Functional Nutrition Blog

Focusing on gut health and Functional nutrition

The Gut-Brain Connection

May 2, 2023 | Gut Health

The Gut-Brain Connection:  What is it and how can you make it work for you?

There is a connection between your gut and your brain. A literal, physical connection:  the vagus nerve.  It is one of your 12 cranial nerves and it innervates all of its branches into every single part of your digestive system. One very important thing about this highway of communication is that the direction of information flow is what we call “bi-directional”.  This simply means that your brain sends signals through this vagus nerve down to your gut, and your gut sends signals back up to your brain.

Brain to Gut

What signal do you want your brain to send to the gut?  One of stress?  Fight or flight?  Or one of calm, cool, and collect – rest and digest? How do you want to protect or optimize the state of your mind, in order to get the signal that you’re looking for?

This is coming back to your favorite topic:  stress.  When you are in fight or flight, your brain sends a message to your body that actually says, “Hey, we need energy and resources in the limbs of the body because this person needs to run away to safety!” That’s what fight or flight comes from, the evolutionary need to run away to safety. Our problem and the complication now in our lives is that it doesn’t get turned off!

When your brain sends fight or flight messages to your body, it’s going down that vagus nerve, and it’s telling your body divert energy away from the gut.  Your brain is actually telling your body to put energy and resources anywhere but the gut, because to digest food right now is not going to be a make or break thing that’s going to get you to safety.

So how do we override this?  The truth of the matter is that we’re all dealing with stress that we can’t simply remove from our lives.  So you have to look at how can you help ourself. How can you find little pockets of space of time, where you can use a very simple tool to come out of fight or flight and enter the opposite, which is rest and digest.

Here’s what I recommend:

At mealtimes, I want you to think about taking some deep breaths – this will help turn off your fight or flight mechanism, and allow you to enter rest and digest. This practice can help you create a pocket of 20 or 30 minutes where you can be out of fight or flight while you eat a meal.

Check out Dr. Huberman’s work on this and the Physiological Sigh!

Gut to Brain

There are lot of options here but the overarching idea is that you want to feed the bacteria that will be producing things to help impact your brain.  You also want to think about how to support the microbiome as a whole so the bugs that you want to thrive have the correct environment to do so.

The bacteria that is the most abundant has the loudest message. Someone of you may have experience with candida and may recall the intense cravings for sugar.  This is in part because candida thrives off of sugar and carbohydrates so it sends a signal to the brain to feed the gut what it wants the most!  Cravings decrease as the candida is being killed off because other organisms are starting to increase and balance things out so that message is less loud.

Resistant Starch

Resistant starch is what it sounds like. It doesn’t get digested so it makes it’s way all the way into the large intestine where it can serve as a source of food for certain types of bacteria.  The by-product of bacteria “eating” resistant starch is something called Short Chain Fatty Acids (SCFAs).  We can do a whole separate conversation on short chain fatty acids (see it here).

For now, just know that SCFAs are the number one fuel source for the cells that make up the gut lining. The cells of the gut lining utilize short chain fatty acids to help maintain the barrier and protect what comes in and what goes out. short chain fatty acids also have an impact on the blood brain barrier, which means that they have an impact on the brain. These things have an impact on mood, anxiety, your sleep, irritability, and stress – all of these can be impacted simply from eating a resistant starch!

What is Resistant Starch?

You can get resistant starch in cooked and cooled, rice, white potatoes, and sweet potatoes.  You can warm them back up but it’s the cooling process that creates the resistant starch (you know how rice gets sticky when it cools down?  That’s the resistant starch!)  Green bananas, or green banana flour and white potato starch are also good sources of resistant starch.

If you don’t like or tolerate these foods, you’re going to want to supplement with a resistant starch powder.  I recommend Gut Fuel, this is what I use most days (in addition to food sources).  It has white potato starch in it + 5 grams of fiber.  Brilliant!

Fiber for the Good Bugs

Speaking of fiber – this is the easiest way to break down feeding the microbiome as a whole to support the environment that allows the good bugs to grow and prevents the “bad ones” from overgrowing.

  • color
  • variety
  • in-season

These are 3 SUPER EASY ways you can think about your meals to help ensure you’re feeding the gut a variety of nutrients and fibers.  Keep it as simple as possible!

Finally, take a look at the Gut-Brain Guide too!  You can download it for free HERE and use the tips and tricks to see how far you can impact your digestion and mental state with this alone.

Cheering for you!


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