The Mind-Gut Connection
There are several factors that influence the developing brain, including the health of the gut microbiome. Read on to learn about the relationship between the mind and the gut, and which optimal nutrients can support brain health.
A Smart Start for the Developing Brain
Historically, we thought the brain was largely finished developing by puberty, but we now know the brain continues to develop well past adolescence and into early adulthood.
There are several factors that influence the developing brain, including the health of the gut microbiome.
The gut-brain-axis is a two-way communication system between the brain and the gastrointestinal tract. Our gut is home to a community that harbours over 100 trillion microorganisms, both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ – collectively called the microbiome. In recent years, countless studies have provided evidence that alterations in the gut microbiota have been linked to a broad range of diseases and mental health disorders in children and adults. These conditions include: anxiety, depression, mood disorders, ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, Alzheimer’s disease, and cardiovascular disease.
Influences on Gut and Brain Health
Overweight and obesity is increasing globally in people of all ages and one in seven children in Canada is obese. Obesity and its complications such as type 2 diabetes have also been linked to changes in the composition and diversity of the gut microbiota.
Toxins in our foods and environment, diet, sleep patterns, stress, and antibiotic use all result in alterations to the intestinal microbiota. Adolescents are exposed to a vast array of these stressors, and it is a period of profound brain changes particularly in the frontal lobes which are involved in problem solving, memory, language, judgement, impulse control, and social behavior. The role of gut bacteria in anxiety, depression, eating disorders, psychosis and substance abuse that commonly emerge during the teenage years is becoming a major area of research.
Building Blocks for the Brain
These important periods for brain growth can be profoundly influenced by a healthy diet and lifestyle. Studies prove time and time again the importance of physical activity for brain health in children and teens, especially in terms of thinking skills that most affect academic performance.
Supplements including omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics to support the gut microbiome, and a multivitamin are important building blocks for the brain. If children or teens turn their noses up at leafy greens, consider using a concentrated green supplement and add it to a smoothie with berries, other vegetables or fruits, yogurt and add probiotics and omega-3s. Smoothies taste good, provide a nutritious start to the day and are easy to make while trying to get kids out the door for school.