The Gut Mind Connection
The Gut Mind Connection
By Sarah Stevens, Naturopath and Director at Luxton Clinic
Have you ever had a ‘gut-wrenching’ experience? Do certain situations make you feel nauseous? Have you ever felt ‘butterflies’ in your stomach? We use these expressions for a reason. Our gut is sensitive to emotions: anger, anxiety, sadness, happiness – all of these feelings (and others) can trigger symptoms in the gut.
The brain and the gut have a lot in common, including the ways in which nerve cells talk to each other. Studies show that people with digestive-based problems and diseases (eg, coeliac disease, Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)) are significantly more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression and mood disorders. A review of a recent study showed that 94 per cent of people with mood disorders such as major depression and anxiety also suffer from IBS.
The mind has a direct effect on the stomach and just the thought of eating can release the stomach’s digestive juices before food even gets to the mouth! Have you ever thought about lemons and your mouth watered? This connection goes both ways. A troubled gut can send signals to the mind just as a troubled mind can send signals to the gut.
The gut is imbedded with its own nervous system called the ‘enteric nervous system’ or as we like to call it ‘the second brain’, which contains over 100 million neurons (messengers) telling the body what to do or feel.
These clever little neurons in our second brain enable us to ‘feel’ the inner world of our gut. Breaking down food, absorbing nutrients and getting rid of waste require chemical processing, mechanical mixing and rhythmic muscle contractions that move everything on down the line, and our enteric nervous system uses more than 30 neurotransmitters, just like the brain, to do all of these clever things! In fact, 95 per cent of the body’s serotonin (happy chemical) is found in the bowels. Serotonin, which helps to regulate mood, is one of the most powerful neurotransmitters produced in the gut and affects many aspects of the gut’s function, including:
- It changes the motility of the bowels (how fast food moves through the digestive system).
- It affects how much fluid, such as mucus, is secreted in the intestines.
- It affects how sensitive the intestines are to sensations like pain and fullness.
People with IBS who have constipation often have lower-than-normal levels of serotonin, and others who have diarrhoea tend to have too much serotonin. More and more research is showing that an imbalanced gut can cause a decrease or increase in our serotonin production, thus causing more issues with the mind such as depression and anxiety. Fix the gut and mood improves! There is also a strong link between depression and coeliac disease, poor diet and depression, food allergies and depression and candida (yeast overgrowth) and depression.
Vitamins, minerals, amino acids (protein) and fatty acids are all nutrients that we get from food and drink. However, when our diet is lacking and/or our digestive system is not working optimally, nutrient deficiencies and a range of inflammatory/immune responses occur. This can lead to an array of health problems including mood disturbances such as depression and anxiety.
Therefore in order for the mind to be functioning properly, the whole body needs to be working properly – including the gut.
Interested in finding more about how your gut functions, how it’s connected with mind health and how you can achieve optimal gut health? Find out more about our upcoming event, presented by Sarah Stevens, ‘The Gut-Mind Connection’, here.