Mind-Gut Connection

Do you ever wonder what our mental connection is to food? Or, how what we eat affects us physically AND mentally? Or why, when we are stressed or anxious we can that nervous belly? There has been more research coming out about this and it is quite interesting. I just requested a book from our local library about it, as I just know the basics right now. I was first exposed to what is called the mind-gut connection in my mental health nursing course this past semester, and I want to learn more. We have so many emotions, life-stressors, chronic mental illness, etc. that are a part of our everyday lives. What if we understood nutrition and our gut enough to take the most optimal precautions to preventing mental illness and promoting mental wellness? I think that would be pretty cool…

On a scientific level, our brains and our guts do actually communicate via the nervous system. In fact, our gut houses the enteric nervous system, which acts autonomously in many ways. For example, it is our enteric nervous system that tells the body to release the enzymes that break down food. It is also our enteric system that decides to lower its strain on the body when it senses a stressful situation by our brains. In order to do this, we often vomit or have irritable bowels, as then our bodies aren’t stressed with digesting the food. This clearly doesn’t feel good for us, but it is pretty awesome how our body compensates in stressful times.

Typically, the stress is short-lived and our gut returns to normal. When stress becomes chronic, our fight-or-flight response is activated for longer than intended. This mechanism alone leads to further anxiety, gut issues, headaches and elevated blood pressure. Unfortunately, this type of stress also suppresses our immune systems, which is also regulated by the gut. Eventually, this could all lead to autoimmune disease.One way this can be balanced and controlled from the gut, or the core of the problem, is to start by taking a probiotic. Probiotics promote good gut bacteria, preventing the bad ones from taking over, preventing a prolonged stress response.

Our guts are also connected to our limbic system (a key player in our emotions). Because of this, patients with illnesses such as IBS are at increased risk of anxiety and depression. It was once thought that depression and anxiety contributed to IBS, but it sounds like more recently that this is no longer the case.

In addition, it is our enteric nervous system in the gut that communicates to our brains that we are full. Unfortunately, this system is not fool-proof and our brains have the power to inhibit these signals sent from the enteric nervous system. This inhibition can lead to anorexia or obesity, as the signal that we have achieved fullness is stopped.

So much going on in our guts that is impacting the rest of our bodies! I can’t wait to learn more!

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