Limit your intake of processed foods like bread, pasta, candy, chips, and all those other things found in boxes with 22 unpronounceable ingredients. A balanced diet with high quality ingredients allows the good gut bacteria to thrive helping turn our food into the nutrients we need.
When our system is disturbed, we need to get our system on track. For example, if you take a round of antibiotics for an illness, make sure to take a probiotic and/or eat probiotic foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, or other fermented, bacteria-rich foods.
As a last resort, you can get a fecal transfer (like the mice did) from a healthy human gut biome. It is a real procedure done by real doctors when necessary, but currently rare.
A healthier brain depends on a healthier gut!