Understanding the gut-brain-heart connection

Understanding the gut-brain-heart connection

The key to better cardiovascular and mental health might begin in the gut.

If common phrases are any indication, we’ve long believed in a connection between the gut and the brain. We feel a “gut instinct” when making a decision or have a “gut reaction” to something we don’t like. We complain of a “nervous stomach” during stressful times. As it turns out, these may have some scientific backing, as research shows that the brain is linked quite closely to the gastrointestinal system.

Scientists have determined that nerve cells line the entire gastrointestinal tract, from esophagus to rectum, and have named this network the enteric nervous system (ENS).[1] The ENS is responsible for controlling digestion every step of the way and seems to communicate with the brain and central nervous system. It may explain why people who cope with irritable bowel syndrome also experience anxiety or depression at a higher rate than those who don’t (and vice versa). And it’s why the gut is sometimes called the second brain.

But there is a third piece to this puzzle, and it’s the heart. New to the scene, the gut-heart connection is still being studied by scientists. One study [2], for example, hoped to discover why fiber intake is associated with a lower risk of heart disease. Researchers found that a specific gut bacteria (called Roseburia) seems to use fiber to create butyrate (a fatty acid) which then decreases inflammation and reduces the hardening and narrowing of the arteries in mice. Another study[3] showed that eating probiotics regularly may promote healthy blood pressure.

The fact that these three systems are so closely linked means that interventions that help one can help the others. Eating a whole and high-fiber diet will not only feed bacteria but also help the heart. Exercise is known to help cardiovascular health and mental health, together. And, of course, taking a probiotic supplement or eating foods rich in beneficial bacteria can help the gastrointestinal system—the lynchpin of the gut-brain-heart connection.


[1] https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/healthy_aging/healthy_body/the-brain-gut-connection
[2] https://www.newhope.com/health-and-nutrition-research/gut-bacteria-use-fiber-improve-heart-health-mice
[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25047574

 

 

This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.

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FAQs

Your gut comprises about 70% of your immune system and is critical for brain function, to balance body chemistry, and for converting nutrients into a usable form the body can absorb. When your microflora (gut bacteria) is imbalanced, your health suffers. Probiotics are important for replenishing and restoring microfloral balance.

Probiotics are live microorganisms that are believed to be good for overall health, and specifically for digestive health. To help alleviate the symptoms and conditions that harmful bacteria can cause, we need to maintain our beneficial bacteria. Known as ‘friendly’ or beneficial bacteria, probiotics produce a variety of compounds, including natural lactic acids that help to inhibit the growth of the harmful bacteria, thereby preventing them from gaining a foothold and causing illness. Probiotics can be found naturally in some foods, in fermented drinks, and in supplements.

It’s easy to assume that you only need to take probiotics when you’re feeling out of balance (i.e. when you’re overly stressed, you’ve just finished a round of antibiotics or you’re feeling run down). However, we recommend daily probiotic and prebiotic supplementation (and loading up on probiotic-rich foods) in order to keep your gut bacteria healthy ahead of any issues that arise and to support long-term health overall.

Want to get the most out of your supplement? Some research shows that probiotic survival was best when taken 30 minutes before or with foods or beverages that had fat content. The time of day isn’t as relevant as making sure you’re consuming your probiotic supplement with food.

Typical dosages vary based on the product, but common dosages range from 1 to 10 billion CFUs per day for children and from 3 to 20 billion CFUs per day for adults.

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