A popular trend among almost everyone is being “healthy”. People look to improve their health for a variety of different reasons, but there is one that us students should really want to improve our health for: brain function. It’s not often that people think about how much nutrition can impact their mood, concentration, or memory. But when these things are improved, so is our academic performance. However, many people don’t prioritize health because they think they are too busy with school or their social lives. But science has proven that healthy gut microbiomes can actually lead to healthy changes in the brain including improved mood, better memory, and greater cognitive performance, as well as decreased anxiety and depressive behavior.
What you eat can affect your performance in many different ways. Foods that cause inflammation can lead to brain fog, having your sugary Starbucks drink will only spike your insulin make you crash a few hours later, and eating damaged fats can disrupt various chemical processes in the brain. We could go on and on about each one of those, but in this article we’re going to focus on the gut-brain axis.
Most people have never heard of the term: “gut-brain axis”. This basically refers to the connection of your gut and brain through something called the vagus nerve. Because of this, what you eat can affect your brain health, and stresses on your brain can impact your gut health.
A little-known fact is that more than 90% of the serotonin produced in your body is produced in your GI (gastrointestinal) tract. This is why a lot of research is being done towards using probiotics as a way to improve symptoms of various different mental illnesses including depression and anxiety instead of going directly to medications. In fact, it has been suggested that the gut microbiome is the key factor when it comes to the link between unhealthy diets and depression (“The Gut-Brain Axis: The Missing Link in Depression”). Unsurprisingly, there has been an increase in mental health needs at colleges around the country. If you search “mental health at colleges” on Google, your search will be filled with articles and websites talking about how mental health needs are growing, and colleges are finding it harder and harder to meet the students’ needs. However, proper nutrition can play a huge role in helping out with this crisis.
Stress, which is something students really struggle with, is one of the worst things for your gut health. But not only does stress affect your gut health, your gut health can affect the way your brain handles stress. Lacking good gut bacteria can potentially lead to hyper-reactivity of your hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (which regulates stress in your body). This leads to a vicious cycle because stress can then lead to what is known as a leaky gut, where your intestinal permeability is increased, allowing bacteria to spread outside of the intestines and affect immune and neuronal cells in your enteric nervous system (“Gut-brain axis: how the microbiome influences anxiety and depression”).
Your gut microbiota can also affect your brain development and plasticity. When you increase your brain plasticity, it allows your brain to more easily make new connections between neurons. It becomes easier acquire and remember new information and new skills; and that seems like a brain hack that any college student would want. In fact, many nutrients including B vitamins, iron, Vitamins D & E, and even good sources of saturated fat have been seen to affect cognitive function (“Brain foods: the effects of nutrients on brain function”).
As students, if there are simple ways to make improving academically much easier, I believe many of us would want to implement them. Something as easy as knowing what we should be eating and how we can improve our nutrition can have amazing affects on our brain functions. Choosing healthier options and having healthier options to choose from can lead to better moods, improved memory, and so many internal benefits inside of our bodies as well as the external ones.
And it simply starts with food.