Who’s the Boss – Gut or Brain?
What came first, the chicken or the egg?
That question is both existential and highly debatable.
The question of whether the gut or the brain is in charge, although it seems the same, has a definite answer that’s probably going to surprise you.
Simply put: Your gut contributes to the function of your brain and your brain contributes to the balance of your gut; but your brain is the one in charge. Without your brain, your digestion would not exist. That cannot be said the other way. Your brain would still grow and develop and function without your gut. Obviously, you need to be able to eat to survive, but we can work around a dysfunctional gut. A dysfunctional brain causes downstream problems in every other system.
We’re actually functioning with imbalanced versions of BOTH. An imbalanced brain causes an imbalanced gut. And an imbalanced gut can heavily contribute to an imbalanced brain.
Due to the fact that someone can have a perfectly healthy brain and experience an event that creates serious disruption to the gut biome (bacterial balance) of the gut, which, in turn, affects the way a person feels and thinks, it’s very easy for us to believe that the gut controls the brain. Just remember this: The belly influences the brain, but it is not the main computer.
It bears saying that your brain is not actually a computer, but it is an easy way to think about the difference between the brain and the gut. There is an incredibly strong relationship between the two, but one is clearly in charge. The absolute proof is that your brain also controls your heart and breathing. The brain is the control mechanism for EVERYTHING you do, including digestion.
Does that mean you can put whatever you want into your gut without consequence? Absolutely not. Actually, please please do not do that. Your gut is a sensitive environment of acids, bases, and bacteria that must be in balance in order for you to have optimum digestion and brain function. When you allow your gut to get out of balance, you can expect your brain to react because your brain RESPONDS to the influence of the digestive system, much the same way your brain responds to other stimuli, such as screen time, sedentary activities, and even chemicals like drugs and pharmaceuticals.
So what’s the big takeaway here? If you are having digestive problems, don’t just look at your stomach for answers. It is vitally important that you look at the overall picture of your life and determine if you have a potential brain imbalance that has lead, over time, to an imbalance in your digestion of complex proteins, such as gluten or casein, or a sensitivity to soy, or even high fructose corn syrup.
Conversely, if you are having cognitive symptoms, like brain fog, depression, anger, focus, or attention problems, don’t overlook your gut just because the problem seems to be coming from your brain. The inseparable and complex relationship between your brain and your gut demands that you must always look at both when addressing many of the health problems and “psychological” symptoms that are now affecting millions of people in the U.S.
The great news is that once you determine if you are having a bad gut reaction to a stimulus e.g., a high dose of antibiotics, or if your brain is imbalanced and causing your gut to struggle with digesting certain foods correctly, there are some simple things you can do to rectify the SOURCE of the problem. If it is your brain, you can do exercises that help with hemispheric integration and brain stem function. Your brain stem is heavily involved in regulating the way you process and digest food. If it is your gut, you can take high-quality probiotics and follow protocols to help restore the balance to the bacteria levels.
One great thing that EVERYONE should start doing right away is eating fermented veggies, such as sauerkraut. This is an inexpensive way to give your gut some great bacteria that will help regulate the way your stomach handles food and drinks.
Remember, it’s not magic. It’s biology. Your gut and your brain are either working together or against each other, and either for you or against you. The way you treat them both is in direct proportion to the quality of life you will get from them.
Do you have any symptoms that you think might be caused by a gut or brain imbalance?