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health

What Is the Connection Between Your Brain and Your Gut?

Author: Denise Angelle Kinsley | November 23, 2016

Did you know that the brain-gut connection is at the core of our overall well-being? 

Remember that visceral “gut feeling” you had when you decided to walk down one road instead of the other? What about those butterflies in your stomach that took off before you spoke up in class for the first time?

Scientists are learning that the intimate relationship between the gut and the brain is bidirectional; your brain sends butterflies to your stomach and your gut relays its state of anxiety to the brain. 

And during stressful situations, the brain basically changes the entire performance of our digestive system. When there’s stress at one end, there's bound to be stress at the opposite end as well. 

Our emotions are a reflection of our gut function, so whatever's going on in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract may be a true reflection of what’s going on in your head . . . and vice versa. 

The intelligence of your “second brain” a.k.a. your enteric nervous system (ENS), a complex system of about 100 million nerves found in the lining of the gut, comes from an evolved ecosystem of trillions of bacteria and other microorganisms residing mainly in the intestines. Research has shown that the body is actually composed of more bacteria than cells.

These organisms living communally with one another inside the human body are collectively called gut microbiota. This powerful group of bugs play myriad roles in the overall health of human beings.

We now know that it is possible to alter your gut bacteria in a way that positively affects mood and brain function. By altering the bacteria in your gut, you can better handle stressful situations, deal with fear, improve your mood, and reduce anxiety and depression.

brain gut connection

Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Neurogastroenterology, Jay Pasricha, M.D. (whose research on the enteric nervous system has garnered international attention) explains, “The enteric nervous system doesn’t seem capable of thought as we know it, but it communicates back and forth with our big brain—with profound results.”

The brain, the gut, and the bacteria and microorganisms living in the gut are in direct communication with each other.

Unlike the big brain in your skull, the ENS can’t calculate how much you’ll need to save for early retirement or tell your brain what you need to know for your next exam, but it can determine your mood and mental wellness. For example, a somatic disease study determined that anxiety and depression contribute to the unpleasant gastro condition, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

The brain and the gut are linked together in a dense network of neurons.

Through a well-coordinated correspondence between neurotransmitters, hormones, and electrical impulses . . . via a pathway of nerves (endocrine, immune, and neural), the brain in your head and the brain in your gut can easily communicate.

Gastroenterologist and author of The Mind-Gut Connection, Dr. Emeran Mayer, writes about the interaction between the gut and the brain and how their relationship not only ensures the proper maintenance of gastrointestinal homeostasis and digestion . . . but is likely to have a strong effect on our motivation and higher cognitive functions, including intuitive decision making.

So when it comes to the decisions you make in your life and how you choose to nourish your body and mind, understanding the brain-gut connection is key. 

Awareness and close attention to your “second brain” are crucial for your overall mental and physical well-being.

In his book, Dr. Mayer discusses how the most incredible aspect of the mind-gut connection is that there is a direct link between emotional stress responses that then affect not just the gut, but also the microbes in it. “What we put into the system interacts with the microbes and that’s ultimately what determines how food affects us.” It’s like magic. (The Mind-Gut Connection)

mind gut connection

Here are 7 helpful ways to keep your brain-gut relationship healthy and free of any toxic communication.

 

1. Think of your food as your medicine. 

To boost your brain-gut health, eat your leafy greens, berries, nuts, seeds, oils, beans, grains, cauliflower, and other cruciferous vegetables. And avoid packaged and processed foods as much as possible.

The ancient science of Ayurveda teaches that food is medicine and digestive health is the gateway to overall health. Eating the old fashioned way (fresh, whole, and balanced) also helps you to shed excess weight and increase your energy.

Need help getting started? Try this super smoothie recipe for focus, energy, and weight-loss. 

2. Feed your belly the good bacteria.

Make sure you're getting enough “good” gut bacteria. Try miso soup and other healthy fermented foods that promote strong digestion such as sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha. Eating whole milk yogurt that's rich and alive with probiotics is another easy way to ingest beneficial bacteria. 

3. Drink warm lemon water.

Start your morning routine off with warm lemon water. This healthy beverage supports weight-loss, stokes your digestive fire, improves your body's ability to absorb nutrients, and helps to keep your colon healthy. For variety, add ginger and/or honey to your warm lemon water.

4. Avoid cold drinks over ice.

In general, it's best to avoid super cold beverages . . . especially before and after meals. Cold beverages douse the digestive enzymes needed to stimulate digestion for proper assimilation and elimination. 

5. Practice mindfulness meditation as much as possible. 

Set aside time each day to pay attention to what's going on with your mind and body. Be mindful of what's happening when you are going through the motions at work and at home. Eat mindfully, too! Slow down to enjoy what’s in front of you instead of rushing through your meals. A mindfulness practice can alleviate excess stress and keep your brain and gut in peaceful communication.

6. Take long walks in nature . . . barefoot. 

Taking a walk in nature can really boost the harmonious connection between your mind and your body. And walking barefoot in nature can help to balance hormones and eliminate feelings of stress. Go to the beach or a park where you can take off your shoes . . . be free and enjoy the beneficial biological effects of walking on the earth.

7. Don't forget to Innercise

It's important to exercise your brain . . . just as you exercise the rest of your body. Innercises are scientifically proven mental activities that can help you to discover your hidden story, eliminate self-sabotage, reprogram your brain for success, and help you accomplish your goals. 

Want to learn more?

Now that you're familiar with the connection between your brain and your gut and know some key ways to keep the relationship between the two healthy and happy, check out the groundbreaking advice from nutritionist and fat loss expert, Ari Whitten. 

Watch Ari's video to discover how to maximize your energy level . . . and how to achieve permanent fat loss by working with your unique biology. 

We'd love to hear from you! 

Please leave your comments and/or questions in the section below. 

 

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About The Author

Denise Angelle Kinsley

Denise Angelle Kinsley is a writer, consultant, and practitioner dedicated to the healing arts and sciences.

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