Intuition alone drives many of the decisions that we make every single day. But what is exactly happening there?
It’s always been said to trust your gut feeling, or instinct. Whenever you feel like something’s unexplainably right or wrong, it’s usually coming from your gut.
Another different kind of sensation is how your stomach suddenly feels weird and tingly whenever you need to do something extremely nerve-wracking.
Science tells us that the mind and the gut are connected; that the sensations or feelings we get from our stomachs during unusual moments are actually coming from our brains.
Defining Some Terms
Before we even begin to explain this amazing connection, let’s first get a few terms out of the way. The gut simply pertains to all the organs that work to digest and process the food that we eat.
The esophagus, stomach, small and large intestines, gallbladder, liver, and pancreas are the organs that usually make up what we call the “gut”.
The brain simply pertains to the mass inside our heads, the one that signals our body what to do. But there’s a second brain in the body that not many people are aware of.
The second brain pertains to the walls within your digestive system that tingles or sends sensations whenever something’s just not right. It’s the Enteric Nervous System (ENS) and it contains more than 100 million nerve cells, from your esophagus down to your rectum.
For the most part, this is what people will call the “brain of the gut”.
Understanding the Gut-Brain Connection
Now that we’ve established the actual brain and the brain of the gut, it’s time we get down to business.
These two brains are connected physically by the vagus nerve; it’s the nerve that carries signals from your digestive system to your brain, and vice versa. Another connection between the gut and the brain are the messages that your brain sends to your second brain during weird times.
While the ENS isn’t really capable of making decisions or controlling your body like the main brain does, it does have its way of affecting your body.
Physical Manifestations of Gut-Brain Connection
It communicates back and forth between our brains and it often leads to physical manifestations like constipation, diarrhea, and an upset stomach. Have you ever had a stomach ache so painful you were also incredibly irritable?
Well, that’s because your gut has the power to affect your mood. For those who suffer with irritable bowel syndrome, a condition characterized by abdominal discomfort, they often develop anxiety and depression, as well.
Another way to look at it is those who have mental health problems often have heartburn, indigestion, and bloating. Sometimes, stress can even cause painful ulcers. So generally speaking, the mind and the brain is a two-way street.
Given how the gut is connected to the brain, more and more understanding about the positive effects of antidepressants and medical hypnotherapy are established and vice versa. Treating mental health problems has also led to the alleviation of some pain in the gut.
There’s still a lot to learn about this interesting connection, but hopefully, it will be a breakthrough for both the digestive system and mental health hurdles.
How to Take Care of Your Gut-Brain Connection
The easiest way to take care of your gut-brain connection is to take care of your gut. To avoid triggering mental health issues because of gut problems, try following a balanced and nutritious diet everyday.
Eating foods rich in fiber, omega-3 fats, polyphenol, and tryptophan can go a long way to maintaining your gut health.
A list of foods containing these important fatty acids and antioxidants is shown below:
- Fiber - yogurt, wholegrain breakfast cereals, fruits, and vegetables
- Omega-3 fats - fish, seafood, nuts, seeds, and plant oils
- Polyphenol - berries, cocoa powders, olives, herbs and spices
- Tryptophan - milk, turkey, chicken, cheese, and oats
By maintaining a diet that contains most, if not, all of these foods, you won’t have much to worry about.
Taking care of your mental health is also a way for you to nurture your gut-brain connection. Avoiding your stressors, or minimizing your stress in general, is a way to prevent digestive problems and other issues like heartburn, diarrhea, etc.
Learning how to calm yourself when you start to feel anxious or sad is also a good method to manage your gut-brain connection. If you feel like these are things that you can no longer control, it’s best to go to a doctor directly to get the right nutrients and advice you will need to nurse yourself back to health.