How often do you think of your brain and gut together? These two seemingly very separate body systems have a strong influence over each other and your overall health.
What Makes up Your Gut?
The word “gut” probably makes your think of your stomach, but your stomach is just a part of your gut. The term actually refers to your entire digestive system starting from your esophagus:
- Small and Large Intestines
The Gut-Brain Axis
Your brain and gut are biologically connected in multiple ways. This connection is known as the Gut-Brain Axis.
- Vagus Nerve
This is one of the largest nerves connecting the gut and brain. It also connects the brain to other vital organs. As far as nerves go, it’s one of the more influential ones.
Honestly, what aren’t hormones involved with in the body? Stress hormones as well as peptide hormones come into play with how the gut and brain interact (ifm.org/news-insights/gut-stress-changes-gut-function/).
Neurotransmitters are often talked about in conjunction with the brain, but serotonin, norepinephrine, epinephrine, and dopamine active in both the brain and the gut.
- Gut Microbes
The fungi and bacteria that naturally occur in the gut affect the chemical messages sent between the two body systems.
What Happens in the Brain Happens in the Gut
You witness the gut-brain axis in action when you get “butterflies” in your stomach or when having to give a presentation has you searching for somewhere to throw up. While these reactions are exciting or alarming, they don’t hurt your health.
On the other hand, some health problems can be traced back to the communication between the brain and gut. Gaining a knowledge of what triggers these health concerns makes it possible to take a more holistic approach to solving them.
Emotions and Stress
The gut is sensitive to emotions and stress. This is because emotions or stress causes the brain to release those hormones and neurotransmitters the brain and gut communicate with. Normally, this is fine. The problem starts when you experience prolonged strong negative emotions or stress.
People with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or Crohn’s disease participated in a study where it was found that their vagus nerve wasn’t functioning fully, and a different study with mice and the vagus nerve involved feeding them a probiotic. When the mice’s vagus nerves were working, the probiotic lowered the amount of stress hormone in their blood, but when the nerve was cut, the probiotic had no effect on the stress hormone (healthline.com/nutrition/gut-brain-connection).
Studies like this show how the brain’s connection to the gut influences how the body regulates stress. And poorly regulated stress leads to a number of physical problems, such as nausea, stomach ulcers, and possibly IBS or Crohn’s.
People with IBS are also more likely to suffer from anxiety or depression.
What Can You Do?
Now that you’re aware of how your brain health affects your gut health, take some steps to keep them both happy. From the gut side, get proper nutrition, including probiotics, and from the brain side, learn how to destress and regulate your emotions.
Keeping your brain and gut healthy means a happier, better-functioning you, and who doesn’t want that for themselves?