(image courtesy of Annals of Gastroenterology)
Bone broth has become a booming beacon of health, in part, because of its ability to repair “leaky gut.” And while leaky gut has become a trending topic in natural health circles, what’s less talked about is the connection between the gut and the brain.
It turns out your gut and brain talk to each other frequently. The so-called gut-brain axis is a two-way communication apparatus, linking your emotional and cognitive centers of the brain with your intestines.
It’s only relatively recently that science has established a link between your gut and brain. More specifically, it’s the link between the bacteria in your gut and mood/brain function that’s been corroborated. In other words, your gut functions like a second brain. Microscopic bacteria play an important part not only in our physical well-being, but equally so in our mental and emotional well-being.
So how exactly does the bacteria in your gut, which outnumber your own body’s cells by approximately 10 trillion, affect your mood and cognitive health? (There are approximately 40 trillion critters in your gut compared to 30 trillion human cells; the popular 10:1 ratio, as of last year, was debunked.)
How the gut and brain communicate
The bacteria in your gut communicate with your brain and vice versa by means of neural, endocrine, immune, and humoral links, according to this research. Humoral immunity is immunity provided by body fluids. You have antibody molecules in the plasma of your blood and lymph as well as in extracellular tissue fluid.
Most people who are into natural health understand the importance of taking probiotic supplements or eating fermented foods to encourage beneficial bacterial colonization. But bone broth isn’t necessarily a probiotic rich food. Nor is bone broth fermented. So how is bone broth good for your gut-brain communication?
Bone broth helps repair the endothelial lining of your GI tract. When your GI tract has tighter junctions, less undigested food particles will travel into the bloodstream. Having looser junctions and larger spaces in the endothelial lining potentially leads to chronic inflammation and autoimmune disorders. Thus, bone broth, by helping preserve the integrity of the gut lining, and even repairing it when necessary, helps facilitate effective communication between the brain and the belly.
Evidence of gut-brain communication (or lack thereof)
If you ever need convincing that bone broth should be part of your daily diet, consider the following….
Evidence of less than optimal gut-brain communication include central nervous system disorders including autism, anxiety, depression, as well as gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). In fact, according to this study and this one, people with autism have very specific gut bacteria alterations that vary according to how far on the spectrum they are. In other words, the farther along on the spectrum (the more severe the condition), the more altered the microbiome is.
Researchers speculate that if more focus were to be placed on better understanding the complex relationship of the gut and brain, new targeted therapies could be developed for autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders as well as GI disorders like IBS, Crohn's, Ulcerative Colitis, etc.
This research study says that the crosstalk between the gut and brain reveal a complex communication system. This system not only ensures homeostasis in the GI tract, it likely affects your motivation and “higher cognitive functions.” Moreover, this crosstalk also plays an important role in immune system activation, intestinal permeability (again, bone broth is one of the best foods for maintaining and repairing the gut lining), and endocrine (hormonal) signaling.
Mood disorders: is it the gut or the brain that’s to blame?
A 12-year study examined the directionality of the brain-gut axis in digestive disorders. Certain digestive disorders present with correlating psychological factors. For example, anxiety and depression may be more frequent in people with IBS than the general population. But why is this? Is it the gut that’s driving the anxiety? Or the brain, which is responsible for emotions, that’s driving the gut symptoms? In other words, with mood disorders, is it the chicken or the egg? The study concluded that communication from brain to gut are more prevalent in those with IBS.
The dysfunctions of the gut-brain axis cause changes in intestinal motility (how well your food can move along the GI tract) and secretion. Furthermore, poor communication between the gut and brain causes visceral hypersensitivity. Visceral hypersensitivity is pain within the inner organs that’s more intense than normal. This is a common trait of IBS. Moreover, disruption of the gut-brain crosstalk leads to cellular changes in the immune system.
Can Probiotics and Bone Broth Help You Chill Out?
In addition to bone broth, taking a very high-quality probiotic may help those with poor gut brain communication. In fact, supplementing with the probiotic strain, Bifidobacterium longum, was shown to reduce anxiety in mice.
In addition to bone broth, fermented foods and probiotic supplements, one last piece of advice when it comes to improving the gut-brain connection. And that is: take it easy. Studies show that negative gut alterations occur with stress. So much so, in fact, that stress has the ability to facilitate the expression of virulent bacteria. For example, too much norepinephrine (one of the your stress hormones) has been shown to lead to the proliferation of E. coli bacteria.
A healthy gut can handle a certain level of E. coli. But a gut that’s bombarded with harmful bacteria because of stress as well as compromised communication with the brain is going to need a lot of bone broth to heal. Thus, learn and practice daily stress management techniques to make sure your GI tract won’t become hijacked by E. coli and other pathogenic freeloaders.
Sipping a warm, hearty, savory cuppa bone broth every morning is relaxing and will help keep the gut-brain axis communicating more effectively.