You know how you get butterflies when you’re public speaking; when you’re scared you might get a sinking feeling in your stomach; or maybe when you’re stressed out, your stomach feels upset? Let’s be real, I’m sure a lot of us have experienced our bowel movements getting a little out of wack when we are nervous about something.
What a lot of people don’t realize is that the connection between your brain and your gut goes much deeper than some butterflies every once in a while. Recent research shows that there is a very significant connection between the gut microbiome and the brain. This connection is termed the gut-brain axis.
What is the gut microbiome? Each person has a unique make-up of bacteria living in their intestinal tract. The gut microbiome (or flora) plays an integral role in digestive health and also influences the immune system. This collection of bacteria is developed in infancy, but there’s a lot of factors that can influence it later on as well. Some examples are:
Whether someone was born vaginally or not
Whether someone was breastfed or not
Any one of these things can disrupt the balance of bacteria in the gut. Did you know that 80% of the immune system is found in the gut? A healthy gut is so important in protecting against a variety of issues, such as IBS, obesity, mood disorders, food sensitivies, and auto-immune diseases. When there’s a disruption in the gut microbiome, it can lead to a chronic state of inflammation, influencing a person’s physical and emotional health in a variety of ways. One way we see this happening is things like anxiety and depression.
There is a nerve that runs between the gut and the brain called the vagus nerve. The gut sends signals to your brain and vice versa. Feelings of stress, sadness, or depression can send negative signals to the gut, which can disrupt the gut microbiome. An imbalance in bacteria can send negative signals back to the brain, creating a negative cycle.
Many current studies have shown that there is a relationship between the bacteria present in the gut and disorders such as depression, anxiety, autism, auto-immune diseases, and more. There’s a lot more research to be done, but it’s exciting to think about how much more we are understanding about the relationship between gut health and a variety of mental health issues.
Thankfully, the gut microbiome can be healed and restored. There are holistic practices to utilize that may help relieve stress/anxiety as well as heal the gut. These are simple suggestions, and keep in mind that sometimes working with a professional or team of professionals is necessary.
Setting aside 20 minutes of time in the morning to pray, meditate, and or even do yoga can have profound impacts on mental health and on the body healing itself. Allowing yourself to slow down, breathe, and relax allows your body to release stress and focus on healing.
2. Anti-inflammatory foods
Eating a variety of anti-inflammatory foods is helpful for reducing inflammation in the body. Some examples of anti-inflammatory foods are:
Fatty fish (salmon, tuna, sardines)
Leafy greens (kale, spinach, lettuce, swiss chard)
It’s also helpful to stay away from inflammatory foods such as refined carbohydrates, sugar, alcohol, vegetable oils (especially hydrogenated, partially hydrogenated & canola oil), processed meats (lunch meats), and red meat (unless it’s grass-fed).
It’s important to restore good bacteria in the gut through eating probiotic foods. Some people may need more help from a probiotic supplement. Probiotic foods include:
Miso & tempeh (fermented soy products)
I hope this was informative and helpful for you! Now go buy some sauerkraut :)