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The connection between your gut health and your brain

There is a strong connection between your gut health and your mood.

Not only does your gut health affect your mood, but what is going on in your head has a direct effect on how your digestive system works.

Your gut and your brain are directly connected:  a shock can cause you to get a sinking feeling in your stomach, and anxiety can cause butterflies. If the bacteria living in your gut (microbiota) become imbalanced, or you have a gut inflammation, it could cause illness, which includes mental illnesses, such as anxiety or depression. This connection between the gut microbiota and your brain is called the gut-brain axis.  In short, it is a two-way street.

How does your gut-brain connection work?

The gut, like the brain, is full of nerves. They share many of the same nerve connections and are in constant contact with one another. The vagus nerve is the one of the biggest connecting nerves between these two. But the connection is not just by means of the nervous system – messages are also transported by means of chemicals called neurotransmitters. One of these neurotransmitters is serotonin, a hormone which helps to control feelings and emotions. But here’s the thing: the gut cells and the microbes living in your gut produce most of your serotonin, so happiness is not just a state of mind. It also has a lot to do with what is happening in your digestive tract.

Several other chemicals are produced by the good bacteria in your gut, and scientists have found that these perform a wide variety of functions, such as reducing appetite, controlling your metabolism, helping to control your body clock, controlling fear and anxiety and helping your immune system fight inflammation.

Delicate connection

It is difficult to say which comes first: does anxiety/depression cause digestive problems, or do digestive problems cause mental and other health problems?

Certain parts of this process are clear:

  • Excessive, prolonged stress increases the production of stomach acid. Together with the release of stress hormones, this can cause your digestive system to go into overdrive, leading to diarrhoea, cramps or bloating.
  • The bacteria in your gut produce 95% of the serotonin in your body. In short, if they don’t function at their best, or to be more specific, if your microbiome is out of balance, it can affect not only your state of mind severely, but also your general health.

It is only now that scientists realise what an incredibly important role your gut health plays in keeping you not just healthy, but also happy.

By SUSAN ERASMUS

Sources:

Sources: Anxiety and Depression Association of America; National Institutes of Health; Harvard Medical School; Johns Hopkins Medicine

 

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