The Gut-Brain Axis: How It Works, What It Means, Why It Matters

June 19, 2022

I have some important info to share with you: There's something known as the gut-brain axis, which refers to how your gut and brain work together. And this connection impacts many areas in your body and can even affect your immune system!

But how does it work? How do you balance your gut-brain axis? Should you take probiotics to support your gut-brain axis? And what foods balance the gut-brain axis?

To get the answers to these questions and more, keep reading, as I dive into everything you need to know about this relationship, including why it’s so important.


What is The Gut-Brain Axis?

You likely already know that the brain and spinal cord make the up the central nervous system, which is responsible for communicating with the rest of your body. It received sensory impulses and sends out motor impulses

Well, your gut also has its own kind of "brain" known as the enteric nervous system! And the central nervous system and enteric nervous system make up what is known as the gut-brain axis.

The gut-brain axis is a two-way communication network that links these two aforementioned nervous systems but goes even beyond that. It also includes endocrine, humoral, metabolic, and immune communication as well! [1]

Basically, this axis allows your brain to influence what’s happening in your gut while simultaneously allowing your gut to influence your mood, cognitive abilities, and even your mental health.

Have you ever heard of having a “gut feeling” about something? Turns out there’s truth to the link between your gut and your emotions, mental health, and cognition!

In fact, research has shown that changes in the microbiota in your gut are linked to changes in emotional states and cognitive performance. That’s because the trillions of bacteria currently living in your digestive system (or “gut”) communicate directly with your brain. [2]

In your gut, the bacteria’s messages are processed and turned into commands for other parts of the body. In turn, your brain sends messages back to your gut, altering their flora production.

The brain-gut axis is highly involved in the actions of your immune system, neurotransmitters, hormone signaling, and even weight management. [3]

They’re so closely intertwined that it’s now well-accepted that numerous mood disorders, from anxiety and depression to autism, have gastrointestinal components. [4, 5]


Gut-brain axis - Dr. Pingel


Symptoms of Imbalanced Gut-Brain Axis

You’re likely wondering how you’ll known if you have an imbalance in your gut-brain axis. Here are some of the symptoms you may experience:

Benefits of a Balanced Gut-Brain Axis

By bringing your gut microbiome into balance, you can also help promote a healthier gut-brain axis. Let’s review a few of the major benefits of having a balanced gut-brain axis before we dive into the best ways to get a balanced gut-brain axis.

  • Reduce inflammation
  • Reduce anxiety and depression
  • Improved digestion
  • Sharper memory and cognition
  • Reduce cortisol levels
  • Reduce physical pain
  • Stronger immune system

How To Balance Your Gut-Brain Axis

Here are a few of my best tips to help balance your gut-brain axis.

1. Take probiotics.

There are two types of flora or microorganisms: those that are “good” and others that are “bad.”

The “bad” flora can become problematic if there are too many of them in your system. They can also become a problem if your body doesn’t have enough of the “good” bacteria.

Much like the microbiota in your gut, probiotics are live microorganisms—the “good” kind—typically administered in supplement form.

By consuming probiotics, you help to increase the number of flora in your gastrointestinal system that are needed to help break down food and absorb nutrients.

While you can eat probiotic-rich foods (see my second tip for more), probiotic supplements offer a concentrated dose and often containing specific strains to produce a specific health benefit.

Each capsule should contain billions of healthy live bacteria that will help your body better digest your food and balance your gut-brain axis.

2. Eat fermented foods.

Fermented foods are probiotic-rich foods that support digestive health and your gut microbiome.

Research has shown that eating fermented foods can help to support and improve overall gut health and the gut-brain axis.

Just as with probiotic supplements, fermented foods add “good” microorganisms to the gut microbiome. [67]

For a list of the best fermented foods for your gut-brain axis, click here.

3. Get moving.

 While mild to moderate exercise is known to improve fitness and overall health, it’s also been linked to better gastrointestinal digestion and elimination. [8]

Not only does it increase blood flow to promote movement, but it strengthens supportive muscles in the pelvic floor and abdominal wall. Strengthening these muscles helps to keep your body more upright, which allows for proper movement of stool through the colon.

Calming routines such as yoga or Pilates have been shown to fight stress and support feelings of relaxation while also promoting better digestive health by keeping your food moving through your digestive tract. [9]

Meanwhile, studies have shown that engaging in cardiovascular exercise each day can help support digestive health by promoting a healthy gut microbiome. [10]

And other studies have revealed that exercise supports stable and enriched microflora diversity, which is known to support the health of the gut-brain axis and overall health. [11]

If you’re trying these suggested steps and still feel something is missing, or if you’re having trouble staying motivated, you may need a little help getting started—and there’s no shame in that. Changing certain lifestyle habits can be hard!

If you find that you’re in need of some extra guidance, head over to my Personal Health Consultations page and schedule an appointment with me. I’ll help you identify what’s holding you back and areas to focus on so you’re on track for a healthy gut-brain axis!

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