Many of us have experienced a “gut instinct” or the feeling of butterflies when nervous or excited. People dealing with unexplained digestive issues may come to find a correlation between anxiety or excessive stress and their discomfort. In these cases, your brain may be receiving signals from its partner-in-crime: the brain in your gut.
Recent research about this “second brain,” also called the enteric nervous system or ENS, is reshaping our understanding of the relationships between digestion, emotions, overall health, and mental processes. If you’re curious to learn more about the brain in your belly, Seed and Soil Wellness offers a glimpse into the complex layers of the gut-brain connection.
What Does the Gut Brain Do?
While the big brain in your head can calculate a tip for your waiter or create a list of April intentions, your gut brain doesn’t work quite the same way. The ENS communicates with your brain through 500 million neurons, your hormones, and the vagus nerve, which controls messages to the gut, heart, lungs, and other vital organs. The gut brain directly contributes to your body functions in the following ways:
Plays a vital role in the production of serotonin
Communicates with the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis through the vagus nerve to trigger stress or relaxation
Slows down or speeds up digestion
Releases enzymes to breakdown food
Controls blood flow for nutrient absorption and elimination
Home to 100 trillion microorganisms, the microbiome of the gut is an incredibly complex and intelligent system within the body that plays a role in immunity, inflammation, and pain.
Information is constantly exchanged between your gut and your immune system, so distress in your digestive system can lead to both physical and emotional stress on the body. Gut microbes help control what is passed into the body and what is excreted.
If bad pathogens are able to pass through a compromised gut barrier into the blood, the immune system will switch on and cause an inflammatory response, which may lead to a large handful of other disorders including depression, dementia, and schizophrenia.
Are you struggling from mood disturbances, anxiety, or digestive discomfort? You may be experiencing gut dysbiosis, but there is a way to heal! Call Dr. Damon today to take the first step on your path to wellness – 727-282-4368.
How Do Stress and Digestive Challenges Intersect?
For decades, researchers thought anxiety and depression lead or contributed to problems such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other bowels issues like constipation, diarrhea, bloating, cramping, and nausea. However, recent studies have revealed the challenge may be the other way around.
Pain and stress are the body’s protective mechanisms triggered by the sympathetic nervous system’s “fight or flight” response. While acute stress can be beneficial by helping us stay safe in dangerous circumstances, such as when we’ve been seriously injured or face a natural disaster, chronic stress can have devastating impacts on our bodies if left unmanaged.
An imbalance of bacteria in the gut can send messages to the brain that trigger mood changes, which may explain why those with functional bowl issues may develop increased stress, anxiety, or depression.
The HPA-Axis Role
The hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis, or the HPA axis, defines our stress response by releasing hormones from the hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal glands. The gut microbiome plays a central role in the development and regulation of the HPA axis’ response to stress.
At least 90% of our serotonin is produced in the gut. This neurotransmitter is a chemical messenger that helps stabilize mood, produce healthy sleeping patterns, regulate anxiety, and heal wounds.
The gut also produces a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which partly controls feelings of fear and anxiety.
How to Care for Your Gut
Unfortunately, most Americans who have adhered to a Standard American Diet (or SAD for short) will experience some level of digestive distress. A huge portion of our foods have been contaminated by glyphosate weed-killers, which can cause a significant imbalance of microbiota within the gut, known as gut dysbiosis.
However, with an integrated approach that focuses on both gastrointestinal and behavioral medicine, we can shape our gut biome to give us optimal health and target the root cause of our problems.
Make Healthy Food Choices
Focus on consuming unprocessed whole foods such as whole grains, lean meats, fish, fruits, and vegetables. Whenever possible, select organic foods. Try to avoid sugary, fried, or processed foods and soft drinks.
Feed the Good Bacteria with Prebiotics
Eating prebiotic foods that feed the good bacteria, viruses, and fungi in the microbiome can help them grow when there is an imbalance between good and bad bacteria. Good prebiotic foods can include:
Consume Good Bacteria with Probiotics
It is really beneficial to consume probiotic foods, especially if you are lacking in certain kinds of bacteria. Yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso soup, kefir, kombucha, tempeh, and apple cider vinegar are good options, but you can also take probiotic supplements. Avoid antibiotics unless they are absolutely necessary, as they not only kill bad bacteria but also good bacteria that keep your gut functioning properly.
If taking antibiotics is unavoidable, make sure to visit Dr. Damon at Seed and Soil Wellness to rebalance your gut and return to your healthiest self.
Return to Balance at Seed and Soil Wellness
While you may be feeling discouraged on your journey to relieving gut dysfunction, rest assured that there is hope. At Seed and Soil Wellness, our approach first determines the integrity of your gut lining and the diversity of your microbiome. We then take an individualized, noninvasive approach to improve your digestion, absorption, and elimination of food.
Your body has immense power to heal itself under the right circumstances, which our team will help you create. Even in our present environment full of toxins and stressors, it is possible for you to overcome your fear and heal on a deep and holistic level.
If you’re ready to feel rooted in longevity, call Dr. Damon today to schedule your free consultation!