We’ve already covered the close connection between your digestive system and gut health. Here’s a recap: more fibre = more movement through the digestive system + amore balanced gut flora. However, the connection you might not know about is the one between the gut and brain.
Sounds crazy, we know. How could your digestion possibly be linked to your brain? Well, think about it. You’ve heard of using your ‘gut instinct’ and experienced the sensation of butterflies, right? That’s the tangible proof this connection exists. Let us explain…
Your second brain
Our gut microbiota (the bacteria living inside our gut) has its own network, called the enteric nervous system (ENS). It’s a complex system of about 100 million nerves which are found inside the lining of the gut. The ENS is sometimes called the ‘second brain’ as it arises from exactly the same tissue as our central nervous system during foetal development. Because of this, there are many chemical similarities to the brain. Our ENS doesn’t have the ability to make decisions like our actual brain. But in a perfect symphony of hormones, neurotransmitters and electrical nerve impulses, it’s clear that both nervous systems communicate clearly back and forth. In fact, this connection is so strong that even with research only just beginning, it sometimes seems we have one system to study, not two.
What does that mean for your mental health?
Now we know how closely the gut and brain interact, it’s easy to see that emotional and psychological factors can have an impact on our gut. This is especially true in cases when the gut is acting up and there’s no physical cause. There are more than 20 functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGIDs) like this, all chronic and hard to treat. In the past, doctors would have put FGID’s down to being all in the head, but we can now say more accurately that the psychological factors present during FGID’s change the actual workings of the gut, causing symptoms as a result. This can range from movement and contractions of the GI tract to inflammation, pain or other bowel symptoms. So, what can we do?
For those with IBS, an alternative way to ease the symptoms could be taking time to unwind and relax! A study in 20151 showed the positive impact yoga has with IBS sufferers. The research found that after three hour-long sessions per week, the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome were less severe. This consequently meant an improved quality of life.
Studies in focussed relaxation therapy also reveal that actively taking time to stop and recharge can have a positive effect on the symptoms of IBS2.
Mindfulness group therapy to aid stress reduction has also been shown to affect quality of life, anxiety and Improve IBS symptoms in the long-term and short-term.3
We believe gut health should always be managed holistically. There is no one cure fits all –
but it’s empowering to realise that simply by adjusting a few daily lifestyle choices, we can have a hugely positive impact on our gut health and overall wellness.
We hope this has been helpful! We’ve got plenty more information on everything from poo to probiotics on our blog.
1 Remedial Yoga module improves symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome: Replication in the Wait-list group and sustained improvements at 6 months,
2 Relaxation Therapy for Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Systematic Review
3 Comparing the Efficacy of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Therapy with Emotion Regulation Treatment on Quality of Life and Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome