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The Gut-Brain Connection: Mood & Memory

Judy Brooks: Hi, and welcome back to Healing Quest. I'm Judy Brooks.

Roy Walkenhorst: And I'm Roy Walkenhorst. If you're just joining us, our focus is holistic wellness and the latest in natural ways to help us all live healthier, happier, and longer.

Roy Walkenhorst: But one of the big natural health discoveries in recent years has been what's known as the gut-brain connection, all the ways in which our digestive tract affects our brain. One of those ways is something I doubt many of us know much about because it turns out that our digestive tract can have a big impact on our stress, our mood, and our memory.

Judy Brooks: So we've asked microbiologist Kiran Krishnan from Just Thrive Probiotics to join us today to make sure we're doing all we can to keep our GI tract healthy. So, Kiran, thanks for joining us today.

Kiran Krishnan:  My pleasure, as always, to be involved in this. This is one of my favorite topics to talk about.

Judy Brooks: Well, this is a hot topic. To people, it seems like our digestive tract is a long way, let's say, physically from our brain. So how does this so called gut-brain connection really work?

Kiran Krishnan: Yeah. In fact, as it turns out, there is a communication mechanism between the gut and the brain that circumvents virtually everything else in the body. There's something called the vagus nerve which is a nerve that directly connects the gut to the brain. And it's a two-way connection, so the brain can talk to the gut and then the gut can talk to the brain.

Kiran Krishnan: And, of course, what's in control of the gut? It's your bacteria. So all of the trillions of bacteria that live in your gut have direct access to your brain and can cause lots of beneficial things but can also cause a lot of problems, depending on the type of bacteria that you add.

Roy Walkenhorst: So if the bacteria's having a bad day, you might feel it.

Kiran Krishnan: Exactly. You're going to pay for it. Or that cupcake you couldn't resist eating. That is caused by bacteria in your gut, or even fungus, creating neurotransmitters that make you crave these types of foods.

Judy Brooks: Wow. So that gut-brain connection could have a lot to do with addictive behavior as well, I would imagine.

Kiran Krishnan: Absolutely. Yeah. A huge function of people who have a propensity for addictive behavior, whether it's food addiction, drugs, whatever behaviors it is, is a dysfunction in dopamine. Dopamine is an hormone that affects the reward centers of your brain. And that's what kind of gives us the reward and the pat on the back biologically when we do things that are good for us.

Kiran Krishnan: People that have a dysfunction in dopamine are always seeking more dopamine release by getting into these addictive behaviors, and a lot of times this is food. When we eat food, we naturally release some dopamine because from an evolutionary perspective, our body wanted to reward us when we did the smart thing of eating. But that was during a time when food was scarce and it took a lot of work to go and find it. So we needed the reward in order to be able to motivate ourselves to have to do it. But nowadays we use food as an addiction, as something that upregulates dopamine if our gut is not producing enough of it.

Judy Brooks: So the probiotics make a huge difference in that? I mean, what exactly happens? I mean, when you take the probiotic does it calm down the bad bacteria in the gut?

Kiran Krishnan: Yeah, that's exactly it. Issues in the gut with regards to the bacteria are ecological issues. No different than if you have a garden that has too many weeds in it and not enough healthy plants. The ability to send in a probiotic that can go in and identify the weeds and specifically remove them and then do things to help the good plants grow. That's exactly what is happening in the gut when you add in the spore forming probiotics.

Kiran Krishnan: They are actually identifying and removing the harmful or overgrown bacteria and, at the same time, they're producing compounds in the gut to regrow your good bacteria. So what that leads to is something that's really important when it comes to gut health, especially when it comes to the gut-brain connection, and that's your diversity in your microbiome, or your microbiota.

Kiran Krishnan: Your microbiota is the population of bacteria in your gut. The more diverse that population is, the more functionality you get out of it, including things like helping you manage stress, producing adequate amounts of dopamine, adequate amounts of serotonin, which is the happy hormone. As it turns out, 95% of your happy hormone, your serotonin, is produced in the gut. And then even the ability to regenerate brain tissue, provide nutrients to the brain, and so on. All of those things are controlled by the types of bacteria that live in your gut.

Judy Brooks: Well, when you say it like that, it does make sense because we know when we eat good food, we just feel better. And obviously that has to do with our brain. That makes sense to me.

