The gut-brain axis is a two-way communication channel between the nervous system and digestive system. Let’s look at how this connection affects our health.
I’m sure you’ve heard people talking about the “gut-brain axis”… but do you understand how crucial of a role it plays in our health?
By now, you’re accustomed to me discussing a more “top-down” system of communication in your body; as in the way our brain and stress response system signals other systems down and throughout our bodies when recognizing stress. But, there is also another fascinating direction of communication – and that’s what we’re going to cover today.
What Is the Gut-Brain Axis?
The gut-brain axis is essentially a two-way communication between the brain and our digestive system, and back to the brain again. In short, it is how our gut and the organisms that make up the gut microbiome signal to our brains via the vagal nerve and other signaling messengers.
And truly, this is relatively “new” information. While it has been widely accepted that the brain communicates top-down to the various systems in our body – immune, digestive, hormones, nervous system – discovering that information can go back to the brain opened countless doors to optimizing health in recent years. (see references below)
There are many other ways that the gut communicates with the brain outside of the vagal nerve, however, including:
- Hormones and other signaling proteins in the digestive system
- Neurotransmitters (such as 90% of the serotonin in our bodies)
- Inflammatory signals made by the immune system which is mostly located inside our guts
- Metabolites (such as short-chain fatty acids) made by organisms in the microbiome (bacteria and other organisms, such as hookworms)
Ultimately, what this boils down to is understanding how the different parts of our bodies are interrelated – and how they can both positively and/or negatively affect our health.
How Digestive Health Impacts the Gut-Brain Axis (and Beyond)
Finally the medical community is beginning to see the concrete evidence of how our gut health directly affects our overall health. Imbalances in the gut microbiome, inflammation caused by food allergens and/or untreated leaky gut can all result in:
- Fluctuations in mood, including anxiety and depression.
- Poor sleeping patterns and fatigue.
- Skin rashes, including eczema and acne
- And even hormone imbalances such as with estrogen and progesterone, which can lead to issues with the menstrual cycle, PCOS, endometriosis, PMS, PMDD and fertility issues.
- HPV and abnormal pap smear results
- Re-activated Epstein-Barr
- Autoimmune conditions, such as Hashimoto’s, Celiac and many others
- Joint and muscle pain
- Weight gain and Fatty Liver
When we address our digestive health by decreasing inflammatory foods, healing leaky gut, and rebalancing gut bacteria (and really all the organisms that live in a healthy human gut), we can influence how the signals communicate throughout our bodies.
It’s evident now that this is not just an issue of “gut-brain” but also gut-hormone, gut-immune, gut-TOTAL BODY.
Using the Gut-Brain Axis to Heal Our Bodies
Just being aware that the gut-brain axis exists is a powerful tool for managing our health. From there, we can figure out the best way to make the most of this channel of communication, avoiding triggers, and making smarter health decisions.
While it may not seem relevant to examine gut health when experiencing fatigue, anxiety or menstrual-related symptoms, it is ALWAYS a proven starting point to healing and optimizing my patients’ health.
Health Panels to Assess Your Gut Health:
- Food Sensitivity Panel. Many exist. I recommend a particular panel that I’ve seen provides the clearest information and has helped thousands of my patients. You can order the panel here and do it yourself at home.
- Stool Panel, but not just any stool panel. It needs to be a PCR panel to analyze your gut microbiome based on the DNA of the organisms (not just a culture). This way we can find out who is living in your large intestine and potentially sending negative signals out through your gut-brain axis, including opportunistic bacteria, candida, and parasites. This panel also shows signs of inflammation, maldigestion, and negative signaling molecules involved in the gut-brain axis.
- Adrenal and Neurotransmitter Panel to check levels of cortisol, adrenaline, as well as serotonin and GABA, all of which are involved in the gut-brain axis. We need to know the state of your gut-brain axis, and from there, I can guide you to shift the signals in a direction that works best for you and your health.
