A gut-brain connection is not a new concept as we have all heard of “gut-wrenching” “butterflies” and have even “gone with our gut” to make decisions.
Our gastrointestinal (GI) tract is sensitive to our emotions. Anxiety, nerves, tiredness and anger are all emotions that can upset our gut and have a big effect on our mental health.
The communication system between our gut and brain is called the Gut-Brain axis and these two organs are connected both physically and biochemically through a ‘two way’ bidirectional link between the Central Nervous System (CNS) and the Enteric Nervous System (ENS).
The CNS is the network of nerves controlling our body’s activity. The ENS is two thin layers of more than 100 million nerve cells lining your GI tract from the oesophagus to the rectum and is referred to as your “second brain” because of its direct connection to the CNS where the gut and the brain send messages to each other through this link.
Unlike the big brain in our skull, the ENS main role is to control digestion, from swallowing to the release of enzymes that break down food to the control of blood flow that helps nutrient absorption to elimination.
So, if one is under performing, so will the other. As a result, both our mental and physical wellbeing can be effected.
Along with lifestyle changes to improve our stress levels like breath-focused activities such as yoga or Pilates, diet plays an important part in keeping a balance between these two systems. Reducing caffeine and sugar, increasing the consumption of colourful fruits and vegetables, fermented foods, wholegrains and healthy fats can activate the “rest and repair” response in our body. This response can slow the heart rate, send blood to our digestive tract, help us sleep optimally, repair our body’s cells and restore libido. All of which we place lesser importance on when we are out of balance and starting a cycle which can be hard to break. With a good diet and proper exercise, the freeway between the gut and the brain will be cleared allowing our body to come back into balance.