We’ve all experienced it: An instinctual “gut” response to a situation or even the feeling of being “heart-broken.” It turns out there’s a real reason for this: Along with our logical-thinking brain, we have two other “brains” that guide us.
To learn more, we spoke to Dr. Karen Jensen, ND, health educator at Natural Factors and author of Three Brains: How the Heart, Brain, and Gut Influence Mental Health and Identity. She talked to us about her years of research that led to the concept of three brains working together to support our mental, physical and emotional health.
What are our three brains?
We have three brains that work very much in sync and form an intricate communication network. The head brain applies logic and analyzes information; the heart brain senses through emotion and feelings; and the gut brain helps us understand our identity and guides self-preservation by teaching us to follow our instincts or gut feelings, according to Dr. Jensen.
How are they integrated?
How we experience stress is influenced by how healthy we keep our microbiome, or the collection of microbes in and on our body, especially our gut. Psychological and physical stress can alter a healthy microbiome and increase inflammation or even produce leaky gut symptoms, Dr. Jensen tells us; that’s why re-colonizing our gut with healthy bacteria can ease excessive stress symptoms.
Studies have shown that high blood pressure or hypertension can accelerate brain aging or dementia, says Dr. Jensen. Increased blood pressure can cause narrowing of our arteries throughout our body, which limits blood flow to our brain, potentially resulting in vascular dementia.
Including probiotics and fermented food in your diet can help reduce hypertension, Dr. Jensen tells us, since they’re proven to reduce both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Further, a recent study shows that a significant number of women with hardening of the arteries have an unhealthy gut microbiome, since almost 10 percent of arterial hardening was caused by gut microbes and low microbial diversity. (By comparison, only 2 percent of arterial hardening is caused by high cholesterol levels, smoking, diabetes and obesity!)
How can we support all three brains?
We can keep all three brains optimally functioning with supplements designed to address these integrated systems. For a complete supplement, try Natural Factors 3 Brains Total, which includes a pre-packaged set of daily nutrients including phosphatidylserine, a natural plant chemical that slows memory loss and lowers stress-induced cortisol; grapeseed extract and curcumin, powerful antioxidants that reduce inflammation; omega-3s to support a healthy heart and protect brain neurotransmitters (and ease mild depression symptoms); and probiotics for a healthy gut.
What if occasionally we need extra help?
If you’re feeling anxious, Natural Factors 3 Brains Serene Mind can calm and prevent the harmful effect of stress on our bodies. Serene Mind features natural stress-relieving adaptogens ashwagandha, rhodiola, ginseng and green tea extracts, says Dr. Jensen. Choline is added for additional anxiety relief, since studies show low levels of choline is significantly associated with high anxiety levels.
If you’re feeling mildly depressed (and are not taking SSRI medications) or have depression symptoms due to Alzheimer’s disease, try Natural Factors 3 Brains Mental Sunshine, featuring saffron extract, vitamin B6 and 5-HTP, says Dr. Jensen. Saffron has been shown to improve mood as well as some prescription antidepressants, vitamin B6 is helpful with PMS depression, and 5-HTP increases serotonin—the “happiness” neurotransmitter.
Finally, for sleep issues, Natural Factors 3 Brains The Best Sleep is formulated with passionflower, skullcap, California poppy and linden flowers to calm the mind of racing thoughts and settle our nervous system so that we can wind down after a busy day and fall asleep easily.