Mind your gut: unveiling the surprising link between digestion and brain health

In the fast-paced world of business, professionals are constantly seeking ways to optimize their performance and gain a competitive edge. While many focus on honing their skills and staying updated on industry trends, there is an often-overlooked factor that can significantly impact success: digestive health.

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Recent studies have highlighted the link between the brain and the gut, underscoring the vital impact of digestive processes on mood, decision-making and overall cognitive abilities.

The gut-brain axis and its relevance to decision-making and mood

The gut houses the enteric nervous system (ENS), a specialized network of neurons that resides within the walls of the gastrointestinal tract, extending from the esophagus to the anus. It is often referred to as the "second brain" because it can function independently of the central nervous system (CNS), which includes the brain and spinal cord.

The ENS controls and regulates various gastrointestinal functions, such as digestion, nutrient absorption and gut motility. It can receive and process sensory information from the gut and send motor signals to coordinate muscle contractions for digestion and movement of food along the digestive tract. 

The connection between the gut and brain, known as the gut-brain axis, involves a complex interplay of hormonal, neuronal and immune signalling that allows for communication and coordination between these two organs. This communication occurs through various pathways, including neural connections, hormonal signalling and the influence of gut microbiota.

These micro-organisms are responsible for producing neurotransmitters and various bioactive compounds that can significantly impact brain function and behaviour, affecting decision-making abilities and mood.

Stress, common in executive roles, can disrupt this connection, leading to digestive issues such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). These conditions can cause discomfort, pain and mental fog, directly impacting decision-making abilities and focus.

In his book,The Mind-Gut Connection: How the Hidden Conversation Within Our Bodies Impacts Our Mood, Our Choices, and Our Overall Health”, gastroenterologist, neuroscientist and leading researcher Dr. Emeran Mayer examines the interactions between the digestive system and the brain. He explains how disruptions in the mind-gut connection can lead to a variety of health issues, including digestive disorders, obesity, mood disorders and chronic illnesses.

A healthy gut microbiome promotes the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin, which is often referred to as the feel-good hormone. Serotonin plays a key role in regulating mood, and imbalances in its production have been linked to conditions such as anxiety and depression.

Cultivating a healthy microbiome can enhance emotional well-being and support a positive mindset, which is essential for effective decision-making in high-pressure situations.

How digestive issues can impact professional performance

When we consider the myriad factors influencing performance in high-pressure professional settings, digestive health often takes a backseat. Yet, its impact is far-reaching and multifaceted, affecting everything from mental acuity to leadership presence. Common digestive issues can subtly yet significantly impair key aspects of professional performance in environments where every decision counts.

Conditions like IBS, GERD and other stress-related gastrointestinal problems can be exacerbated by stressful and demanding schedules, leading to discomfort, bloating and irregular bowel movements that hinder focus and productivity. Prioritizing digestive health is crucial for optimal performance and maintaining a strong presence in the boardroom.

Optimize digestion and support gut health to boost cognitive function

Maintaining a healthy microbiome requires attention to one's dietary and lifestyle choices. Poor digestion can lead to malnutrition, even with a healthy diet. It's important to optimize digestion for proper nutrient absorption and assimilation.

Here are some simple strategies to optimize digestive health and support cognitive function:

Chew thoroughly and eat mindfully: amid a harried schedule, having a quick bite in between meetings is common, however slow, distraction-free eating allows for better digestion and recognition of satiety signals.

Use lemon Juice and apple cider vinegar: these stimulate bile production and digestive juices, helping to break down food.

Take digestive enzymes/ox bile: essential for those with digestive issues, especially after gallbladder removal, to aid in fat digestion.

Feast on fibre: include a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts in your diet. These foods provide prebiotic fibres that nourish beneficial gut bacteria, promoting their growth and diversity.

Consume bitter greens: they stimulate bile production, aiding fat digestion and absorption.

Post-prandial walking: walking after meals aids in food movement through the digestive system, reducing bloating and indigestion.

Eat mindfully — consume probiotic-rich foods: incorporate fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and kimchi into your meals. These foods contain live bacteria that can help replenish and maintain a healthy gut microbiota.

Practice time-restricted eating: align eating times with natural fasting states during sleep to aid metabolism and digestion.

Add a butyrate complex supplement: beneficial for gut health, it strengthens intestinal lining, improves the microbiome, supports immune function and helps manage metabolic disorders.

Avoid processed and sugary foods: limit the intake of processed foods, refined sugars and artificial additives. These can disrupt the balance of gut bacteria and promote inflammation.

Stay hydrated: drinking plenty of water has beneficial effects on the mucosal lining of the intestines and on the balance of good gut bacteria.

Lifestyle recommendations for improving gut microbiota diversity

In addition to dietary changes, certain lifestyle adjustments can positively impact gut microbiota diversity and reduce digestive issues:

Regular physical activity: exercise not only improves your overall health but also positively affects your gut microbiome diversity. Even moderate exercise like walking can be beneficial.

Maintain a healthy weight: obesity has been linked to less diversity in the gut microbiome. Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight can help improve your gut flora.

Avoid unnecessary antibiotics: while antibiotics are crucial for treating bacterial infections, unnecessary use can harm gut microbiota. Use antibiotics only when prescribed by a healthcare professional.

Manage stress: high levels of stress can negatively impact your gut microbiota. Engage in stress-reducing activities like meditation, yoga or deep breathing exercises.

Consider probiotic supplements: if your diet doesn't provide enough probiotics, supplements might be helpful. 

Avoid excessive sanitization: overuse of antibacterial soaps and sanitizers can inhibit exposure to beneficial bacteria. A certain level of exposure to diverse bacteria is good for the gut microbiome.

Sleep well: inadequate sleep has been associated with imbalances in gut bacteria. Aim for seven to nine hours of quality sleep per night.

Exposure to diverse environments: regularly visiting different natural environments (such as forests, beaches and countryside areas) can expose you to a wider variety of microbial life. Just as a diverse diet feeds your gut microbiota, diverse environmental exposure introduces beneficial micro-organisms to your system.

These strategies are not just steps towards better digestive health. They are, in essence, investments in one's cognitive arsenal, enhancing clarity, focus and resilience in the corporate world. As leaders and decision-makers, the call to action is clear: prioritize your gut health as a fundamental component of your professional toolkit. By doing so, you're not just nurturing your physical well-being but are also empowering your greatest asset: your brain.


This article was written by Dr. Nathalie Beauchamp. Opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of IG Wealth Management. 

The information provided is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or health concerns.


Jeremy Appleton: The Gut-Brain Axis: Influence of Microbiota on Mood and Mental Health.

Emeran Mayer: The Mind-Gut Connection: How the Hidden Conversation Within Our Bodies Impacts Our Mood, Our Choices, and Our Overall Health.

C. Liddicoat, H. Sydnor, C. Cando-Dumancela, R. Dresken, J. Liu, N.J.C. Gellie, J.G. Mills, J.M. Young, L.S. Weyrich, M.R. Hutchinson, P. Weinstein and M.F. Breed: Naturally diverse airborne environmental microbial exposures modulate the gut microbiome and may provide anxiolytic benefits in mice. 

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