Forgetting what you came into a room for, or losing your train of thought mid - sentence are familiar situations for most of us. But could your gut health be to blame? As it turns out, our gut health and the health of our brain, cognitive abilities and memory are intricately linked.
Here's how your gut health can impact your thinking and memory:
The Gut-Brain Axis
The gut - brain axis is a two - way communication system between our gut and our brain, via our central nervous system, and our enteric nervous system in our gut. These two systems signal to each other, and link our emotional and cognitive areas of the brain with the functions of our gut.
The communication from the brain to the gut is well - known; the link between stress or other emotions and gut symptoms such as bloating, diarrhea or constipation will be familiar to many. In fact, Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders such as IBS have actually been classified as disorders of gut - brain connection!
However, the other direction of communication is perhaps what's most interesting; the communication from the gut to the brain. Though this is a relatively new area of research, the findings of recent studies are fascinating and highlight just how important our gut health is for our overall health and wellbeing.
The Gut Microbiome
The gut microbiome is the community of bacteria, yeast and other microbes that live in our gut.The science is becoming more and more clear as to the huge role our gut bugs play in our overall health, as well as our brain health.
Studies have shown that the increased diversity of the microbiome (the variety and numbers across different species of microbes) is associated with increased performance on cognitive tests.
As this is a new area of research, scientists can't be full sure as to exactly why our gut bugs have the power to make us more brainy. But they do know that it's likely for a couple of reasons -
Defense Against Inflammation
A healthy gut microbiome protects our intestinal barrier, which is the gateway to the 70% of our immune system that's located in our gut.
A balance of mainly beneficial microbes make anti - inflammatory compounds that help to keep our gut barrier strong and healthy, as well as helping to defend against pathogenic microbes that can cause damage.
When the intestinal barrier does become damaged and is more permeable than normal (often referred to as 'leaky gut'), which can lead to a cascade of events that trigger systemic inflammation and the activation of the gut's immune system.
If this becomes chronic, it in turn can cause neuroinflammation which can affect our cognitive function and brain health. Thus, the health of our microbiome plays a key role in helping to protect our brain, cognition and memory.
Another aspect of the gut - brain axis is t he gut's ability to produce neurotransmitters, which are chemical messengers that help our body and brain to carry out all their different functions. It's been found that some of the neurotransmitters which play a role in cognition, such as serotonin and dopamine, are in part produced in the gut.
It's also thought that certain types of our gut bacteria help to modulate serotonin production, and can produce and metabolise dopamine. Although scientists aren't quite sure exactly how this affects our cognition, the research suggests neurotransmitter modulation via the gut does play a role.
Overall, it's clear that the gut and brain are much more closely linked than many of us may think. However, the good news is that by looking after our gut health, we're lookin g after our cognitive health too! For more information about this, check out this article on 6 foods to support gut health .