My Belly Made Me Do It
Did you know bad moods, stress, depression, or anxiety could be linked directly with how happy your gut is? Is your digestion just as unhappy and stressed as your mind? They just might be linked!
There is a lot of new, amazing research out in the world connecting our brains and our gut health. It is wild to think that what is going on in your belly can be directly affecting your mental health.
I don’t know about you, but until fairly recently I wasn’t aware that there is a specific nervous system related to the gut. It is called the enteric nervous system--or the nervous system of the gut. It wasn’t something that was taught about in anatomy. I learned that the gut has more neurons than the spinal cord and the peripheral nervous system and because of this it has its own senses and reflexes and can work independently of the brain. Another interesting fact is that the Vagus nerve, the primary nerve of the gut, sends information from the gut to the brain but the brain doesn’t send information back. Why would the brain only need to listen to the guts and not take part in the conversation?
So the physiological connection to the head is pretty apparent, if only because the sheer number of nerves and neurons found there is evidence of its sensitivity. But scientist believe it is a lot more complicated and nuanced than the simple fact that the gut itself is enervated, kinda like a brain.
Beyond the nerves the enteric nervous system uses more than thirty neurotransmitters, much like the brain does, and an overwhelming amount of our serotonin, a feel-good neurotransmitter, is found in the gut. In an article I found in Scientific America, the scientists point out that oftentimes when people are taking medications for conditions like depression that mess with levels of chemicals in the brain they will often have GI issues as a side effect. They further point out that a condition like IBS can be a result of too much serotonin in the guts and could possibly be viewed as a “mental illness” of the second brain! Studies are currently being done that are linking the serotonin that is produced in our guts to conditions beyond mental health, like osteoporosis, our immune response and autism.
In addition to the nerves, neurons, and neurotransmitter connections between the brain and the belly there is the whole microbiome (the good bacteria) that is being studied and connected to mood and even personality!! There has been quite a bit of study on the gut microbe in mice and the effects it has on anxiety and depression via chemical reactions between the bacteria and the host, but the studies in humans have been a little more slow coming. However, the research is being developed as I write this. For example, one new and interesting study that has been conducted in LA, which you can find in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, is showing that there are different types of bacteria connecting to different areas of the brain. It would appear that the presence of different bacteria present in different areas is influencing the actual constitution of the brain. Meaning that different bacteria are affecting the size and thus the emotional tendency of different parts of the brain or perhaps vice versa. They don’t really know the why or the how yet but they are noticing the connections. Can you imagine that? The bacteria in your guts may not only be influencing your thoughts but the physical structure of your brain! The bacteria made me do it! There have also been studies indicating that these bacteria can directly influence how well the enteric nervous system, which I mentioned earlier, and your central nervous system are talking to each other and interacting with each other.
So I think that all this drives home the importance of eating a healthy diet in order to do our best to keep our gut healthy and happy, and in doing so we will be helping to keep our mental health in a more balanced and happy place. I guess "you are what you eat" is more true than ever.
Keep a lookout for the next blog post where I will talk about what you can do with your diet to promote healthy bacteria and what you might be doing to upset them!!
Also check out the web page about how acupuncture can help your digestive health!