The gut brain connection: how gut health affects mental well-being

Gut health is directly linked to mental well-being as gut brain connection. Have you ever noticed that you develop severe abdominal cramps or acidity if you are very anxious? Suppose you are getting ready for an exam or an important interview. In that case, you want to use the washroom, or if you are very depressed or unhappy, you either lose your appetite or overeat. All of these scenarios demonstrate the link between the Gut and the brain.

What is the Gut brain Connection?

The Gut and the brain talk to each other all the time as gut brain connection. When the Gut says something to the brain, it usually listens. Research published in the Journal of Neuroscience shows that more neurons reside in the Gut than the entire spinal cord. The human Gut is very different from other organs as it has three distinct nervous systems. The first is the voluntary control of the Gut with actions like swallowing or passing stool that are under the direct supervision of the brain. The second is all the involuntary actions that are under the control of the autonomic nervous system. These include activities like peristalsis and releasing digestive enzymes

The third most important and unique system is the enteric nervous system, embedded in the muscular layer of the Gut. This system is mainly affected by stress.

The signals from the Gut are usually carried to the brain by the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is the longest in the body. It goes not only to the brain but also to the heart. This is the reason why, with anxiety, the heartburn is usually elevated.

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What are the gastrointestinal manifestations of the stress gut brain connection?

As an expert Gastroenterologist, I emphasize that the digestive symptoms of stress underscore the intricate interplay between our mental and physical health. Focus can give rise to various manifestations, from nausea and acidity to cramps, bloating, and gastrointestinal irregularities like diarrhoea and constipation. It can also significantly impact our eating habits, causing fluctuations between diminished appetite and overeating, potentially contributing to obesity. Furthermore, stress-related issues may lead to hair loss, acne, and skin problems, and in more severe cases, may even result in conditions such as peptic ulcer disease, ulcerative colitis, and pancreatitis. Recognizing and managing stress is vital to maintaining a healthy balance in both mental and physical well-being.
Symptoms can be very variable:

  • Nausea
  • Acidity
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Severe constipation
  • Lack of appetite
  • Overeating leads to obesity
  • Hair fall
  • Acne or skin breakouts
  • Hyperpigmentation of skin
  • In extreme cases you can develop peptic ulcer disease, ulcerative colitis, and pancreatitis.

What is the gut brain connection microbiome?

The colon has 3 trillion microorganisms. These are primarily bacteria but also include viruses and fungi. Together, these are called the gut microbiome.
If we were to weigh these microorganisms, they would weigh roughly 3 pounds, almost the same as the brain.
The gut brain connection microbiome talks to the brain by sending signals through the vagus nerve. If it sends happy signals, we enjoy good health; if it sends sad signals, we feel depressed.

gut brain connection, improve digestion

Is depression and anxiety linked to gut microbiome?

The answer is yes. We enjoy good gut brain connection health, generally feel happier and calmer and can focus on most activities. If our gut health is poor, we feel depressed and anxious.
The gut brain connection is so strong that research shows that if we performed a faecal transplant (implanting stool from one person to another) from a happy, depressed person to a depressed patient, it would improve the patient’s mental health.

How to improve gut brain connection

To keep our gut brain connection healthy, we should follow a few tips.

  1. Avoid eating junk or processed food. Processed foods are rich in bad fats and have high amounts of high fructose corn syrup, which directly damages the gut bacteria. Many people eat junk foods daily, which results in poor gut health, leading to obesity, hair fall, acne or skin breakouts, and hyperpigmentation of the skin.
  2. Maintain sleep routine. It is essential to get adequate sleep. If you sleep for at least 6 hours, your Gut gets enough rest to function well. Having erratic sleep habits leads to damage to the gut bacteria.
  3. Eat fresh fruits. Fruits are rich in natural sugars and also have fibre that is required for the gut bacteria. Fibre is the only food that the gut bacteria can eat. We will enjoy good gut health if we have at least one serving of fruit daily.
  4. Eat vegetables daily. Vegetables are very rich in fibre and minerals required for the colon bacteria to remain healthy.
  5. Eating whole grains: Whole grains have prebiotics or fibre required for good gut health.
  6. Exercise or physical activity: Exercising in any form, be it walking, yoga, dancing or going to the gym for 30 minutes 4-5 times a week, is essential for good gut health.
  7. Avoid painkillers: Most pain killers, especially those taken over the counter or without a prescription, are evil for gut heath and should be avoided. They damage the gut lining and result in the loss of gut bacteria.
  8. Eating routine: Try to eat at approximately the same time daily. The timing can be decided at your convenience. Giving food to the body at predictable times leads to releasing hormones and digestive enzymes at regulated times. This results in better digestion and prevention of obesity
  9. Early dinner: Finish dinner by 8 pm daily and avoid bedtime snacking. Doing so allows the Gut enough rest to prepare for digesting food the next day. Eating late dinners or frequent snacking puts undue pressure on digestion, leading to several problems.
  10. Yoghurt: Include at least one serving of yoghurt in your diet. Yoghurt is very rich in probiotics, there are live good bacteria that populate the colon.

Conclusion

The gut brain connection is essential for our well-being. If it is disrupted, it leads to poor mental health and symptoms of anxiety and depression.
By following the tips outlined above, you can enjoy good colonic microbiome health, resulting in overall wellness.