Your gut is your body’s largest microbiome. It influences memory and reasoning. Learn about the gut-brain axis.
It may surprise you to learn that your gut plays a big role in cognitive functions like memory and learning. Your gut is your body’s largest microbiome. Beyond that, it also communicates with your brain in ways that affect how well you think.
Below, I’ll explain the intrinsic connection between the gut and the brain. I’ll also introduce the gut-brain axis – biochemical signaling that takes place between the gastrointestinal tract and the central nervous system.
The Enteric Nervous System
Your gut has one hundred million neurons. In fact, the tissue lining your intestines contains an entire network of neurotransmitters. Known as the enteric nervous system (ENS), this network is connected to the brain by the vagus nerve, the largest of the 12 cranial nerves. Your gut sends information to the brain through this network. This information can either impair or improve learning and memory.
The Gut: Your Second Brain
The gut gained its reputation as the second brain from Dr. Michael Gershon’s extraordinary book The Second Brain: A Groundbreaking New Understanding of Nervous Disorders of the Stomach and Intestine. As a result of the book’s 1998 publication, most researchers came to believe that the brain in our gut concerns itself with digestion processes rather than thinking, decision-making, or reasoning. However, recent discoveries have led to a realization that communication between the brain and the gut is actually a two-way street.
The Gut-Brain Axis: Gut Health Affects Cognition
Because of the gut-brain connection, your memory and learning are affected when the microflora in your microbiome are out of balance. An overgrowth of bad gut bacteria can result in headaches and an inability to concentrate. These states in turn lead to impaired memory, learning, and thinking.
More About the Gut-Brain Axis
Both mainstream and holistic health care providers recognize that specific herbs have phytochemicals that can affect memory and learning. Now we’re aware that these phytochemicals can affect the brain directly or indirectly via the gut-brain axis.
For instance, herbs like Phyllanthus niruri (Chanca Piedra, Stone Breaker), Terminalia chebula (Haritaki), Paeonia lactiflora (White Peony Root), Polygala tenuifolia (Seneca, Chinese Senega), and Bacopa monnieri (Brahmi) have properties that allow healthy microflora to grow in the gut. When your gut achieves that healthy balance of microflora, it allows messages and chemicals to be released to the big brain. The result is mental clarity, sharper memory, and improved learning.