Home Women Health Mental health & gut health: experts explain the link between your brain and your gut

Mental health & gut health: experts explain the link between your brain and your gut

Mental health & gut health: experts explain the link between your brain and your gut

Is there a link between mental health and gut health? Healthista spoke to The Gut Experts – Professor Barbara Ryan and Elaine McGowan RD. They reveal how managing your mental health can transform your gut health

Your brain is connected to each a part of your body, so what’s so special concerning the connection between your gut and your brain?

Well, it seems that your gut enjoys a very intimate relationship together with your brain, in comparison with the opposite vital organs in your body, a lot so, that the gut has been called your ‘second brain’ or the little brain.

While your brain comprises about 100 billion neurones (nerve cells), your gut comprises about 500 million neurones, which is impressive, provided that your heart has only 40,000 neurones and your kidneys have about 1 million each.

an cyber web that transfers information between the gut and the brain

The gut-brain-axis (GBA) is the name given to this complex two-way flow of data and constant conversation going down between your gut and your brain. It’s essentially an cyber web that transfers information between the gut and the brain.

Which means what is going on in your brain (should you’re glad, sad, anxious or drained for instance) can have a giant effect on what is going on in your gut. And, equally, what is going on in your gut can even affect what is going on in your brain.

Three principal communication channels make up your GBA: your nervous system which is the hard wiring between your gut and your brain; your immune system and your hormonal (endocrine) system.

Consider these as being the fast, medium and slower technique of communication between the gut and the brain. The nervous system connects the brain to the enteric nerves (the nerves within the gut), via the vagus nerve and another nerves that travel via the spinal cord.

Information transmitted via nerves travels in a short time and uses chemicals released from the nerve endings, called neurotransmitters. In return, information from emotional and cognitive areas within the brain (involved within the processing of thoughts, feelings and memories) is communicated to the gut.

The connection between mental health and gut health

Psychological stress, emotions akin to anxiety, fear and anger and physical stimuli akin to pain, can bring about changes within the functioning of the gut. These nerve signals can increase gut motility, which can lead to diarrhoea, or they will slow emptying of the stomach, which may cause someone to feel nauseated or to vomit.

Those ‘butterflies in your stomach’ you might have experienced before a job interview or first date, or the necessity to dash to the toilet when something nerve racking is about to occur – all those feelings are as a consequence of your GBA. The immune and hormone systems work more slowly than the nervous system, but additionally play a very important role.

The character of this incredible connection also implies that taking care of your mental health involves taking care of your gut health, and looking out after your mental health can have positive effects in your gut health. Researchers have since expanded the term to the ‘gut-brain-microbiota axis’, due to vital role your gut bacteria play on this process.

Useful gut microbiota (GM) produce numerous substances called short chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which have many vital functions within the body, considered one of which is to act as a neurotransmitter in pain-pathways within the gut.

Science has proven the negative impact that stress and anxiety can have on an individual’s digestive system

Other GM convert tryptophan, an amino acid present in foods to serotonin (95% of the serotonin in our body is produced by the GM), a very important neurotransmitter that plays a significant role within the GBA and mental health. Having a healthy mixture of GM can due to this fact directly influence our perception of pain within the gut and sure elsewhere in our body, and likewise our mental health.

A fascinating study called the SMILES trial showed that eating a Mediterranean-style food plan for 12 weeks (a food plan known to positively influence the GM) had a positive impact on mental health in individuals who suffered with chronic depression and anxiety.

Science has proven the negative impact that stress and anxiety can have on an individual’s digestive system and wellbeing, and the impact is even greater in those with DGBI. Stress can even trigger flares in conditions akin to Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.

Due to the integral role of the GBA in gut health, it isn’t surprising that stress and anxiety can worsen any underlying gut condition. The excellent news is that taking even small steps to handle these problems can have a positive impact in your digestive system and your general wellbeing.

A 2021 study published in Nature Genetics found that patients with IBS share numerous genetic pathways with individuals who have mental health conditions akin to anxiety or depression.

This suggests that fairly than IBS causing mental health problems or vice versa, that the long-recognised association between the 2 conditions might actually be due not less than partly, to shared genetics.


tell in case your mental health is causing your gut issues?

There isn’t any one magic approach to know in case your symptoms are purely physical or in case your mental health is playing a big role in your gut symptoms, and there generally is a combination of the 2.

Due to the integral role of the GBA, gut symptoms can result in mental health symptoms and vice versa. Because of this, it is vital to debate any latest changes in your gut function together with your doctor who will normally arrange some baseline tests to examine for common ‘organic’ gut conditions.

There are some symptoms nonetheless which might be strongly suggestive of the issue being predominantly a physical or ‘organic’ one, and these include:

  • Nocturnal diarrhoea
  • Recurrent mouth ulcers (these are related to coeliac, Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis)
  • Weight reduction
  • Swallowing difficulties
  • Blood within the bowel motions

If you happen to experience any of those symptoms, it is vital to debate this together with your family doctor/GP.

What are one of the best ways to administer your mental health for gut health?

There isn’t any special way of taking care of your mental health specifically to your gut health. Different methods of nurturing mental health work for various people.

For some, regular exercise will improve mood, for others time spent in nature will help. For others more structured methods will help akin to mindfulness, yoga, meditation, hypnotherapy or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Some top-line easy wins to take care of your mental health to assist nurture your gut health include:

  • Weight loss program: eating loads of plant-based foods, wealthy in fibre will nourish helpful GM and now have a possible helpful effect on mental health.
  • Exercise: regular exercise has been shown to be of profit. half-hour 4-5 times per week can assist.
  • Alcohol: keep alcohol to a minimum: excess alcohol has a negative impact on the GM and can also be related to low mood.
  • Sleep: it’s vital to get sufficient, good quality, restorative sleep (7-8 hours is optimum).

Speak to your GP/ family doctor should you are experiencing significant mental health problems as in some cases where other easy steps will not be working, medications could also be required.


Our mental relationship with food – can stressing about what we’re eating cause gut issues?

If you happen to get unpleasant symptoms at any time when you eat, then it isn’t surprising that you just might begin to dread eating and to fret about these symptoms coming on, even before you eat anything in any respect.

This is known as ‘symptom anticipation’. The stress related to anticipation of unpleasant symptoms can in turn affect the GBA, and the resulting increased anxiety can worsen gut symptoms. This has been described in each IBS and functional dyspepsia.

In an attempt to regulate their symptoms, individuals with gut conditions can often find yourself following increasingly restrictive diets and may develop quite rigid ‘food rules’. In the event that they find themselves in a situation where they can’t control the content of their food (eating or visiting friends), the stress of breaking their ‘food rules’ can result in worsening of their symptoms.

Because of this, some individuals with gut conditions find yourself avoiding social occasions or eating out, which in turn can have a negative impact on mood.

the gut experts

Professor Barbara Ryan and Elaine McGowan RD are The Gut Experts and authors of What Every Woman Must Know About Her Gut, published by Sheldon Press, £16.99

Follow The Gut Experts on Instagram @thegutexperts


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