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Braincare Club

The gut-brain axis

A gut-brain axis special with Scott Anderson, the author of “The Psychobiotic Revolution” and Dr. Tara Swart.

March 09, 2021
6 min read

In today’s Braincare Clubhouse session, we discussed the gut-brain axis, prebiotics, and how probiotics help ‘repoopulate’ your gut. 

  • Scott Anderson: Scientist, science journalist, and author of ‘The Psychobiotic Revolution’. 

  • Dr. Tara Swart: Chief Science Officer at Heights, neuroscientist, medical doctor, executive advisor, Senior Lecturer at MIT Sloan, and author of the best-seller 'The Source'.

  • Dan Murray-Serter: Co-Founder of braincare company Heights, and host of our Braincare Podcast.

What is bacteria?

As the Ancient Greek physician Hippocrates said nearly 2500 years ago, “All disease begins in the gut.” Although he may not have had a microscope to figure out why, he was right. 

Microbes are everywhere and coat almost every part of us. For the last 50-100 years, science and medicine have approached them by killing them with antibiotics. However not all microbes are bad; in fact, they are our first line of defence against pathogens. Without our own bacteria we would never be able to fight off the carpeted world of pathogens. 

Our genes take up to 10,000 years to change, but bacteria can do it in 20 minutes. We are being genealogically outrun, and bacteria is our only solution as they evolve at the same rate as pathogens do. They are capable of standing their ground and guarding their turf- and that turf is generally your gut! 

Probiotics, prebiotics, and your gut

Microbes not only protect your gut from invading pathogens, but also help in getting extra energy from food. They serve as medicine for the cells lining your gut- these are probiotic bacteria and prebiotics are the fiber that feed them. 

What are psychobiotics?

Live bacteria that may improve mental health by affecting the microbiota of the host organism. 

What do you think about probiotic supplements?

The US Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 permitted people to put whatever they wanted into a pill and sell it as a supplement. The FDA doesn’t regulate the supplements in the market and pay no attention to them unless people start to die. For that reason, it’s hard to recommend any probiotics at this time.

What you should do if you’re supplementing with probiotics

  • It’s a personalised process. What works for you may not work for someone else. If you’re supplementing, take notes and see how your body is reacting. 

  • Prebiotics are safer to take because they boost the bacteria that already exist in your gut.

What you should be eating

Before supplementing, work on fixing your diet first. In the past 50 years, the fiber in food has started being taken out. By taking out fibre, you’re actually causing damage to the microbiota in your gut. Some research has suggested the extinction of some gut species due to the fact that we’re no longer feeding them. 

  • Eat high fibre vegetables like asparagus, onions, carrots, beets, and broccoli. 

  • Try adding fermented foods that naturally contain probiotics and prebiotics like kefir, kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, and miso. 

How does this relate to cognition and mood? 

Due to the agricultural revolution, farming methods, overuse of antibiotics, stress, processed meals, and alcohol; the quality and diversity of your gut bacteria are being damaged. 

  • The gut communicates with the brain directly through the Vagus nerve. 

  • There is also a three-way connection between the gut bacteria, gut neurons, and the brain.

  • Many gastrointestinal disorders can be explained by stress, anxiety, or mood disorder. For example, if you get an inflamed leaky gut, the bacteria in the gut wall will send out signals to the brain through the bloodstream and create more inflammation in the whole system.  

Get the nutrients you need for better mental health with the Heights Smart Supplement.

Learn more


Can I take probiotics for my leaky gut? 

If you have any kind of leaky gut syndrome, it means your gut is leakier than normal. Your gut is supposed to be permeable enough to let nutrients in and keep bacteria out. Systemic inflammation occurs when it opens up too much and lets a lot of bacteria in. 

  • Solve the leaky gut problem first. 

  • Try a FODMAP diet. They are difficult and not meant for the long-term, but it may help to heal your gut. 

  • Try eating glutamine-rich foods as they directly feed the cells that lie in your gut. 

How does alcohol use affect the gut-brain connection? 

  • Alcohol loosens up the tight junctions that hold the cells in your gut lining together. 

  • Excessive consumption of alcohol can lead to a leaky gut and possibly overall systemic inflammation. 

  • If you want to have a drink, keep it to one glass of beer or wine a day.

  • Make sure to set rest days for your liver.

  • Repopulate your gut microbiome by supplementing and eating prebiotic and fermented foods.

  • Seek advice from a gastroenterologist or a holistic nutritionist.

What studies show the relationship between the gut and mental health? 

  • A Chinese study found that 70% of people with psychiatric disorders had gut problems. Additionally, it showed that a serious gut problem was correlated with worsening mental health. Although this does not prove causality, it shows how big of an overlap there is between the gut and mental issues. 

  • Another study used germ-free mice and gave them human fecal matter. The results showed that fecal matter from a depressed subject caused depression and that once given fecal matter from a happy subject, that depression went away. 

What is the connection between the gut microbiome and depression?

  • The connection is bi-directional. Your brain has an effect on your gut, and your gut has an effect on your brain. 

  • Toxins from inflammation in the gut get through the blood-brain barrier- the ultimate frontier between the rain and harmful toxins. 

  • We know that there are certain toxins that are highly associated with depression and diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. 

  • Anxiety and depression can happen as a consequence of what’s going on in your gut. 

Is there a connection between the gut and addictions?

  • Bacteria survive because they have the ability to change from virus to parasite very quickly. Addictions can often be created by these bacteria trying to survive. For example, if they need sugar to survive, they can make you crave refined sugar or alcohol. 

  • A study showed that when they changed the microbiota of alcoholics, 90% of them had a lesser craving and reduced their desire.

  • Eat a healthy diet, exercise, go to therapy, meditate, and take a quality probiotic (at least 50 billion strains of bacteria).

  • When you have a craving, ask yourself if that’s really you. Are you going to let bacteria tell you what to eat or drink? Stand up to them! They are your gut microbes. 

    You can use the code "clubhouse10" for 10% off to give your brain the love it deserves.

    Find out more


  • Our Smart Supplement for anxiety. 

  • Read Dr. Tara Swart tips for brain care here.

  • Find out more about the gut-brain axis here

  • Learn about the best vitamins for anxiety here

  • Scott Anderson’s ‘The Psychobiotic Revolution: Mood, Food and the New Science of the Gut-Brain Connection’.

Heights Smart Supplement contains the highest quality plant-based omega 3 DHA, EPA, along with 18 other key nutrients your brain needs to thrive according to science in just 2 capsules a day.

Want to host a room in Braincare club? Find out how here.

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