The gut microbiome is akin to a second brain. This second brain is called the enteric nervous system, or ENS. This system is made up of two thin layers of over 100 million nerve cells that line your gastrointestinal tract from your esophagus to your rectum. They help us feel what’s going on in our gut. This is how scientists have discovered that the gut and our emotions are connected.
How the Gut-Brain Connection Works
The microbes in our gut play an important part in the function of our bodies. This second brain, the gut, doesn’t help us get through political conversations with friends, but it does hep control digestion, nutrient absorption, and other functions. As the gut and brain work bi-directionally, the gut can affect your stress levels, anxiety and depression, and cognition.
The ENS can activate huge emotional shifts for those dealing with bowel issues like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). There is evidence that gastrointestinal irritations are sending signals to the central nervous system (CNS) that can alter the mood. This may be why many people with IBS can also have depression and anxiety.
The Gut and Our Mental and Emotional Well Being
Healthy gut microflora sends signals to the brain via pathways also involved in behavioral control. A study recently researched the effects of probiotics on IBS patients. The emotional conditions of these patients improved when they were taking a probiotic. So, improved gut integrity equaled improved well-being.
The gut can also influence anxiety and the stress response. If our body has a hard time distinguishing between physical and mental health, your body will react the same way in either circumstance – it issues cortisol to try to fight the stress.
How to Support the Gut-Brain Connection
If you’re feeling that your gut-brain connection needs a little improvement, there are things you can do.
Eliminate Processed Foods from Your Diet
When you’re feeding your body processed foods, you’re a lot less healthy than if you were consuming whole foods. They affect the gut greatly and can lead to obesity and diabetes.
Up Your Probiotic Intake
Sauerkraut and other probiotic-rich foods can improve your gut health as well as your mood. These good bacteria line the gut and help your body absorb nutrients and support your immune system.
Farmers and manufacturers used to soak and sprout grains to get them to a digestible state. Those days are gone! Now it’s all about convenience and speed to mass-produce the foods we eat. So kicking out grains can have a positive effect on our mental state.
Consume Healthy Fats
Healthy fats foster good brain development. Olive oil has antioxidants that work to protect your cells, improve your memory and cognitive function, and helps with inflammation. Avocados can protect your heart, help with digestion, and improve your mood.
You’ll find vitamin B6 in shiitake mushrooms. This beneficial nutrient helps with serotonin production, a positive mood, and reducing stress.
Include Nuts & Sesame Seeds in Your Diet
Almonds, cashews, walnuts, and brazil nuts are full of serotonin. When you’re depressed, increasing serotonin levels can help. Tyrosine, found in sesame seeds, can boost dopamine in the brain which helps you to feel better emotionally.