The idiom “trust your gut” means relying on intuition, rather than thoughtful, deep analysis, to make a decision. But research shows there is actually a tangible connection between gut health and brain health, and that linkage can affect emotions and cognitive processing.
Research conducted at the California Institute of Technology by Elaine Hsiao showed how unhealthy or healthy microorganisms in the stomach can influence behaviors differently. Another study, led by Kirsten Tillisch at UCLA, suggested probiotics can have a positive effect on behavior, mental outlook and brain function.
“Scientists have now determined that humans have two brains; the second one resides in the gut and is called the enteric nervous system,” says Richard Purvis, author of Recalibrate: Six Secrets To Resetting Your Age and CEO of Skin Moderne Inc. (www.skinmoderne.com). “It has more neurons than the spinal column or central nervous system. Understanding the relationship helps to clarify why the process of taking care of the gut and the brain within it also helps improve the health of the brain in your head.”
Given Americans’ notoriously poor eating habits, Purvis says gut health has never been more important. A Tufts University study estimates that over 318,000 deaths a year – or nearly half of American deaths caused by heart disease, stroke and diabetes – were hastened by unhealthy eating.
“Processed foods and sugar are among the biggest culprits for promoting the growth of bad bacteria in the gut,” Purvis says. “You can greatly improve your gut health – and by extension your brain health – by being kinder to it on a daily basis.”
Purvis recommends four nutritional tips – and a nature trip – that benefit your gut and your brain:
- Daily servings of cultured, fermented probiotic-rich foods. “Sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha pickled veggies, yogurt, and kefir encourage the growth of good bacteria,” Purvis says. “By ingesting healthy, probiotic-rich foods, you are guaranteed colony-forming units of bacteria, plus food sources are much cheaper than supplements.”
- Prebiotic foods. Non-digestible short-chain fatty acids help your good bacteria flourish, says Purvis. These are found in artichokes, garlic, leeks, dandelion greens, beans, oats, onions and asparagus.
- A diet that keeps blood sugar balanced. “This also keeps gut bacteria balanced,” Purvis says. “A diet high in rich sources of fiber, especially derived from whole fruits and vegetables, feeds the good gut bacteria and produces the right balance of those short-chain fatty acids to keep the gut lining in check.”
- Gluten reduction. Reducing gluten, or avoiding it altogether, Purvis says, will further improve gut health as well as healthy brain physiology. He agrees with medical professionals who say gluten can interfere with the absorption of nutrients, hurting digestion and sometimes leading to “leaky gut,” or damaged intestine walls.
- Getting outside and into nature. “You need to connect with more microorganisms – the more, the merrier,” Purvis says. “Their purpose is to perform life-sustaining functions. Move outside, do some gardening, plant flowers, mow the lawn, take a walk in the woods. Do things that connect you and your immune system with all the microorganisms in the soil.”
“Lifestyle choice is considered by most the culprit contributing to our unhealthy bacteria,” Purvis says. “So you have a choice, and the one you make with your diet will affect your whole body, and not least of all, your brain.”
Richard Purvis is the CEO of Skin Moderne Inc. (www.skinmoderne.com) and author of Recalibrate: Six Secrets to Resetting Your Age. He has more than 30 years of experience in nutrition, exercise, anti-aging and overall wellness. Along with starting Skin Moderne, he is the founder of wellness companies Nutrimax, Nutritbrands and Skin Nutrition, and the co-founder of Noggin Nosh.