“I crave certain foods. For instance, I must swallow every day, or I’d start to feel like there’s something wrong with me. You know that feeling of malnourishment? That’s the feeling. Even if I don’t like the soup, my wife knows that there must be Eba or Foo-foo when I get back from work. There was even a time I had the “Eze goes to school” syndrome and I couldn’t concentrate at work if I don’t swallow in the morning. Do I have a deficiency?” Dayo
“I always want to eat. When I’m happy I love to celebrate, when something good happens to me I celebrate with food, and get this… when I’m unhappy, all I can think of is comfort food. So what’s wrong with me?” Adaeze
“My problem is something sweet. Even after eating, I must take something sweet, or I will still feel hungry. Coke, Fanta, tom-tom or even this glucose biscuit. I MUST take something sweet, or the food I just ate will not communicate with my brain” Tekena
A lot of things happening in our guts can affect how we feel and think. Also, how we fell and think affects our health as well as the gut function. This is called the gut-brain connection.
This connection is also known as the gut-brain axis, and this communication between the brain and gut matters a lot for people struggling with depression, anxiety, and other mood issues. It implies that the food we consume, the bacteria residing in our gut and the health of the digestive system affect our behaviors, thoughts, and emotions. Understanding this connection will help the healing process of both the mind and gut. I feel it in my gut.
What is gut-brain axis?
This is a bidirectional communication between the gut’s nervous system and the central nervous system which comprises of the spinal cord and brain. The communication links the cognitive and emotional centers of the brain with the intestinal functions.
The gut-brain communication takes place with more body systems and not just the nervous system. It includes the immune system, the endocrine system, the stress response system and the metabolic system. All these systems work with each other and the brain to influence behavior, thoughts, and the mood.
The role microbiota plays
The human gut has over 1000 species as well as over 7000 subspecies of bacteria. The trillions of microbiota living in the colon play a large role in this communication. The gut microbiota has profound effects on the communication between the gut and brain. The bacteria in the gut produce compounds which have a direct effect on the brain. For example, they reduce cortisol, the stress hormone, and increase oxytocin, the love hormone. The gut microbes can create different neurotransmitters including the one for anti-anxiety, happiness, serotonin and dopamine.
The gut bacteria also ferment some soluble fibers and makes short-chain fatty acids like butyrate. This acid prevents the barrier of the gut from inflammation, and also regulates blood sugar. New studies are being researched to find out what really constitutes a healthy gut-brain axis and how diet, therapies, lifestyle, and supplements can be used to address the dysfunctions. Here are some tips that can help most people enhance their gut-brain connection naturally.
Ways to improve gut-brain communication to enhance mood
- Increase fiber by consuming a wider variety of plant foods
Enrich your gut microbiota with each meal by consuming plants. It’s the way to increase the gut bacteria and ultimately improve brain function and mood. When more plants are eaten, more fiber is digested, and these will diversify the gut bacteria and feed them so they can increase in number. The type really doesn’t matter, whether insoluble, soluble, prebiotic, or fermentable, focus on increasing your intake of vegetables, whole grains, fruits, nuts, legumes, and seeds.
- Avoid unnecessary antibiotics
Nigerians love to self-medicate. In fact, almost every home has its own resident doctor. Taking unprescribed antibiotics can disrupt the microbiota and can increase the risk of anxiety and depression. Although a lot of doctors prescribe antibiotics, you can ask them for alternatives. Consider alternative medicine for mild infections.
- Take psychobiotic. These are probiotics that act as regulators of behavior and the brain. These probiotics can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.
- Avoid gluten if you are sensitive to it, sugar and artificial sweeteners, and GMO foods.
- Spend some time outside and sunbathe in the early morning sun.
- Purchase local produce rather than processed foods.
- Practice stress reduction techniques.