The Gut-Brain Connection

The gut and brain are both highly complicated organs and are highly interconnected through neurons that send information back and forth. Research suggests that the brain receives information from the gut, more often than transmitting it. The vagus nerve, responsible for sending information such as nausea, bloating and satiety signals from the gut to the brain, may also send signals that impact mood, behavior and brain development.1

There is more and more evidence to support that the nerves connecting the gut and the brain can also be channels that conduct the spread of disease or dysfunction.1 Further high-quality human studies are needed to investigate the gut-brain connection as a contributor to health and disease.

One area of key interest is how it influences mental health, particularly the intestinal microbiome. Every individual has a unique microbiome made up of 100 trillion or more bacterial organisms that have a profound role in immune system regulation and other bodily processes.2 If there is microbial dysfunction in the gut, harmful bacteria can cause an inflammatory cascade, and secrete chemicals that can directly influence the brain.2

Probiotic or beneficial bacteria have shown to reduce inflammation in the body and may also provide anti-anxiety and anti-depressant effects. An individual’s gut bacteria are influenced by many factors including stress level, sleep quality, food intake, mode of delivery, and the list goes on. Due to the highly diverse nature of each individual microbiome, there is no “one size fits all” approach to probiotic supplementation.2

The good news is that we can make daily choices that directly improve our own gut health. Here are three simple tips to help strengthen the health of your gut:

  • Choose whole foods more often: Include a variety of colorful fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes that provide fibre to feed healthy probiotic bacteria in your gut. Reduce artificial ingredients, additives and preservatives in your diet as they can negatively impact gut health.
  • Choose fermented foods more often: Kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, tempeh, and fermented vegetables are examples of foods that contain healthy bacteria to help strength gut health.
  • Take antibiotics only when essential: Antibiotics kill both bad and good bacteria in the gut. Taking antibiotics too often can lead to antibiotic resistance, increasing the likelihood of pathogenic bacteria survival. Take antibiotics only when medically essential to your health.


By Susan Barth, Registered Dietitian (Nutritionist)


  • Rao, M., & Gershon, M. D. (2016). The bowel and beyond: The enteric nervous system in neurological disorders. Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology, 13(9), 517-528. doi:10.1038/nrgastro.2016.107
  • Deans, E (2016). Microbiome and mental health in the modern environment. Journal of physiological Anthropology 36(1).