Listening to Our Digestive System – Simple Steps:
- Deep breaths and breaks at regular intervals throughout the day, sending calm signals down your vagal nerve
- When it is time to eat, sit, enjoy, chew, and relax – this way you are using your gut-brain axis to your benefit
- Reducing sugar in your diet, so as to avoid overgrowth of microorganisms and inflammation
- Eating smaller quantities of food at a sitting (so you’re not over-feeding gut bacteria) – and not overeating fermented foods
- Avoiding inflammatory foods, such as those that show high on your IgA/IgG food panel
- Avoiding histamine triggers, if that is an issue for you
- Healing leaky gut so that foods and toxins don’t trigger a negative message through the gut-brain axis… AND instead, healthy nutrients can be absorbed by the intestinal cells
In some cases, additional support to rebalance the microbiome is needed. In that situation we can turn to:
- Using herbs*, gut-healing substances, biofilm disruptors and traffic directing bacteria to help get your gut microbiome back to optimal
- Helmenthic Therapy which has been proven to help heal leaky gut, promote stress recovery and recalibrate the gut-brain axis.
I’ve also decided to offer another way to work with me to help you solve leaky gut and your digestive issues.
It is an online course which includes one 30-minute solo session with me, the 48 food panel, as well as the Stress Remedy Program materials and 10% discount on supplements for 1 month. It’s called Healing Leaky Gut with Dr. Doni (Online Course).
Working with Dr. Doni one-on-one for Natural Solutions
Embracing the gut-brain axis – and truly examining the state of your gut – is a game-changer for your overall health. By having the whole picture (the top-down and gut health communication), it opens up endless healing solutions.
- To learn more about how I use this approach to address women’s health issues, I have designed a Women’s Wellness Program where I work 1:1 with you to rebalance your hormones and/or fertility.
- To help your body to recover from stress exposure, while also addressing your gut-brain axis, check out my Adrenal Wellness Program which includes looking at your neurotransmitter levels and addressing how digestive health can improve symptoms related to the nervous system. This is ideal for someone experiencing fatigue, migraines, anxiety, mood swings and/ or depression.
- For sleep issues, start first with my book The Natural Insomnia Solution – and if you need additional assistance, check out my Sleep Solutions Program.
- To learn how optimized digestive health can improve, heal and help you to fight off HPV, read this post on What Causes HPV?.
- To help reverse autoimmunities, check out my Autoimmunity Program.
Please know that it is possible to solve issues related to the gut-brain axis. And in doing so, you’ll be improving your health for the long term.
8th November 2019
- Agustí A, García-Pardo M, López-Almela I, Campillo I, Maes M, Romaní-Pérez M and Sanz Y. Interplay Between the Gut-Brain Axis, Obesity and Cognitive Function. Front. Neurosci., 16 March 2018 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2018.00155 https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnins.2018.00155/full
- Clapp M, Aurora N, Herrera L, Bhatia M, Wilen E, Wakefield S. Gut microbiota’s effect on mental health: The gut-brain axis. Clin Pract. 2017;7(4):987. Published 2017 Sep 15. doi:10.4081/cp.2017.987 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5641835/
- Petschow et al 2013. Probiotics, prebiotics, and the host microbiome: the science of translation. Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci. 1306 (2013): 1-17. https://nyaspubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/nyas.12303
- Daveson AJ, Jones DM, Gaze S, et al. Effect of hookworm infection on wheat challenge in celiac disease–a randomised double-blinded placebo controlled trial. PLoS One. 2011;6(3):e17366. Published 2011 Mar 8. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0017366 HTTPS://WWW.NCBI.NLM.NIH.GOV/PMC/ARTICLES/PMC3050888/
- Gazzinelli-Guimaraes PH, Nutman TB. Helminth parasites and immune regulation. F1000Res. 2018;7:F1000 Faculty Rev-1685. Published 2018 Oct 23. doi:10.12688/f1000research.15596.1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6206608/
*Please keep in mind that any and all supplements—nutrients, herbs, enzymes, or other—should be used with caution. My recommendation is that you seek the care of a naturopathic doctor (with a doctorate degree from a federally-accredited program) and that you have a primary care physician or practitioner whom you can contact to help you with individual dosing and protocols. If you ever experience negative symptoms after taking a product, stop taking it immediately and contact your doctor right away.