Your gut-brain connection
For once in your life, you most probably have experienced diarrhea or constipation during a very stressful life event. Have you ever wondered how a situation that involves your mental state and brain could also affect your digestive tract? What does your anxiety have to do with your bowel movement?
The gastrointestinal tract, also known as the digestive tract or simply referred to as the gut, is responsible for the digestion of food, absorption of nutrients, and metabolism or the process of turning food into energy in the body. The gut also houses majority of the body’s immune cells. Therefore, it plays a significant role in immunity. The complexity of the gut’s function goes beyond just nourishing the body and helping it ward off threats of infection. In fact, the gut is referred to as the second brain.
The brain communicates with the gut through the vagus nerve. Chemical signals are sent from your brain to your gut through the vagus nerve when you are mentally and emotionally distressed. The gut then responds by manifesting undesirable symptoms. This is why you may feel dizzy, get nauseated, vomit, have diarrhea or constipation when anxiety attacks. And vice versa, when the gut is unhealthy or damaged, an individual may manifest psychological symptoms like sleep problems, mood imbalances, anxiety, and other mental conditions. This phenomenon is brought about by the gut-brain axis. The sooner we embrace this connection, the better we will be in coping with the stresses thrown our way.
Did you know that your gut is home to trillions of microbes, collectively referred to as the gut microbiome? These beneficial microorganisms, most of which are beneficial bacteria, are critical in maintaining physical and mental health. The friendly bacteria are involved in the process of digestion, extracting and producing nutrients and vitamins, and ensuring that your gut lining, which is the first line of defense against “invaders,” is intact. Moreover, these good bacteria are involved in the production of 95 percent of serotonin. It is a brain chemical or hormone that enhances learning and memory, stabilizes mood, regulates sleep, eating and digestion. Serotonin is a major happy hormone.
When you are mentally and emotionally distressed, the brain sends chemical signals via the vagus nerve. The gut then responds by manifesting undesirable symptoms.
Aside from serotonin, the gut also produces the brain chemical GABA, which helps control feelings of fear and anxiety. Another neurotransmitter that is produced by the gut microbiome is the feel-good hormone, dopamine. This hormone is involved in movement, memory, pleasure, reward and gratification, learning, sleep, mood, behavior, attention, and many more.
Now that science recognizes the impact of gut microbiome in relation to mental health, it is essential to protect these minute creatures thriving inside of us to prevent an imbalance known as gut dysbiosis.
Dysbiosis happens as a result of poor diet composed of high consumption of refined sugar, excessive alcohol intake, excess animal protein, chemicals, food additives, inadequate intake of plant foods, and fiber. Intake of some medications, especially antibiotics, can also affect the gut microbiome. High level of stress, poor sleep, and even unprotected sex can contribute to dysbiosis. Extreme physical stress, such as excessive exercise, can also alter the gut microbiome.
How then should we take care of our gut health in order to promote a healthier mind? Begin by feeding the good bacteria in your gut with prebiotics. Prebiotic is a type of dietary fiber that serves as food for the good bacteria. Banana, apple psyllium husk, garlic, onion, honey, eggplant, peas, legumes, whole grains like brown, red or black rice, or quinoa, asparagus, green tea, maple syrup, soy, and oats are considered prebiotic.
As the saying goes, food is medicine. Heal from within. Listen to your “gut feel” and achieve a healthier mind and more stable mood.