The Gut – Brain Connection

Over the past decade or so, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of children diagnosed with compromised brain function which include conditions such as ADHD, autism, cognitive problems, alongside an increase in depression and anxiety.  

So, what is it about the modern lifestyle that is so destructive to the health of our children’s brain function?

The gut as key to mental development

Research papers backed by clinical experience indicate there is a definite connection between gut health and brain function. 

In fact the gut and brain originate from the same area in the embryo. Therefore children who suffer from digestive complaints such as constipation, diarrhoea, bloating, nausea and tummy pains may also experience disruption to their brain function.

The second brain in the gut

Interwoven within the wall of the gut is the second largest part of the nervous system called the Enteric Nervous System (or ENS for short).  The ENS that resides in the gut is directly connected to the brain. 

To keep this simple, we will call the brain in the head the main brain and the brain in the gut our second brain.   In fact, scientists have nicknamed the gut, the second brain because of the massive amount of information it processes on a daily basis.  While these two brains have different responsibilities, they work in unison with each other.  The second brain in the gut can’t complete a crossword puzzle or write a shopping list.  It’s not capable of the type of functions we associate with the main brain.  Instead, it has a completely different set of tasks to perform within the digestive system.  In fact, the gut performs so many different jobs, it is the only organ that requires its own nervous system or brain. 

When the gut speaks the brain listens

The main brain in the skull and the second brain in the gut are connected by an extensive network of billions of nerve cells.  These nerve cells transmit information and allow the main brain to communicate to various compartments within itself and also send messages to other parts of the body.  This is essentially how the main brain oversees and monitors the thousands of functions it carries out within the body on a daily basis such as walking, talking, breathing and maintaining a regular heartbeat.  One is not ‘superior’ to the other; rather, their relationship is one of interdependence.

The super-highway

The super-highway of nerve cells provides a framework to transport information backwards and forwards between the gut and the brain along a pathway known as the Vagus nerve.  These two brains are constantly chattering and this allows the main brain to act as a watchdog, to supervise the complex daily functions of the gut.  The two brains work together to perform the complicated tasks of digesting food, regulating appetite and metabolism, releasing enzymes to breakdown food, absorption of nutrients and the eventual elimination of wastes.  In this way, the gut is registering a problem this can bring about changes to your child’s brain function and vice versa.

And… the brain talks back to the gut

We have all experienced the sensations of the main brain communicating with the second brain, maybe without realising it.  Most of us can relate to feelings of nausea, knots in the pit of the stomach or that gut-wrenching feeling that accompanies anxiety and nervousness.   When our main brain registers that we are out of our comfort zone, our second brain in the gut instantly registers this information which results in those uncomfortable gut sensations we associate with stress, like ‘butterflies’ in the tummy. 

An inflamed gut = an inflamed brain

An unhealthy gut that is inflamed and leaky and lacks adequate numbers of friendly bacteria will send warning messages to the immune system cells in the main brain. If the same messages are sent on a regular basis, this signals the immune system is under stress and activated. If this continues to happen, the immune system in the brain will then be ‘switched on’ and the main brain can become chronically inflamed. Once this occurs, the main brain sends messages back to the second brain in the gut which can set up a negative feedback loop of inflammation. This two-way exchange can bring about changes to the main brain. Research confirms that kids with learning difficulties and behavioural problems are significantly more prone to digestive upsets such as constipation and/or diarrhoea than kids who don’t exhibit these symptoms. Unhappy messages from the gut can wreak havoc and cause profound and unexpected results to the emotional and cognitive centres of the main brain.

Common conditions of impaired brain function include:

  • ✅ ADHD
  • ✅ Poor memory
  • ✅ Anxiety
  • ✅ Headaches
  • ✅ Dyspraxia (clumsiness)
  • ✅ Learning difficulties
  • ✅ Epilepsy/seizures
  • ✅ Behavioural problems
  • ✅ Fatigue
  • ✅ Depression
  • ✅ Autism
  • ✅ Depression
  • ✅ Brain fog
  • ✅ Bi-polar disorder
  • ✅ Poor concentration

Leaky-Gut and brain function

As leaky-gut is a leading cause of inflamed brain, to heal the brain you first need to repair the gut.  This means addressing the major causes of leaky-gut which include:

  • ✅ Excessive use of antibiotic and painkillers
  • ✅ Worm infestations
  • ✅ Stress and lack of sleep
  • ✅ Nutritional deficiencies (e.g. zinc and vitamin A)
  • ✅ Food intolerances, allergies and sensitivities
  • ✅ Poor diet as in the typical Western diet high in processed food and sugary drinks


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