An inability to focus or think clearly and difficulty reading, and brain fog makes you feel like driving is no longer safe are symptoms often accompanied by sugar cravings, bloating, reflux, constipation, and nausea and can be connected with the gut-brain axis.
While these symptoms are often rightly associated with a leaky gut, what if I told you that they could also be a sign of a leaky brain? There’s something called the blood-brain barrier that defines the relationship between the gut and the brain, meaning that whatever happens to one affects the other.
Don’t believe me? Please take a look at this fascinating research on the subject and how the gut-brain axis affects your health.
Understanding The Gut-Brain Axis
The human nervous system is divided into the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system (PNS). The CNS is made up of the brain and the spinal cord, while the PNS is broken up into the somatic and the autonomic nervous systems.
The somatic are all the voluntary actions involving skeletal muscle, while the autonomic is below the level of consciousness, although always active. Any disruption to the autonomic nervous system or its control can lead to a significant amount of diseases.
The gut-brain connection comes in communication between the autonomic nervous system and the brain and spinal cord. The parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems are in large part controlled by… you guessed it: gut microbes!
The enteric nervous system is the second brain or the brain in your gut. It has as many if not more neurons as the entire spinal cord, and it covers the whole digestive tract, from the mouth to the place where the sun doesn’t shine.
This is the nervous system that gut microbes use to set up communication systems to the brain.
The connection between the gut and the brain is so impactful that a new therapy area known as electronic medicine can now be used to fight disease. Devices can be placed on the vagus nerve in different parts of it and stimulate parts to alleviate inflammation, pain, and even metabolic disease like obesity and diabetes.
This can alleviate anxiety, migraines, and depression. Interestingly, this kind of stimulation is impactful because the vagus nerve stimulation also triggers the enteric nervous system to function. When it works, you get better bowel movement, less stasis, less overgrowth of unfavorable and pathogenic organisms, and better communication between the gut and the brain.
Threats to the Gut-Brain Axis
Major factors that affect the microbiome’s health and the brain include stress, pollution, diet, sleep, etc. All of these things shape the gut community and can shift the balance between commensals and pathobionts.
Pathobionts are microorganisms that live within the gut as a normal part of the flora, but they can act pathogenetically when they’re overgrown. This includes things like e.coli and streptococcus.
Other big disruptors of the communication between the gut and the brain include:
Antibiotic therapy can have a long-term effect on microbial ecology. More than giving you diarrhea or gastric disturbances, these antibiotics can cause emotional disturbances that can lead to memory loss, insomnia, brain fog, nervousness, apathy, and depression, to name but a few.
Babies who have to go through antibiotic therapy right after being born can have a completely disrupted microbiome and completely change many vital hormones like serotonin.
The number and diversity of the bacteria in the microbiome can also be affected by these hormones, so it’s a constant back and forth cycle where a disruption in the microbiome causes a disruption in the hormone production, thus furthering dysbiosis in the microbiome.
- Overabundance Of Lipopolysaccharide
Lipopolysaccharide is the most abundant toxin in the body because it’s generated in the gut microbiome. It’s a normal part of bacterial cell wall structures. When the bacteria die or are being excreted to rebuild the LPS, this becomes a regular aspect of the intestinal lining lumen.
About 70 to 80% or higher of the microbes in your microbiome produce LPS so LPS is not a problem if it’s contained and neutralized within the lumen and taken out through defecation.
It becomes a problem when it enters the mucosa as it creates immune activation within the mucosa and intestinal lining. It’s even worse when it leaks through the intestinal wall lining and gets into the circulatory system.
Elevated LPS with the circulatory system is a significant driver of many diseases associated with a disruption in the gut and brain communication.
Some of these diseases include chronic inflammation and disruption of the diversity of the microbiota. This can lead to leptin-resistance because it enters the enteric system and leaks into the gut lining, and disrupts the communication between the enteric system and the brain.
Basically, LPS disrupts the function and production of leptin in response to caloric intake from diet. A lot of people with leptin resistance end up with obesity and metabolic syndrome.
- Stress and Lifestyle Factors
Stress has a significant impact on the limbic system, which is often referred to as the primitive brain and controls many chemical reactions to emotional stimuli and stresses.
When it’s affected by emotional stress and life experience, the limbic system creates stress hormones that are then transmitted into the microbiome, disrupting the microbiome and the primary communication between the microbiota and the brain.
This is two-way communication, and the more stress we have, the more the brain can disrupt the microbiome’s function.
Also, the stress hormone norepinephrine can stimulate biofilm growth, and the more biofilm you have, the harder it is to find and eliminate pathogens in the gut.
A growing number of people are affected by SIBO, which can be traced back to slow gastric emptying, slow movement of the small bowel caused by a disruption in the enteric nervous system.
LPS has been shown to leak into the circulatory system and enter the blood-brain brain barrier through the circulatory system. Even though the vagus nerve causes inflammation right at the blood-brain barrier, it disrupts dopamine function and receptors and causes depression.
Ideally, there should be a solid barrier between the inside of your gut walls and your bloodstream to allow the passage of healthy food while preventing toxins, parasites, and certain chemicals from leaving your gut and entering your bloodstream.
The permeability of the gut-brain axis mainly comes from diet and lifestyle. Of course, we don’t have control over many things, but there’s enough that we do have control over that will make enough of a difference that we don’t have to suffer from a leaky brain or leaky gut.
One of these things is to reduce inflammation, eat a fiber-rich diet, and eliminate processed foods and artificial ingredients. There are also leaky gut supplements that you can take to help repair your gut and restore your health.