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The importance of the brain-gut connection

healthy gut Jun 16, 2020

Love your Guts (and they will love you)


Have you ever had ‘butterflies in your stomach’ or experienced a ‘gut feeling’ that was hard to ignore?  You gut has a direct line to your brain. It is weird but true, the squishy and squirmy intestinal tract and the trillions of little bugs that it houses profoundly affects your mood, cognition and even behaviour! And your brain (the squishy organ in your head) profoundly effects the health of your gut.




Your gut and brain are connected physically through millions of nerves, most importantly the vagus nerve. About 90%(!) of our brain’s output goes into the vagus (via the brain stem) and innervates the gut. Information travels both ways along this big nerve, from the gut to the brain and from the brain to the gut. The activity of the vagal nerve is vitally important for the health of both organs.


Its not just nerves - The gut and its microbes also communicate with the brain through chemical messengers and the immune system.


It’s amazing when you think about it, the gut microbes are able to communicate with our brains! They influence the health of our brains!


As I’m sure you know, everything we do depends on the brain.  If the brain’s not functioning well, nothing else in the body will function well,


What is healthy for the gut, is also healthy for the brain. What is healthy for the brain is also healthy for the gut. The two organ systems are inextricably linked.


 We all want healthy brains. We want a  stable mood, a clear head, and to make clear and sensible decisions.


It is an inescapble fact, that what is good for the gut, is good the brain.


So, how do we maximise the health of these most vital organs?




Leaky Gut


Our gut is a very important barrier.


It has the incredible job of keeping out all the toxins and bacterial in our gut that we don’t want and letting in the nutrients that we do.  Sometimes, the gut lets in more than it should, the gut can get “leaky”.


Leaky gut’s more accurate and technical name is “increased intestinal permeability”. 


As we have mentioned, everything that is inside your gut (your gut being the hollow tube from the mouth to the anus) is actually outside of your body.  The gut then has the critically important job of decided what stuff should come into the body (nutrients) and what stuff it should keep out (bacteria, toxins, in fact, all foreign substances need to be kept out).


Notably, Lipopolysaccharides are a type of toxin made by some bacteria in our gut, when these Lipopolysaccharides cross the gut barrier and get into the blood stream, they are particularly inflammatory and bad for our health.


A healthy intestinal barrier keeps Lipopolysaccharide out. A leaky gut lets them in, with bad consequences for our health.


When the barrier of the gut breaks down and isn’t working properly, it lets in bigger proteins, lipolysaccharides, and other foreign substances from the gut, into the bloodstream. Since these proteins don’t belong inside of the body, the immune system mounts a response and then attacks them.  Then there is a situation where the immune system is attacking foreign substances, it causes inflammation and collateral damage to the gut. And, sometimes, the immune system can get cross activated and can start attacking the body. In this way, increased intestinal permeability can contribute to autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, rheumatoid arthritis, and type 1 diabetes.


Leaky gut also causes inflammation in the brain. Conversely, inflammation in the brain can promote leaky gut by disrupting the activity of the vagus nerve.


In the next section, we will discuss the causes of increased intestinal permeability and what to do about it to get your gut healing and your body and mind set up for lifelong health.


In health,

Dr Mary Barson and Dr Lucy Burns


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