The Brain-Gut Connection
Have you ever experienced butterflies in your stomach when you were nervous, or “listened to your gut” and acted on impulse or followed your instinct to make an important decision? These experiences come from our “second brain,” or the enteric nervous system. The ENS is made up of more than 100 million nerve cells in and around the entire digestive tract, from esophagus to anus. As an important part of the gut-brain axis, it is the bidirectional communication link that connects the brain in the skull and the brain in the gut. The ENS not only helps control digestion, but also plays a key role in how certain diseases manifest in the body and the state of our emotional well-being. A worried brain can directly affect the stomach and intestines, and likewise, a troubled gut can send distress signals to the brain, causing us to feel stress, depression, or anxiety.
According to Psychology Today, “Psychiatrists have known for years that 60 to 70 percent of depressed and anxious people, for example, have gastrointestinal problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Approximately 84 percent of patients with IBS also have a depressive disorder and 44 percent have an anxiety disorder. Moreover, 45 percent of patients with anxiety and 30 percent of those with a depressive disorder develop IBS. It was commonly assumed that the gut problems were peripheral to the mental disorders. But there is mounting evidence that they are related.”
As scientists continue to learn more about the brain-gut axis and all of the ways it impacts our mental, emotional and physical health, we already know about many things we can do to support our brain-gut axis health through nutrition and other self-care practices.
Supporting the brain-gut axis through nutrition. Diversity of the gut microbiome is strongly linked to both mental and physical health. Lack of bacterial diversity changes the way the microbiome functions and is a distinctive feature in many disorders, among them Alzheimer’s disease, anxiety, vascular disease, and type-2 diabetes (Psychology Today). Improve your brain health, gut health, and the connection between the two by including the following in your nutritional intake:
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Supporting the brain-gut axis through stress management and self-care activities. Spending time in self-care for mind, body and spirit can create more positive emotions and enhance overall wellness, supporting your brain health, gut health, and the connection between the two. Experiment with some of the following suggestions to see which ones you most enjoy:
Deep Breathing, Breathwork
Walking, Yoga, Tai Chi
Chiropractic, Cupping, Physical Therapy
Singing, Humming, Chanting
Time in Nature
Gratitude, Positive Mindset, Daily Affirmations
Living with Passion and Purpose
Considering how closely the brain and gut work together, using a combination of psychological and physical applications can be most beneficial when looking to improve our overall health. If you are experiencing symptoms, it is always important to consult with your primary care provider first. Working one-on-one with a coach, Ayurveda practitioner, or mental health counselor can also offer you support and accountability as you consider your current level of health and wellness mentally, emotionally and physically and which treatment options may be best suited to you. Be curious, and be patient. Optimizing our health and wellness is a lifelong journey.
~Nicole Hutchison, PT, CSCS, Holistic Health & Integrative Nutrition Coach
Integrative Nutrition Gut Health Course