Can your troubled mind impact your digestive health?

Last post, we discussed how our “second brain”, the enteric nervous system and the microbiome contained within, exerts great influence over emotional health via the brain-gut connection. Ongoing neurogastroenterology research provides hope that revolutionary treatments — based on increasing the beneficial bacteria in the gut — could soon be developed for anxiety, depression, autism, and other afflictions with a brain-gut connection.

The gut and its contents wields surprising power partly because of the vagus nerve that connects the two regions. The neural pathways encased in the vagus can only send neurotransmitters, the biochemical equivalent of text messages, in one direction and 90% of the pathways flow from the gut to the brain. However, even with only 10% of the messaging capacity, the brain can heavily influence the system.

Just like the mix of beneficial and harmful bacteria in the gut can influence our state of mind, our state of mind can influence the balance of bacteria in our gut. All areas within the microbiome-gut-brain axis influence its balance and so, changes in one area initiate reactions in the others.

Researchers believe part of the disruptions initiated by the gut are due to its production of inflammatory cytokines in those afflicted by chronic GIS disorders like irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease. These cytokines travel the vagus nerve from the gut to the brain where they encourage anxiety and depression. This partially explains why many patients with chronic gut inflammation experience mental health difficulties.

But microbiome-gut-brain disruptions can also be initiated by the brain in times of chronic stress or emotional disturbance. Many studies have demonstrated even mild stress can alter the microbiome which impacts immune system and central nervous system functions. One study examined changes in mice gut bacteria when they were housed in cages with more aggressive mice. This steady, stressful situation resulted in a decrease of beneficial bacteria, reduction in microbiome diversity, and increase in harmful bacteria. As a result, the mice experienced gut inflammation and susceptibility to infection.

Once the gut becomes inflamed, starts sending cytokines to the brain and the mental outlook pales, it can become a cycle difficult to break. A poor mental state negatively affects gut conditions and vice versa. The interconnection of the microbiome-gut-brain means self-care that treats bot the gut and mind becomes critical in breaking the pattern. Eating well, exercising and utilizing stress outlets all exhibit beneficial changes in the body and mind, gradually improving biochemistry. Daily administration of positive self-care builds until the effects result in noticeable physical and mental changes.

— Embrace hope.

Do you struggle with the brain-gut connection due to stress or poor mental outlook? Initially, what effected you first, your state of mind or your digestive upset? What coping methods have you found to be helpful?

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Rebounz: a start-up with a mission to instill hope in people experiencing mental health struggles around self-worth, grief or uncertainty. Want to receive updates? Join our mailing list.