Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
There’s a strong, well evolved, bond between what we think and how we feel… choose your thoughts wisely.
A little while after the pandemic hit, my psychotherapist friends got busier than ever. Their client roster has been full these past 16 months. Anxiety and depression have been a common diagnosis amongst many of their clients. Similarly, studies tell us that living through this pandemic is continuing to do a hurt our bodies as well. Stress is causing gastrointestinal issues for some, that’s part of the gut-brain connection. It’s literally making us sick to our stomach.
But how is it that emotions are experienced in your gut? A cousin of mine would get a stomach upset before every vacation, she would also get extremely anxious and edgy. Her travel trauma was a joke in the family, we teased her for her tummy trouble for years. Here is what I wonder now: Did the anxiety brought upon by the thought of traveling lead to her bad stomach or did the diarrhea increase my cousin’s anxiety?
A troubled intestine can send signals to the brain, just as a troubled brain can send signals to the gut. The brain has a direct effect on the stomach and intestines. This connection goes both ways.
Also, when we are nervous or upset, our body releases hormones and chemicals that effect the digestive system. This can then affect the microorganisms that live along our gut, helping in the digestion process while decreasing antibody production. The resulting chemical imbalance can cause several gastrointestinal conditions such as diarrhea, IBS, constipation, loss of appetite, and nausea.
The gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to emotion. Anger, anxiety, sadness, elation — all these feelings (and others) can trigger symptoms through the body’s digestive systems. Or, a person’s gut can be the cause or the product of anxiety, stress, or depression. This is because the brain and the gastrointestinal (GI) system are intimately connected. They affect each other.
Inflammation of the gut is thought be at least a partial cause of many of the mental illnesses, including anxiety and depression, which are so prevalent in society today.
There is evidence linking conditions such as autism and depression to the gut’s microbial residents, referred to as the microbiome. Ailments like anxiety, depression, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers and Parkinson’s disease manifest symptoms through both the brain and the gut.
The digestive system even has its own nervous system, called the enteric nervous system (ENS), which is also referred to as the “second brain.” The gut and the brain are linked through what’s called the vagus nerve — a two-way communication pathway between the central and enteric nervous systems — and this connection is often referred to as the “gut-brain connection.” This is precisely what makes it possible for psychological distress to cause gastrointestinal dysfunction.
The enteric nervous system has the same type of neurons and neurotransmitters found in your central nervous system. ENS can control digestion independently without your conscious awareness. This “second brain” is intimately connected to our “big brain” via a network of nerve pathways and the two nervous systems share many of the same neurotransmitters to facilitate communication. Hormones, neurotransmitters, and immunological factors released from the gut are known to send signals to the brain either directly or via autonomic neurons.
A few experts have even been examining the relationship between gut health and creativity.
Your GI tract is home to billions of bacteria and these bacteria influence the production of fundamental neurotransmitters, such as serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps mediate wakefulness, mood and social behavior, appetite and digestion, sleep, memory, and even inhibits pain. About 90-95% of serotonin is produced in your digestive tract. Many psychiatric medications aim at boosting serotonin levels, but what about supporting the system which makes it?
Hidden in the walls of the digestive system, this “brain in your gut” is transforming western medicine’s understanding of the connections between digestion, mood, health and even the way we think. Doesn’t it make sense that the digestive system doesn’t just help you digest food, but also guides our emotions? The food we eat has an affect on the way we feel, think and act.
Maybe this is why certain situations or people make you feel nauseous! Why do we describe certain experiences as“gut-wrenching?” What about that feeling of “butterflies” in our stomach before doing something we are nervous about.
The connection between our bellies and our brains is not a new discovery, but it is finally being validated and brought into the mainstream understanding of health.
Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. The information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of any disease. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.
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