A love story | The Gut + Brain Connection

This month we are all about the love, it’s Valentine’s Day (!) and as romantics at heart we thought we would share a love story that goes on within us… the gut + brain connection…

“I feel it in my gut”


The gut has always been important to the health of the brain, but it is only now that this fact is getting the recognition it deserves. It is not completely clear as to how or why the gut is so important, but there is a lot we do know. There is even a book called The Second Brain that goes into great detail as to how much the gut does control the brain, therefore the gut is effectively our Second Brain. As a Nutritionist I love this ‘new’ understanding as it just underscores how powerful food and nutrients are to everything, not just how we fit into our clothes.

The best understood reason as to how the gut can have such a powerful effect is that many of the neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) found in the brain are also found in the gut. There are receptors in the digestive system designed to receive and respond to many neurotransmitters. This means that the gut can be seen really as an extension to the brain. No wonder we have ‘gut feelings’ or ‘butterflies in the stomach’ and so on.

Leaky Gut and Leaky Brain

Our Gastrointestinal Tract (we’ll just keep calling it the gut) serves 2 basic functions.

  1. To absorb nutrients
  2. To screen out toxins

In a healthy body, most food is completely digested before it passes through the gut lining and into the bloodstream. But if you can’t make enough enzymes needed to break down the food well enough, you end up with incompletely digested food. This can cause digestive problems in the short term with bloating, gas or wind, burping, constipation or diarrhoea. And in the long term, problems with weight balance, fatigue, brain fog, anxiety/ depression, immune issues, skin issues or attention and behavioural problems.

Or if the gut lining has become ‘leaky’ then the gut lining has become more porous and is letting greater quantities of abnormally large molecules to enter the bloodstream and circulate through the body. Not only does it cause the above problems but it can also mean too many toxins enter the blood and penetrate cells. Common clues that leaky gut may be a problem include food sensitivities, fatigue, poor sleep, hyperactivity, irritability, poor concentration, memory issues, mood swings and muscle and joint pain.

How can leaky gut happen?

It’s considered a modern day problem because our current lifestyle and eating habits encourage this damage to the intestinal lining. The most frequent causes include a diet high in refined carbohydrates, high use of antibiotics (i.e. more than 3 times!), junk food, food allergies, parasites, candida, bowel bacteria, heavy metals and even the birth control pill.

I think ‘leaky gut’ could be a problem. So what to do?

There is a test available to help diagnose the problem, called the Lactulose-Mannitol test or challenge. It’s relatively easy for you or your child to do, since it is a urine test however it is not covered by Medicare so you will need to pay upfront for it. It helps to have the assistance of a nutritionist or naturopath familiar with this area as they can order the test for you and then help interpret it for you.

Generally the strategy in overcoming leaky gut involves:

  1. Identify and eliminate irritating foods i.e. food intolerances.
  2. Eliminate or crowd out the bad bacteria/ pathogens.
  3. Replenish good bacteria.
  4. Improve diet to maximise nutrient absorption and minimise the growth of poor bacteria

This may sound like a lot of work and sometimes it is, but the good news is that you can restore a gut to normal and you will feel better, sleep better and be more emotionally stable!