We’ve all had “gut feelings,” experienced a “butterfly sensation” in our stomachs, or felt “gut-wrenched” about something that has us concerned. It may surprise you to learn that these instances are not all in our heads but are physical signs of the body’s gut-brain connection. The gastrointestinal tract’s (GI) enteric nervous system is even often referred to as our “second brain.”
Your GI tract reacts to emotional stimuli — meaning whatever you’re feeling can manifest as uncomfortable gut symptoms. Similarly, your brain can react to signals from your stomach. This interconnectivity helps explain why even if diagnostic testing shows no recognizable cause for your symptoms, your gut-brain connection could be to blame. Read on to learn more about this symbiotic relationship between these two vital organs.
There are billions of bacteria living in your body — and that’s a good thing! Much of our gut health goes back to the quantity and variety of our gut microbiome. The microbiome are the millions of bacterial microorganisms that live inside our colon and help us digest and protect our gut. That includes both the good and bad bacteria that live inside our digestive tract. The microbiome impacts the brain’s chemistry, neural development, behavior, and even how the body perceives pain and handles stress.
The way we were born influences what types of bacteria live in and on our bodies as well — that’s why we ask our clients whether they were born via c-section or natural delivery. Whether or not you were breastfed also influences the variety of our microbiome.
What the Microbiome Affects
These intestinal organisms participate in a wide variety of physiologic actions including immune system functioning, detoxification, neurotransmitter and vitamin production, nutrient absorption, and signaling being hungry or full. Disruption in the microbiome causes inflammation and can lead to the following:
- Autoimmune diseases
- Other chronic diseases
Moreover, the microbiome affects our mood, libido, metabolism, immunity, and mental function. This can lead to memory problems, poor concentration, insomnia, struggles with weight, and many more. Needless to say, gut health is extremely important.
How the Gut-Brain Connection Works
Your brain and GI system are connected physically and biochemically, forming a 2-way communication path called the gut-brain axis that allows these organs to speak to each other. Your gut can send information to the brain, and your brain can send information to your gut, which is sensitive to emotional changes. This means that what you feel — happiness, sadness, anger, or worry, to name just a few — can, in turn, cause uncomfortable symptoms in your gut.
The direct connection is your vagus nerve, a cranial nerve that carries messages via hormones and chemical substances called neurotransmitters from the brain to the heart, lungs, and gut.
A whole-person approach is needed to address these psychosocial factors that affect the gut’s physiology and lead to the following unpleasant symptoms.
- Abdominal cramps
- Loose stools
Treating Gut-Brain Connection Symptoms
At Faithfully Guided, the gut is often the place we start with our clients who are experiencing a number of issues, from anxiety/depression to autoimmune conditions. Recognizing this connection allows the team at Faithfully Guided to treat your troublesome GI symptoms with a collaborative method and integrative medicine, which has far more success than conventional prescription medications alone. This approach recognizes the psychological component of your GI symptoms and combines behavioral medicine with gastrointestinal medicine.
A Balanced Diet
No pharmaceutical approach compares to a dietary prescription for managing intestinal bacteria. Depending on the types of food we consume, we are either feeding the good or bad bacteria, which either fuels disease or protects from it. Good microorganisms like to feed on fiber — also known as prebiotics. With a balanced diet, you can improve your gut health by avoiding processed foods, alcohol, and sugar and replacing them with plenty of whole grains, leafy greens, lean protein, low-sugar fruits, and healthy fats, such as avocado.
Author of Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain for Life and leading neurologist, Dr. David Perlmutter, suggests eating probiotic and prebiotic foods to restore healthy gut flora. Examples of probiotic foods include active-culture yogurt, kefir, tempeh, kimchi, and sauerkraut. Prebiotic foods include raw chicory root, raw dandelion greens, raw garlic, raw or cooked onion, and raw asparagus.
Research has shown that you can improve your gut health and encourage gut bacteria diversity with frequent and adequate exercise, which has the added benefits of weight and stress management.
A few gut-friendly exercises include:
- Treadmill or elliptical use
The use of certain medications, such as antibiotics, and those used to treat diabetes, depression, bacterial infections, and digestive issues can throw off your microbiome, leading to imbalances. Antibiotics kill off both the good and bad bacteria, so it’s important to replenish those we’ve lost after taking a course, and try to avoid antibiotics when possible.
Did you know when we experience stress we decrease salivary amylase, leading to malabsorption and nagging symptoms like abdominal bloating? Not only should we chew our food 20-30 times before swallowing but eating in a peaceful environment and managing stress are crucial to our overall health. Stress affects how the intestines absorb nutrients by weakening the intestinal barrier, causing bacteria from the gut to escape into the body. You can minimize stress and help your gut microbiome by getting proper sleep and maintaining social connections with friends and family.
Faithfully Guided Is Your Partner On Your Health Journey
The beauty of functional medicine is to identify little things before they become big things. When you are experiencing negative GI symptoms, your Faithfully Guided team will not just prescribe you medicine and send you on your way. Instead, we understand the important connection between your gut and brain and recognize the need for an integrative, whole person approach. You do not have to suffer through these symptoms. Contact us today so we can help you regain your gut health, so you feel your best again.