Have you ever felt butterflies in your stomach?
Had a gut-wrenching experience?
Felt sick before an exam or an important presentation?
These experiences aren't just a coincidence. Your brain and gut work closely together, so much so that the lining of your gut is often called your "second brain". Therefore, a healthy gut means a healthy mind as well. Read more to learn about what this means for your mental and physical health.
Simply put, there is part of your body's nervous system in the lining of your gut, called the Enteric Nervous System (ENS). Your ENS is made of hundreds of millions of nerve cells in your gut. The ENS communicates with your brain to control digestion.
When a person feels threatened or in danger, your brain sends signals all throughout your body to prepare for "attack". While your Central Nervous System (CNS) is being activated, so is your Enteric Nervous System (ENS). As a result, your digestion slows down so that you have more energy to fight.
Your brain can send messages to your gut, but your gut can also send messages to your brain. As a result, we need to look at digestive diseases and mental disorders with a whole new perspective.
Doctors commonly thought that anxiety and depression caused bowel problems like abdominal pain, upset stomach, constipation, and bloating.
However, recent studies show that this may be the other way around. In other words, if your gastrointestinal tract is irritated, it sends messages to your brain's central nervous system (CNS) that results in mood changes.
Since 30-40% of the population suffers from bowel problems at some point, this is critical.
30-40% of the population suffers from bowel problems at some point in their lives
Now that scientists know more about the ENS-CNS connection, antidepressants or therapy are being looked into as potential treatment methods for IBS and other bowel disorders.
Since your brain and your "second brain" are constantly "talking" to each other, treatments that can help one brain can help the other.
As explained in a previous blog post, the trillions of bacteria in your gut make up your microbiome.
A healthy microbiome means a healthy mind, and an unhealthy microbiome is associated with stress, depression, and anxiety.
Luckily, changing your gut bacteria can help your gut health tremendously. Some steps you can take include:
Eating a well-balanced diet
Managing and reducing your stress
Getting enough sleep
Read this blog post for four easy changes that can help your gut and brain health simultaneously.
Here are some takeaways on this from a public health point of view.
Although dietary changes may benefit your gut health, it is important to ask your physician, a licensed nutritionist = LN, or a registered dietitian = RD, before making any drastic eliminations to your diet.