Your microbiome – the diverse population of microbes (bacteria) that live in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract — play an important role in the health of your gut, and in other aspects of your physical health.
Hidden in the walls of the digestive system, is your second brain. This “brain in your gut” is revolutionizing medicine’s understanding of the links between digestion, mood, health and even the way you think.
In today’s article we break down exactly how these two systems are intertwined.
What’s The Connection?
The gut-brain axis is a term for the communication network (scientifically known as the enteric nervous system) that connects your gut and brain. These two organs are connected both physically and biochemically in a number of different ways.
Scientists like Dr. Michael Gershon, a professor of pathology and cell biology and father of neurogastroenterology, adamantly believe that we have a second brain in our gut. In fact, he states there is bidirectional communication between the gut and the brain. With more than 100 million nerve cells lining our intestinal walls, it’s no wonder that when we disrupt the bacteria in this region with antibiotics, poor diet and toxic environment, it creates a neuropsychiatric effect influencing our mood and mental health.
Gut Health and Mood
Given how closely the gut and brain interact, it becomes easier to understand why we feel as if we are going to get sick before public speaking or the butterflies we get on the first date.
This doesn’t mean, however, that functional gastrointestinal conditions are imagined or “all in your head”. Psychosocial factors influence the actual physiology of the gut, as well as symptoms. In other words, stress (or other psychological factors) can affect movement and contractions of the GI tract.
Your gut and brain are also connected through chemicals called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters produced in the brain control feeling and emotions. For example, the neurotransmitter serotonin contributes to feelings of happiness and also helps control your body clock.
Many of these neurotransmitters are also produced by your gut cells. Two main neurotransmitters, serotonin as well as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which helps control feelings of fear and anxiety, are produced in the gut.
What You Can Do?
Given this strong mind-body/brain gut connection, it should come as no surprise that mind-body tools such as meditation, mindfulness breathing exercise, yoga, and gut-directed hypnotherapy have all been shown to help improve GI symptoms, improve mood, and decrease anxiety. They decrease the body’s stress response by dampening the sympathetic nervous system, enhancing the parasympathetic response, and decreasing inflammation.