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The gut-brain connection

Updated: Jan 3

Do you ever feel your gut growling when you’re stressed? Do you experience loss of appetite when going through mood swings? We all aware that the meaning “butterflies in the stomach” is an expression of emotional state. It’s obvious that our gut is a Pandora box for our feelings. The gut-brain connection is fascinating. It may influence all aspects of our health: brain function, mental health, neurodegenerative diseases, stress response, emotions, pain perception, and even cravings and food preferences. The gut and brain reciprocally affect each other, the connection is scientifically known as the gut-brain axis.

How does this happen? What causes our emotional state to influence our digestive system?


The neural effect

We are an emotional creature. One of the naturopathic perceptions is, that there is a direct connection between our feelings, our thoughts, and the physiological processes inside our body.

The science supports this idea. There’s an evident connection between the gut and the brain. 70% of our nervous system is located inside the gut. In fact, our gut is called the second brain. It is consisted of thousands of nervous cells which are connected to the vagus - the longest nerve which passes information from the brain to the digestion system and vice versa.

Because of this strong connection between the brain and the gut, our feelings have an effect on our digestion system, and vice versa. Feeling is like food. If it is negative, it will not de “digested” properly and will affect our physical wellbeing, as well as our emotional state of mind. Serotonin, the important hormone which is in charge of mood regulation, is produced inside the gut. If its production is disrupted, it will enhance depression, anxiety and bad mood.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) for example, is a common gastrointestinal disorder that mainly affects the large intestine. It is characterized by abdominal discomfort and pain as well as recurrent episodes of diarrhea and constipation. IBS has a cause-and-effect relationship with anxiety, stress, depression, and other psychiatric and emotional disorders.


The microbiome effect

Our body is a home ground to approximately 100 trillion bacteria, which is ten times greater than our cell count, with most of the bacterial population inhabiting the gut. An optimal environment and a healthy immune system maintain the balance between the good and bad bacteria inside our intestines.

Studies suggest that neural disturbances, such as mood disorders, disrupt the balance of the intestinal microbiome, giving rise to numerous gut abnormalities. On the contrary, many gut bacteria such as Candida and Streptococcus release neurotransmitters that affect our neurologic function and influence mood, appetite and sleep.


Another common gastro-intestinal condition which effects the nervous system is “Leaky gut”. Leaky gut causes bacteria and bacterial products leak through the disrupted intestines into the blood, enter the systematic circulation, and eventually reach the brain. This elicits an inflammatory response in the brain and elicits mood disorders. The 'gut feeling' we experience, is a manifestation of the mood on the gut.

Stress is also plays a major effect in weakening the mucosal barrier of the intestines. It displaces the bacteria from their original habitat, leading to infections and intestinal symptoms. Nerves influencing gut activity carry signals from the brain, hence gut motility also oscillates with the changes in mood and emotions.


Consuming a healthy diet and probiotics keeps the gut and brain health in check, further complemented by mental health, wellbeing and stability.



The gut-brain connection
The gut-brain connection

References

1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5987167/

2. https://www.karger.com/Article/FullText/504496



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