Everything you Need to Know about the Gut/Brain Connection

Last modified: July 21, 2019

Richard Honaker M.D.
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Your brain and gut are connected and can influence each other. Learn how your emotions can affect your stomach and how you stomach can also affect your brain! 

 

Have you ever felt nauseous right before delivering a speech when you were in school? Experienced ‘butterflies’ in your stomach at the sight of your crush? Had a sinking feeling in your gut when you’ve heard bad news? 

This is because the emotions you feel have an impact on your gut. Your brain has a very strong connection with your stomach and intestines and this connection works both ways.

Your brain and gastrointestinal system is well connected. The queasy stomach can both be a cause or result of anxiety, stress, or depression.

A second brain?

Source: Canva

While it is common knowledge that our brain and central nervous system regulates the body’s functions; many people do not know that there is a distinct nervous system present in our gut too. 

This system, called the enteric nervous system (ENS), not only controls digestion, monitors the release of enzymes, and oversees blood flow, but also communicates with the brain. ENS comprises of two thin layers of more than 100 million nerve cells that line your gastrointestinal tract. 

Often referred to as the second brain, this system plays a significant role in digestion, mood, and our overall health. It facilitates the communication between the brain and the gut, through nerves and hormones.

How are stress and gastrointestinal (GI) problems linked?

Source: Canva

As we have established that there is a very real impact of what the brain is dealing with on the gastrointestinal system, we can safely say that anxiety and stress can make GI problems worse. The symptoms associated with stress include heartburn, indigestion, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation and abdominal pain. 

According to Anxiety and Depression Association of America, stomach aches are a common symptom that is associated with stress. Additionally, stress and anxiety can also worsen symptoms such as abdominal cramps and stomach pain. This is because when you’re stressed, your body releases hormones which make their way into the digestive tract, interfering with the digestion process. 

Additionally, these hormones and chemicals also impact your gut flora, causing flare-ups and stomach issues. This is particularly true, for people who are living with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Stress can worsen the symptoms experienced by people with IBS because they have a more sensitive colon. As the colon is in part controlled by the nervous system, it can negatively impact the GI system if the brain experiences depression or anxiety.

As this connection between the brain and the gut is a two-way street, healthy gut microbiota (the diverse population bacteria that live in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract) can help individuals dealing with anxiety and depression. So, enhancing digestive health can positively impact mental issues. 

Read Next: 5 Easy Ways to Keep your Digestive System Healthy

Tips to manage stress

Source: Canva

According to the American Psychological Association experiencing stress in earlier on in life can increase the risk for later gut diseases and/or dysfunctioning. This is why it is important to deal with stress as early as possible. 

Some of the ways in which you can manage stress are:

  • Staying active can alleviates stress. When you indulge in physical activities, such as jogging, your body releases endorphins which interact with receptors in your brain, making you feel better almost instantaneously 
  • Understand your body’s pace. When you’re working, it’s always helpful to take a step back and breathe. By taking a break and coming back with a refreshed mind, you can get work done in a better, more effective manner. 
  • Talk to people. Talking to friends, family, and your colleagues can help manage stress and anxiety
  • Work on time management and create schedules to avoid stress. For instance, if you’re a student, plan ahead, particularly when it comes to assignments and presentations. 
  • As a healthy gut can promote mental wellbeing, try and consume a balanced diet that includes foods with probiotic or prebiotic ingredients

Now that you’ve seen how strong the connection between the brain and the digestive system is, you can take the necessary precautions to ensure that you don’t experience stomach woes.

If you’re experiencing stress, they to resolve the issues and adopt healthy ways to manage stress, so that you can have a healthy gut and life.

Related: Look before you flush: what your poop tell you about your internal health

Disclaimer: This article provides general information and is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease or medical condition. If you require specific advice, please consult one of our medical professionals through the app. However, in case of an emergency, please call 911.

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