Have you ever had a “gut-wrenching” experience? Do certain situations make you “feel nauseous”? Have you ever felt “butterflies” in your stomach? We use these expressions for a reason. The gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to emotion. Anger, anxiety, sadness, elation — all of these feelings (and others) can trigger symptoms in the gut.
Meet Your Second Brain
The brain has a direct effect on the stomach and intestines. For example, the very thought of eating can release the stomach’s juices before food gets there. This connection goes both ways. A troubled intestine can send signals to the brain, just as a troubled brain can send signals to the gut. Therefore, a person’s stomach or intestinal distress can be the cause or the product of anxiety, stress, or depression. That’s because the brain and the gastrointestinal (GI) system are intimately connected.
The vagus nerve, the longest of 12 cranial nerves, is the primary channel between millions of nerve cells in our intestinal nervous system and our central nervous system. “Vagus” is Latin for “wanderer,” an apt name for this nerve that runs outside the brain and through the digestive system. The vagus extends from the brain stem to the abdomen, directing many bodily processes that don’t require thought, like heart rate and digestion.
At the same time, the bacteria in the gut directly affect the function of the cells along the vagus nerve. And some of the gut’s nerve cells and microbes release neurotransmitters that speak to the brain in its own language. Understanding just how closely the gut and the brain are related is essential.
Leaky Gut, Leaky Brain
Bad gut bacteria have been linked to neurologic and chronic diseases
You may have heard about the perils of a leaky gut, where the protective barriers in the intestinal lining become compromised. This can happen due to a variety of factors, including pathogenic bacteria, some medications, stress, environmental toxins, elevated blood sugar, and potentially gut-irritating food ingredients like gluten.
Once the intestinal barrier is compromised, undigested food particles leak into the bloodstream, where they elicit an immune response. This can create systemwide inflammation.
When your intestinal barrier is compromised, you become susceptible — due to that increased inflammation — to a spectrum of health challenges, including arthritis, eczema, allergies, and even autism, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s.
We’ve long assumed that somehow the brain was insulated from what goes on in the rest of the body. It has now become clear that many substances threaten its integrity. And once the brain’s barrier is compromised, various molecules that may spell trouble — including proteins, viruses, and bacteria — can get inside it.
Cultivate A Healthy Gut
The good news is that there are many ways to improve gut health. Our gut microbiota is extremely responsive to outside factors, such as diet, smoking, antibiotic use, infections and stress.
Some basics steps everyone can take to directly combat inflammation include:
• Avoiding diets that are high in saturated fats and sugars. Anti-inflammatory foods include foods with healthy fats, such as walnuts, flaxseed and oily fish like salmon or sardines; fruits and vegetables and whole grains.
• Practicing well-being. Try mindfulness or meditation or just figure out a way to reduce stress that works for you and commit to it.
• Get physically active. Beyond the tangible benefits of improving our heart health and helping with weight control, exercise has been proven to enrich the diversity of our gut bacteria and reduce inflammation. As little as 20 minutes a day can produce anti-inflammatory benefits.
We Can Help
Bridgeway Institute specializes in diagnosing and restoring gut health. Contact us to schedule your appointment!