The Brain-Gut Connection

Image: Job Tyson

Image: Job Tyson

Have you ever had a “gut-wrenching” experience?

Do you feel nauseous when you’re nervous and anxious?

Have you ever experienced “butterflies” in your stomach?

These descriptions aren’t figures of speech - your brain and your gut are actually intimately connected.

The Vagus Nerve - A Superhighway Between Brain and Belly

There is a tremendous amount of information that flows from the gut to the brain via the vagus nerve.

The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve, and is essentially the captain of your inner nerve centre. It’s responsible for overseeing a vast range of crucial functions, and communicating nerve impulses to every organ in your body.

The point? This nerve doesn’t just concern itself with the brain - it actually connects the brain to the gut, so both receive the information that flows along it.

The flow doesn’t just go from brain to gut, either: recent research suggests that the chemicals and nerves in the gut influence our emotional responses, whereas previously we thought emotions all originated in the brain.

For example, approximately 85% of the body’s serotonin (our “happy hormone) is found in the gut!

Similarly, researchers have found that balanced gut bacteria in early childhood leads to adults with less anxiety, and general cheerfulness.

Who's in Control? Your Gut's Influence on Your Brain

New research also shows that gut bacteria communicate with and influence brain function.

An imbalance in the good and bad gut bacteria, termed dysbiosis, is associated with a variety of neurological and psychiatric conditions, as well as Type 2 diabetes, autoimmune disorders, cardiovascular disease and even cognitive function.

Dysbiosis is also very strongly linked to mental or emotional disorders. For example, people with dysbiosis commonly have symptoms such as depression, insomnia, anxiety and mood swings, memory problems, “brain fog”, immune problems, inflammation, and intestinal disorders.

In fact, 20% of patients with functional bowel disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) have diagnosable mental disorders! Almost one-third of patients with IBS have been found to have anxiety or depression.

Gut health, then is crucial not just for physical well-being, but for mental health, as well. Caring for your gut flora and the general health of your digestive system is one of the most important things you can do! Stay tuned for some key tips on how to do this.