The vagus nerve is the tenth cranial nerve. It runs from your brain stem down to your abdomen. It basically connects your brain to your gut. A well-nourished gut can actually produce more serotonin than your brain. Optimizing your gut flora may have tremendous benefits, not only for your digestion, but for your mental health as well.
More and more scientific research is suggesting that nourishing your gut with beneficial bacteria is extremely important for optimal brain function. Dr. Josh Axe is a current, popular doctor whose brought a lot of awareness to this and other issues regarding gut health. He wrote this blog article: The Gut-Brain Connection: What Remedies Can Both Heal & Improve It? His website is filled with information, as well as products, that aid in healing the gut. I especially like his main premise, food is medicine.
Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride was one of the first researchers to successfully demonstrated the link between the gut and the brain. She wrote the book Gut and Psychology Syndrome (known as GAPS) which establishes a connection between the functions of the digestive system and mental health. She has successfully helped thousands of children and adults with varied neurological and psychiatric conditions including:
Autistic spectrum disorders
Dr. Campbell-McBride has linked the health of the mother’s gut to that of the infants struggling with these disorders. Many aspects of our current lifestyle lead to the destruction of the necessary flora in the gut both in the mother, as well as the infant. Dr
Antibiotic use kills all the good bacteria in the gut, as well as the bad. Repeated use does not allow the gut to rebuild appropriately. The artificial sweetener aspartame inactivates digestive enzymes and has been found to destroy up to 50% of the gut flora. Oral contraceptives have also been linked to the decrease of the flora living in the intestinal tract.
With the decrease of the “good” bacteria, the “bad” bacteria takes over. These bad bacteria can damage the integrity of the intestinal walls, allowing toxins and microbes to reach the bloodstream and eventually the brain. Due to the absence or greatly reduced numbers of beneficial bacteria in the gut flora, the person’s digestive system instead of being a source of nourishment becomes a major source of toxicity in the body.
When this happens, the intestinal tract needs to be rebuilt and replenished with good, health-promoting bacteria. Taking a probiotic supplement is beneficial but we need prebiotics to feed the “good” bacteria. Eating naturally fermented foods is recommended to boost the growth of this beneficial bacteria back into the gut. Adherence to the GAPS diet has proven itself to be beneficial in rebuilding the gut permanently. Emphasis is placed not only on eating good foods to rebuild the gut, but also in eliminating the poisons which destroyed the gut in the first place. It is interesting there is a current movement of grain free eating (also consider the paleo diet) because there is a component of those restrictions in the GAPS diet.
Naturally fermented foods include:
Another important aspect of fermented foods is their detoxifying ability. Fermented foods are actually some
of the best chelators available, helping the body rid itself of a wide variety of toxins, including heavy metals.
As long as the fermented foods that you are consuming are high in “good” bacteria, only small quantities are necessary. It is probably more important to have a small amount with each meal on a daily basis than it would be to eat it all at one meal. Be aware however, that not all commercially fermented foods are created equal and may not contain as much bacteria as you might think. You may want to consider fermenting your own vegetables at home to maximize for intake and continually replenish the flora in your gut. A good guide is the book Wild Fermentation.
I personally use this crock from Amazon that easily produces an anaerobic environment. I love making salsa and gingered carrots in it! I also enjoy natural yeast bread without a reaction. (I was diagnosed as a celiac.) For more information on baking your own, read The Art of Baking with Natural Yeast. Or visit thebreadgeek.com