The gastrointestinal tract produces hormones that encourage optimal digestion, nutrient absorption, and regular bowel function. But that's not all — the gut also produces neurotransmitters that affect our psychology, impact our brain health, and is now considered by many experts as "the second brain." Here are some simple, yet highly-effective health tips to incorporate into your daily life for optimal brain and gut health.
1. Deep breathing.
Close your eyes, picture yourself in your favorite place, and take at least 10 deep, slow breaths. Each deep breath reinforces our ability to regulate emotion, and reduces the cortisol response, as demonstrated by one study of pranayama deep breathing style from yoga. Lowered cortisol optimizes our gut function for digestion, mood, and even sleep — as melatonin is derived from serotonin.
A balanced stress response preserves the proper gut bacteria we need to absorb all the vitamins and minerals from our diet, such as vitamins A, D, and E, as well as iron and zinc, all of which help boost our immune system, and vitamin K, which is important for bone health and blood clotting.
High-stress or chronic-stress situations can alter our gut bacteria, potentially impairing absorption and minimizing our ability to produce relaxation hormones. For example, cortisol, the hormone responsible for the body's stress response, can suppress hormone production associated with digestion and reproduction — our primitive self wants energy to “fight-or-flight,” not “rest and digest.”
2. Drink 1-2 cups of green tea per day.
Approximately four pounds of varied gut bacteria contribute to making serotonin (our "happy hormone"), in addition to dopamine, "the pleasure hormone;" noradrenaline, the "fight-or-flight" response; and GABA (gamma-Amniobutyric acid), the body's "universal inhibitor."
Green tea is loaded with antioxidants to help reduce the risk of heart disease and insulin resistance, and contains L-theanine, an amino acid that increases levels of serotonin, dopamine, and GABA, which helps protect the brain.
3. Eat foods rich in tryptophan.
95% of serotonin is manufactured in our gut, but depression, poor digestion, craving for sweet foods, and sleep concerns may indicate a deficiency. Tryptophan is serotonin’s precursor that crosses the blood brain barrier and is an essential amino acid, meaning we obtain it from our diet.
Foods rich in tryptophan are chickpeas, beets, seeds, fish, and of course, poultry — preferably hormone and antibiotic free.
4. Move for at least 30 minutes daily.
Regular exercise targets both brains as once, as it can help improve your digestion and bowel movements, sleep, mood, blood flow, and blood sugar regulation — making cells more sensitive to take in glucose for energy.
Movement can also boost endorphins and modulate our stress response. Aim for at least 30 minutes per day, such as walking, yoga, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), or weights. You can always reconnect with nature by going on a long walk or a hike, and remember to practice deep breathing by taking in all that fresh air!
Wonderful and effective herbs, nutrients, homeopathic remedies, and other therapies are also available to improve our gut and brain health, and best given as part of an individualized treatment plan. Always consult your doctor first. Everyone's health has their own unique story, and all aspects need to be addressed to discover the underlying cause of any disease or ailment.