The Gut-Brain Axis: Optimizing Your Gut Health Can Improve Your Mood


Imagine if eating differently could elevate your mood or improve your brain and mental health. (It can.) Or if reducing stress can also reduce gut symptoms. (It does.) Sounds interesting?

Read more to learn all about the gut-brain axis and how you can leverage this new research to improve your gut and brain.


The Gut-Brain Axis

The intimate and complex connection between your gut and brain is called the gut-brain axis. Signals flow in both directions - from your brain down to your gut, and from your gut up to your brain - in order to keep your mind and body working effectively and seamlessly together.


The health of your gut directly impacts your mood and vice versa. New research into the gut-brain axis is proving that your gut and brain are more interconnected than previously thought. These discoveries have the incredible potential to help people with gut issues by helping improve their brain health. Similarly, by optimizing their gut health can help individuals suffering from brain or mood issues.



How Stress and Your Emotions Affect Your Gut

If you've ever had butterflies in your stomach before a big test or presentation, you've experienced your gut-brain axis in action. When you become significantly stressed, your digestion slows down to allow your muscles to fight or flee. This same physical reaction appears whether your stress is from a real threat or a perceived one. Through the gut-brain axis, your body reacts in the same way whether you’re facing a truly life-threatening situation or whether you’re super-stressed about a looming deadline. This disruption of your digestive process can cause pain, nausea, or other related issues.


Because of these strong connections between the gut and brain, it’s easy to see how stress and other emotions can affect the gut. Things like fear, sadness, anger, or feeling anxious or depressed are often felt in your gut/digestive system. When these emotions cause your digestive systems to speed up or slow down too much, you can experience pain and bloating. That's why stress and strong emotions can contribute to or worsen a number of gut issues such as Crohn’s disease, colitis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), or food allergies or sensitivities.



Unaddressed Gut-Brain Issues: A Vicious Cycle

If not addressed, your chronic stress or gut issues can get trapped in a vicious cycle as stress-induced gut problems send signals to your brain, increasing the stress response and affecting your mood. The end result is an endless loop of more stress and more gut issues.


Prolonged stress can also allow germs to cross the lining of your gut and enter into the bloodstream, activating your immune system. In fact, chronic stress can increase inflammation in your gut and even change your microbiota. New research shows that changes to the gut’s inflammation or microbiome can strongly affect many other parts of the body as well—not just the brain and mood. They’re also associated with depression and heart disease.



How to eat and de-stress for better gut and brain health

What you eat can have a huge impact on your physical and mental health. This is particularly true when it comes to your gut microbiome - the microorganisms that live your gut. When you eat a higher-fiber, more plant-based diet, your gut health improves. That’s because this type of diet provides your friendly gut microbes with their preferred foods so they can grow and thrive and, in turn, help you thrive.


Prebiotic and probiotic foods are excellent for promoting a healthy gut microbiome. Prebiotics are fiber-containing foods such as legumes, Jerusalem artichokes, and berries which nourish the healthy bacteria in your gut. Reducing the amount of sugar and red meat you eat can also help. These can lead to a healthier microbiome by helping to maintain a diverse community of many species of microbes to maximize your health. They can also lower levels of gut inflammation, as well as reduce the risk of depression and heart disease.


For better gut and brain/mental health, eat more:

● Fruits and vegetables

● Nuts and seeds

● Whole grains

● Yogurt

● Sauerkraut


And eat less:

  • Sugar & foods with high fructose corn syrup

  • Processed Foods

  • Red Meat

De-stress & Digest

Evidence suggests that some stress reduction techniques or psychotherapy can help people who experience gut issues. They can lower the sympathetic “fight or flight” response, enhance the parasympathetic “rest and digest” response, and even reduce inflammation.


Some of the stress-reduction techniques we love and recommend are:


● Guided meditation

● Deep breathing

● Mindfulness

● Relaxation

● Yoga


Your gut, brain, and mood will thank you!



Final thoughts

Your body is complex network of systems that interact with each other parts on many different levels. The gut-brain axis is a prime example. Research shows that what you eat not only improves the gut and overall health, but also brain and mental health. Moreover, combing a gut healthy diet with stress-reduction techniques has been shown to reduce digestive illness and distress as well.


The functional medicine approach addresses all aspects of the gut-brain axis in order to bring balance and true wellness back to your life. If you've been suffering from gut or mood problems, ask your healthcare practitioner how functional medicine can help you.


Interested in learning more about how you can eat and de-stress to improve your gut and brain at the same time?

Schedule a free Discovery Call with Dr. Williams.



References

Cleveland Clinic. (2016, October 6). Gut-Brain Connection. Retrieved from

https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/16358-gut-brain-connection


Harvard Health. (n.d.). The gut-brain connection. Retrieved from

https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/the-gut-brain-connection


Harvard Health. (2019, August 21). Stress and the sensitive gut. Retrieved from

https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/stress-and-the-sensitive-gut


Harvard Health. (2019, April 11). Brain-gut connection explains why integrative treatments can help relieve digestive ailments. Retrieved from

https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/brain-gut-connection-explains-why-integrative-treatments-can-help-relieve-digestive-ailments-2019041116411


University of Calgary. (2018, December 1). Can a meal be medicine? How what we eat affects our gut health, which affects our wellness. Retrieved from

https://explore.ucalgary.ca/gut-health-microbiome-and-our-wellnes


The contents of this blog are intended for educational purposes only. The information presented here is not a substitute for proper medical attention, diagnosis, or treatment by a qualified healthcare professional. Always seek the advice of your healthcare provider before starting or making any changes to an existing treatment plan, exercise program or dietary regimen, and before using nutritional supplements.

~ Dr. Sarah Williams ~ Concord, Massachusetts ~


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