The gut-brain relationship


Anchal Rath

Artist and Writer

Mental health and gut health are closely related

Scientists are increasingly discovering that the brain and gut are very closely linked. Any disturbance in one of these affects the other.

If gastrointestinal (GI) problems like indigestion, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), functional bowel problems like constipation, diarrhea, bloating and/or mental health issues like anxiety, stress or depression have ever troubled you in the past or are bothering you in the present, then you might find this article really helpful in understanding your physical as well as mental health and functioning.

For years, the mental health issues of anxiety and stress have been considered responsible for later development of GI problems but many of the recent studies now suggest that the irritation in GI tract triggers mood problems and other mental distress.

To understand this better, let’s look deeper into the gut-brain relationship.

The human brain

Brain is the command center of human nervous system. Brain with spinal cord forms the central nervous system. Brain consists of 100 billion neurons (nerve cells) and dozens of neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) that helps neurons to communicate.

Gastrointestinal (GI) tract

Gut refers to our GI tract or digestive tract that starts from mouth and ends at anus. The term is more commonly used to refer to stomach but it mainly concerns the intestinal region. It is home to trillions of gut bacteria!

Our gut is known as the second brain of human body as it consists of 500 milion neurons and forms the enteric nervous system.

Ever had the ‘gut feeling’? It’s the millions of neurons and important neurotransmitters that are released in the gut region that makes us feel in a specific way.

The gut-brain connection

Our gut and brain share a reciprocal relationship, a vice-versa connection. ‘Gut-feeling’, ‘gut-wrenching’ experience, feeling nauseous to certain conditions, the all-time favorite ‘stomach butterflies’ are a few feelings that we experience through our second brain. Often anxiety, stress and depression can be either the cause or result of our irritated gut.

The vagus nerve connects our gut and brain and sends signals both ways. Mostly it’s our gut sending signals to our brain. Neurotransmitters are also responsible for connecting the gut and brain. These chemicals in the brain control feelings and emotions.

Now, our gut cells and the gut bacteria also produce neurotransmitters like serotonin (controls mood and sleep), GABA (controls feeling of fear and anxiety) in ample amount. Gut microbes often affect this relationship as when the brain signals stress, the gut bacteria stops production of bile juice which might result in bowel irritation. Hence it becomes very important to monitor our eating habits, lifestyle and awareness of how we feel.

Lastly, our immune system also plays a part. Continuous prolonged immune system activation can lead to inflammation which is related to depression. The gut bacteria also disturb immune system when certain bacteria produce toxins which are leaked into the blood, resulting in inflammation further contributing to brain problems.

Maintaining good gut-brain health

It’s evident that the trillions of gut bacteria play a major role in brain health. To live a healthy and happy life, it’s important to keep those microbes happy. Consumption of certain probiotics and prebiotics show improved symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression.

Fermented foods like yoghurt, high-fiber foods like whole-grain, polyphenol-rich foods like cocoa and coffee, omega-3 fats found in oily fish, tryptophan-rich foods like eggs and cheese are loaded with good healthy bacteria and prebiotics that can contribute to healthier immune system and good gut-brain health.

Poor lifestyle that involves moderate to heavy alcohol consumption and smoking may upset the gut bacteria and worsen the condition.

One may find alcohol and cigarettes as temporary stress-busters but in the long run it creates serious physical and mental health problems. Decrease the alcohol, decrease the stress through yoga and meditation, exercise your body and brain, stimulate the vagus nerve (through cold showers, deep breathing, sleeping well and massaging), and add to your overall improved health.

Apparently ‘it’s not all in your head’!

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Discussion Board

Did you find this article to be insightful?

Rohit Chopra
Great article Anchal! Very well researched 😀
Santosh Kumari
Thanks very much
Santosh Kumari
For this article
anchal rath
Thank you for appreciation 🙏🏻
chirag meriya
Aakash Kakkar
Yes this very well written.
Felt like the best article so far, Keep writing💫