The Gut-Brain Connection

Your digestive tract contains an intricate network of nerve cells known as your “second brain.” Studies have provided strong evidence that this gut-brain axis works efficiently; any issues in one organ may have adverse consequences in another.

Anxiety or stress can wreak havoc on the digestive tract. But vice versa – your gut bacteria send signals back to your brain that alter its mood and vice versa.

What is the Gut-Brain Axis?

The gut-brain axis is a two-way communication system. Signals sent from the brain can influence digestive function while signals from the gut have effects on mental health and wellbeing. It plays an essential role in maintaining a healthy gut microbiome and digestive system.

Stress and anxiety can decrease the production of bile acids by your gut bacteria, leading to digestive issues such as IBS. Psychological treatments like hypnotherapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) may help alleviate such symptoms.

Gut microbes also communicate with the brain through the vagus nerve, which controls heart rate and breathing, to alter mood as well as enhance bowel movements, nutrient absorption, and the diversity of your gut microbiome.

Diet, sleep, stress levels and exercise all play an integral part in creating the gut-brain connection, with diet having the greatest influence. By prioritizing restful sleep and decreasing stress, it can promote a healthier gut-brain connection that in turn will boost mood and overall health.

How Does the Gut-Brain Axis Work?

When we “trust our gut” when making decisions or feel butterflies when meeting someone special, these sensations come from your second brain – the digestive tract itself! As medicine understands more about how digestion affects mood, health, and thought processes; our second brains continue to provide invaluable information that rewires our worldview and creates solutions.

Your second brain (also referred to as the Enteric Nervous System or ENNS) consists of two thin layers with over 100 million neurons that cover your gastrointestinal tract from esophagus to anus. It receives signals from both SNS and PNS before relaying this data back through vagus nerve pathways into your actual brain.

The brain-gut axis is also supported by immune and neuroendocrine pathways as well as neurotransmitter release from neuron cells in your gut microbiome, all which play a part in impacting mood. Diet and lifestyle adjustments may help strengthen this connection for improved results.

How Does the Gut-Brain Axis Affect Your Mood?

Have you experienced butterflies in your stomach before giving a big presentation or experienced abdominal pain during stressful times? These feelings come from your gut-brain connection – an unsung system in your body which connects directly with the brain.

Nerve cells, chemicals and microbes all interact to influence everything from digestion to your emotions – from producing stomach juices when thinking of food, or feeling anxious when someone close to us is in danger. This two-way communication system plays an essential role in keeping us alive!

Studies have demonstrated how your gut microbiome impacts your mood by producing neurotransmitters – chemical messengers which regulate emotions – which then travel up the vagus nerve and other neural pathways to reach the brain and influence decisions and behavior.

Stress alters the composition of gut bacteria, leading to changes in mood and even physical symptoms such as muscle stiffness or discomfort. According to one study in germfree mice, when given gut bacteria from depression patients transplanted onto them they became more depressed than usual and more easily quit on forced swimming tasks, mimicking symptoms associated with depression.

How Can You Improve Your Gut-Brain Axis?

Feelings such as “gut instinct” when making decisions or experiencing “butterflies in your stomach” when meeting someone familiar are signals from your second brain – also known as the enteric nervous system (ENS). Its existence depends on two thin layers made up of more than 100 million nerve cells that cover your entire GI tract from esophagus to rectum and lies just under its surface.

Scientists are studying how this communication occurs and its potential influence on mood, health and cognitive performance.

Scientists still do not fully comprehend how our connection works, but have identified some key pathways, including afferent neurons which bring in signals and efferent neurons which carry them out. Furthermore, these researchers are exploring whether using these pathways as treatments for stress, depression, anxiety and neurodevelopmental disorders.

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