The Guide to the Basics of the Gut-Brain Connection

Updated on April 22nd, 2021
gut-brain connection

The brain-gut connection is no joke; it can link anxiety to stomach troubles and vice versa. Have you ever gone through “butterflies” in the stomach? Do certain situations make you “feel nauseous”?

Have you ever had a “gut-wrenching” experience? We use these expressions for a reason. The GI (gastrointestinal tract) is sensitive to emotion. Anxiety, anger, joy, sadness — all of these feelings (and others) can generate symptoms in the gut [1].

The brain has a direct impact on the intestines and stomach. For instance, the very thought of having food can release the stomach’s juices before food gets there. This connection goes both ways. A troubled brain may send signals to the gut, just as a troubled intestine can send signals to the brain.

Therefore, a person’s intestinal or stomach distress can be the cause or the product of stress, anxiety, or depression. That’s because the gastrointestinal (GI) system and the brain are intimately connected [2].

This is notably true in instances where a person experiences gastrointestinal upset with no apparent physical cause. It is difficult for such functional GI disorders to try to heal a distressed gut without considering the role of stress and emotion [3].

Gut-Brain Connection

How the gut affects concentration. 

The gut can affect concentration in a few ways. On a basic note, when you have indigestion, bloating, or gas, you are uncomfortable and cannot focus on tasks or conversations.

Physiologically, the gut can also influence concentration via the brain-gut axis. The brain-gut connection is a bidirectional highway that transmits crucial data between the brain and the GI tract [4].  

Studies have proved that an imbalance in the gut microbiome can negatively affect learning and memory function, lead to mood changes, and lead to inflammation in the brain. 

A chronically unhealthy gut can cause an altered microbiome with pathogenic bacteria species imbalance. This can impair metabolism, leading to too high or too low neurotransmitters, then cause difficulty with focus, concentration, and lack of mental clarity.

It can also contribute to a shortage of substrates for optimal mitochondrial function, which then does not provide adequate energy for the brain to function.

These symptoms are often attributed to brain fog, and luckily there are steps to manage them. If the problems are concerning or persistent, though, it’s a good idea to visit a neurologist or doctor.

How to support a healthy gut and improve concentration.

If you find yourself struggling to focus or think you may be suffering from brain fog, pay attention to the gut. Here are few tips to support a healthy microbiome from experts:

1. Take a probiotic supplement.

Gut dysbiosis crops up when the bad bacteria in the gut begins to exceed the good. Probiotic supplements help handle dysbiosis by introducing more of those helpful bugs to the microbiome.

Effective probiotics will help manage gas, bloating, or other forms of abdominal discomfort for many individuals. For a few, it will translate to less brain fog, less fatigue, more energy.

[Also Read: Foods High in Probiotics]

2. Digestive enzymes

These supplements act to break down what we eat into tiny particles, making it simpler to process our food and absorb its nutrients.

Take 1 or 2 caplets of digestive enzymes with the heaviest meal, either dinner or lunch. Choose a digestive enzyme with lipase (which breaks down fat), amylase (which breaks down starch), and protease (which breaks down protein).

3. Glutamine 

Stress and poor diet can cause a leaky gut—when the junctions between cells of the intestinal lining loosen, allowing toxins and foreign substances to leak into the remaining of the circulation, impacting the whole body. This amino acid works to strengthen the gut lining and help to “seal” it; take 1 to 2 grams daily.

[Read: Benefits of Glutamine]

4. Get plenty of sleep.

If we don’t accomplish all of our to-do’s in one day, it can be challenging to fall asleep. Instead of getting rest, we lie in bed thinking about everything that needs to get done. Sadly, lack of sleep can adversely affect the gut and, therefore, lead to less concentration the next day. This may become a vicious cycle if sleep is not a priority. 

Several experts suggest establishing a nightly regimen and sticking to a consistent bedtime to promote more restful sleep. Winding down the mind with yoga, meditation, journaling, or other stress-management approaches may also help. 

[Read: How much sleep do we need]

5. Go for a walk.

If we’re struggling to focus throughout the day and feel like our list of responsibilities keeps increasing, it can feel like time is closing in on us. To destroy that scarcity mindset and reclaim time in our day, go for a walk—even if it’s for just 5 minutes. 

To further improve daily movement, lack of focus and exposure to nature have been shown to improve mood, improve concentration, optimize sleep, decrease anxiety, and enhance optimism about life in general.

Indulging in nature (and away from the computer screen) is also helpful for gut health. As we narrow our contact with nature, other humans, and animals, we get a more narrow microbiome. And since the wisest thing to do is restrict human interaction right now, interacting with nature becomes even more crucial. 

[Read: Benefits of Walking for Health]

6. Practice Mindfulness

Increasing mindfulness and lowering stress will reduce the overproduction of stress hormones, which will, in turn, quiet those signals that alert the gut. There are several ways to work mindfulness into the day, and we may find many of them easier to employ than we think.

Bottom Line

Several people are struggling to concentrate, even more so than normal these days. Because of the brain-gut axis, gut dysbiosis could be playing a role in lack of focus and brain fog. Prioritizing the gut, along with mental health, can help.

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