Guest article by Rhiannon Lytle, Holistic Nutritionist
Specializing in hormones, digestive health and general nutrition
Our bodies are more connected than we think. In recent years, studies have begun to focus on the importance of the the gut-brain connection; supporting everything from probiotics for depression, to having a daily bowel movement for reduced stress. In fact, this connection is so strong that our gut is even referred to as our “second brain”!
The relationship between our gut and brain is still being studied, however it is clear that inflammatory conditions that can alter our gut microbiome seem to have a big impact on our mood, particularly through our microbiome, serotonin production and a condition termed “leaky gut”.
Simply put, our gut microbiome is like a little rainforest in our digestive tract. It’s made up of a variety of bacteria that grow or die-off, depending on the environment that we create for them. When these bacteria are in balance, we typically see better brain health. However, when they are imbalanced, we may see brain fog, mood disorders like depression or anxiety, ADD and ADHD, even Alzheimers.
Let’s start with a common neurotransmitter called “serotonin”. Serotonin is also referred to as our “happy hormone”, and low serotonin levels are linked to depression, anxiety and sleep issues. This is typically why many antidepressants are Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) which increase serotonin levels in the brain.
It is estimated that 90-95% of serotonin is actually made and stored in our gut. If our digestion is impaired through gut dysbiosis (an imbalance of good and bad bacteria), food sensitivities or intolerances (like celiacs disease), or IBS, we may not have balanced levels of serotonin. And it’s not just the amount of serotonin that can be affected – the receptors matter too!
With chronic inflammation, a protein called zonulin can impact our microbiome and play a role in what is called “leaky gut” This is released from your gastrointestinal system and can open up your tight junctions in your intestines. Typically, these are closed in order to protect your microbiome and inhibit inflammation in the body. When our intestinal tight junctions have been compromised, so have those in our blood-brain barrier. This can affect our brain’s immune cells and inhibit neuron firing.