The Remarkable Gut-Brain Connection: Nourishment for Optimal Health

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Have you ever chosen to rather “trust your gut” when making a choice or felt anxious jitters in your tummy? Surprisingly, these sensations might be coming from what many call your body’s “second brain.” Nestled within your digestive system, this “gut brain” is reshaping how we see the connections between digestion, emotions, health, and even thought processes.

Scientists are starting to better understand and research this intriguing network is known to experts as the enteric nervous system (ENS). And it’s far from small. The ENS consists of two slim layers packed with over 100 million nerve cells, stretching from your oesophagus all the way to the rectum.

Researchers continue to explore this connection between the gut and brain to better understand it’s significant implications for overall health and wellbeing [1].

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What is the Gut-Brain Axis?

In simple terms, the gut-brain axis describes the two-way communication between the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and the nervous system. It involves a complex interplay of hormones, neurotransmitters, and immune system components, working in concert to maintain balance in the body [2].

As explained by the Johns Hopkins Centre for Neurogastroenterology [3], the primary function of the enteric nervous system (ENS) is to oversee digestion, from swallowing to enzyme release that helps break down food, and from nutrient absorption to waste elimination. While the ENS might not ‘think’ as our main brain does, it does have regular conversations with it, producing significant outcomes.

People dealing with conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other functional bowel issues, such as constipation, bloating, and stomach discomfort, might experience emotional changes linked to the ENS. “For many years, the prevailing belief was that emotional states like anxiety and depression led to these digestive issues. However, our research, along with others, suggests it might be a two-way street,” points out Dr Jay Pasricha. Studies are uncovering that disturbances in the gut can relay signals to the central nervous system (CNS), potentially leading to shifts in mood.

Pasricha adds, “This discovery might shed light on why a significant number of people with IBS and similar conditions also suffer from depression and anxiety. It’s crucial to understand, especially when considering that nearly 30 to 40% of people experience functional bowel issues at some point in their lives.”

Why is this Connection Important?

The evolving insights into the connection between the ENS (our ‘gut brain’) and the CNS (our central brain) shed light on why treatments like antidepressants, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), and medical hypnotherapy might be effective for IBS and other bowel issues. Because these two ‘brains’ are always communicating, treatments that help one system could potentially benefit the other.

It’s not uncommon for gastroenterologists to recommend certain antidepressants for IBS. This isn’t due to a belief that the issue is purely psychological. This is because these medications might alleviate symptoms by targeting nerve cells within the gut.

Research has particularly highlighted these benefits in strengthening the gut-brain connection:

1. Mood and Emotions

Studies have indicated that our gut health might influence our mood and emotions [3]. Certain strains of gut bacteria produce neurotransmitters, like serotonin and dopamine, often referred to as ‘feel-good’ chemicals.

2. Cognitive Health

A healthy gut might also mean a sharper brain. The gut-brain axis can influence cognitive functions like memory, focus, and decision-making [4].

3. Digestive Health

A poorly functioning gut-brain connection can lead to digestive issues, including food sensitivities, bloating, and irritable bowel syndrome.

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Harnessing the Gut-Brain Axis for Health

Given the potential of the gut-brain axis, it’s crucial to ensure both are in optimal health. Here’s where natural supplements come into play:

  1. Medicinal Mushrooms: Medicinal mushrooms play a pivotal role in enhancing the gut-brain connection. Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus), for instance, has been shown to promote nerve growth factor, influencing brain function and gut health [5].  Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor) can support the immune system, influencing gut microbiota, which in turn impacts the brain [6]. Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) possesses bioactive compounds that can modulate inflammation and gut health, potentially influencing mood, and cognition [7]. These mushrooms fortify the vital link between our digestive system and brain, underlining the holistic nature of our health.
  2. Postbiotics: Postbiotics are the beneficial byproducts of probiotic activity and are gaining attention for bolstering the gut-brain connection [8]. These compounds can positively influence the gut environment, potentially impacting neurotransmitter activity and brain function, reinforcing the intricate dialogue between our gut and brain. [9].
  3. Probiotics: These beneficial live bacteria, play a pivotal role in enhancing the gut-brain connection. By modulating gut microbiota, they influence the production of neurotransmitters and neural signalling, directly impacting brain function and behaviour, thus highlighting the profound interplay between gut microbes and the brain. [10]

Future of Gut-Brain Health

As research delves deeper into this connection, it’s likely that we’ll see more targeted approaches to optimizing gut-brain health. The potential benefits, from enhanced cognitive abilities to better emotional health, are too promising to ignore.

A healthy gut-brain connection is essential for overall well-being. By nourishing both with the right supplements, like those mentioned above, we can tap into a host of benefits ranging from sharper cognitive abilities to improved emotional health. As science continues to explore this intricate relationship, one thing remains clear: taking care of our gut and brain is a surefire way to live a happier, healthier life.

Invest in your health today and let the harmony between your gut and brain guide you towards optimal wellbeing.

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  2. Martin, C.R., Osadchiy, V., Kalani, A., & Mayer, E.A. (2018). The Brain-Gut-Microbiome Axis. Cellular and Molecular Gastroenterology and Hepatology, 6(2), 133–148.


  1. Foster, J.A., & Neufeld, K.A.M. (2013). Gut-brain axis: how the microbiome influences anxiety and depression. Trends in Neurosciences, 36 (5), 305-312.


  1. Mori K, Obara Y, Hirota M, Azumi Y, Kinugasa S, Inatomi S, Nakahata N. Nerve growth factor-inducing activity of Hericium erinaceus in 1321N1 human astrocytoma cells. Biol Pharm Bull. 2008 Sep;31(9):1727-32. doi: 10.1248/bpb.31.1727. PMID: 18758067.


  1. Wasser SP. Medicinal Mushrooms in Human Clinical Studies. Part I. Anticancer, Oncoimmunological, and Immunomodulatory Activities: A Review. Int J Med Mushrooms. 2017;19(4):279-317. doi: 10.1615/IntJMedMushrooms.v19. i4.10. PMID: 28605319.


  1. Cör D, Knez Ž, Knez Hrnčič M. Antitumour, Antimicrobial, Antioxidant and Antiacetylcholinesterase Effect of Ganoderma Lucidum Terpenoids and Polysaccharides: A Review. 2018 Mar 13;23(3):649. doi: 10.3390/molecules23030649. PMID: 29534044; PMCID: PMC6017764.


  1. Aguilar-Toalá, J. E., et al. (2020). Postbiotics: An evolving term within the functional foods field. Trends in Food Science & Technology


  1. Sarkar A, Lehto SM, Harty S, Dinan TG, Cryan JF, Burnet PWJ. Psychobiotics and the Manipulation of Bacteria-Gut-Brain Signals. Trends Neurosci. 2016 Nov;39(11):763-781. doi: 10.1016/j.tins.2016.09.002. Epub 2016 Oct 25. PMID: 27793434; PMCID: PMC5102282.


  1. Dinan TG, Cryan JF. The Microbiome-Gut-Brain Axis in Health and Disease. Gastroenterol Clin North Am. 2017 Mar;46(1):77-89. doi: 10.1016/j.gtc.2016.09.007. Epub 2017 Jan 4. PMID: 28164854.