 

Judy Brooks: Let's talk about memory. I mean, I think a lot of people have memory issues.

 

Kiran Krishnan: That's actually a really, really interesting area of discussion. As it turns out, one of the biggest impacts on memory, which is your body's ability, or your brain's ability, to dig in, pull out information on command, is the inflammation that happens in the brain.

Kiran Krishnan: There are studies that show that certain types of toxins from the gut and from specific types of bacteria in the gut. When the gut is unhealthy and there's a low diversity of bacteria, those toxins are produced at higher levels and those toxins are allowed to leak from the gut and into your circulatory system.

Kiran Krishnan: Now those toxins can also get into deep recesses of the brain through the circulatory system like the amygdala or the hippocampus. And when they get in, they actually start causing inflammation in those inner parts of the brain that stops and causes dysfunctions in memory recall capability. It's no different, for example, if you had too much to drink, right? It becomes very hard to remember things that you're saying or you're doing.

Judy Brooks: So I hear.

Kiran Krishnan: Yeah, exactly. If you watch the news ...

Judy Brooks:  Yeah.

Kiran Krishnan: ... you can hear a lot of testimony on that respect. But the idea of that is because you're putting toxins and things that are inflammatory to the brain and that affects the brain's ability to access memory cells. There's a condition called Hashimoto's, which is a thyroid inflammatory or dysfunctional condition. One of the hallmarks of that condition is something called brain fog. Right?

Kiran Krishnan: Brain fog is this kind of fogginess in your brain where you have poor short-term and long-term memory. Like you walk into a room because you went in there to get something. And then by the time you walk in you forget what you went in there to get. 

Judy Brooks: That never happens. :)

Roy Walkenhorst: I've read about that, but I don't really know anything about that. :)

Kiran Krishnan: Yeah, right. Those are those other people, right? :) And that's not an uncommon issue. And a lot of that is driven by toxicity and the inflammation that comes from the gut. So the same way that a healthy gut can support and improve the function of the brain, an unhealthy gut can hinder and create dysfunction in the brain.

Judy Brooks: So taking a spore-based probiotic, like Just Thrive, can really help you with your memory? I mean, is that something that might notice right away or in a few weeks or ... Do you get reports from people saying, "Boy, this really helped my memory"?

Kiran Krishnan: We do. We get reports. As it's related to the brain, we get three major things that we keep hearing.

Kiran Krishnan: Number one is people keep reporting that they sleep better. So how well you sleep is a balance between something called your sympathetic and parasympathetic system. And there's a whole bunch of hormones that the gut makes in order to help your brain shut down and allow you to sleep. So that's one of the things we get reported on. The second thing is memory and better cognitive function. So people feel sharper and the words that they're looking for come to their mouth much quicker. The memories are much clearer and so on. And then the last part is their stress is much more under control.

Judy Brooks: Wow.

Kiran Krishnan: Because there's something called the HPA axis, right? The fancy word for that is hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. That axis within the body is what controls your ability to deal with stress. And most of that is controlled by the gut itself.

Judy Brooks: Well, we only have less than a minute here, but I just have to ask. Can you up your dose of probiotics? Does that help? Like, if you're taking one a day ... If you take two, would that help? Would that be better?

Kiran Krishnan: Yeah. To me, it's in response to how much stress you're putting your body through. Right? So if it's a regular day and you have a fairly healthy, good lifestyle and you're taking it as a maintenance, one a day should typically be fine.

Kiran Krishnan: I would say if you're going through, for example, a cold and flu season and you have a risk of picking up the cold and flu, there's a benefit to going to two. If you're traveling, there's a benefit to going to two. If your diet has just kind of gone out of wack and you've been eating really poorly, there's benefit to going to two. So on. You can use it correspondingly to what's happening in your life.

Judy Brooks: Great. Well, thanks again for wonderful information that, again, I learned something new today. Every time we talk to you, I learn something new. So we've been talking with microbiologist Kiran Krishnan, all the ways in which our gut affects our brain. And we always learn a lot.

Roy Walkenhorst: I'm still amazed by the fact that 90% of our serotonin is produced in the gut. I mean, the serotonin. We think about that ... That helps us sleep and everything. And now, it's really good to know that what we do in terms of keeping our digestive system healthy can help improve our sleep, our memory, and our stress. 

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