The Surprising Connection Between the Gut and the Brain

Dixie on July 29, 2020

The Surprising Connection between the Gut and the Brain

Imagine this: you are moments away from a crucial interview or a huge presentation; A strange tingling sensation brews in your stomach as if butterflies are flitting inside. 

I’m sure you’ve felt this in other crucial moments of your life.

The “butterflies in your stomach” is more than just a figure of speech; there is a scientific explanation of why your stomach does it. It goes farther up north as it has something to do with your mental health.

Understanding this uncanny connection between your gut and brain is necessary for maintaining a healthy physiological and mental health.

The Nervous System: Your Body’s ‘Electrical Wiring’

A network of nerves and fibers, the nervous system sends impulses between various body parts. 

The central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) is the hub, and the peripheral nervous system is the link to other organs and muscles.

The gut has its own brain known as the enteric nervous system. This second brain regulates the release of enzymes that break down food and controls blood flow that aids with nutrient absorption to expulsion.

The Gut-Brain Axis: the Information Superhighway

The brain has a direct effect on the gut and vice versa. 

A troubled intestine can signal the brain, just as an unsettled brain can signal the gut. This is clear in the gut microbiota composition; your stomach or intestinal distress can be the cause or the product of anxiety, stress, or depression. 

Now you know why you might have nausea before a presentation or have intestinal pain when stressed. When you’re nervous before a stage debut or big meeting, your brain communicates that anxiety to your gut. This is all made possible by the gut-brain axis crosstalk.

Neurotransmitters

The chemical messengers of the body, neurotransmitters, also connect your gut and brain through neurotransmission.

Neurotransmitters produced in the brain control feelings and emotions. Serotonin is one example that contributes to feelings of happiness. 

Interestingly, your gut cells and the trillions of microbes living there also produce a large portion of serotonin. 

Your gut microbes also form a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which helps control feelings of fear and anxiety.


Gut Microbes Affect the Brain Through Other Chemicals

The trillions of microbes that live inside your gut also make other chemicals that affect how your brain works. 

Your gut microbes produce a lot of short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) such as:

  • Butyrate
  • Propionate
  • Acetate 

They make SCFA by digesting fiber. SCFA affects brain function in several ways, such as reducing appetite.

Gut microbes also metabolize bile acids and amino acids to produce other chemicals that affect the brain. Bile acids are chemicals made by the liver that is linked in taking in dietary fats. 

However, they may also affect the brain. Two studies in mice found that stress and social disorders reduce bile acids by gut bacteria and alter the genes involved in their production.

Top 3 nutritional hacks to improve your gut health

Realizing that your gut microbiota influences your mental health, you must look at how to keep a healthy composition of bacteria in your gut. 

Let’s have a look at three players involved in keeping your gut healthy.

1. Probiotics

Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts which help keep your digestion in check. They are akin to the bacteria already lying in your gut. 

Probiotics help your body keep a healthy microbiota or help restore it to a healthy condition after being disturbed. They help prevent gut inflammation and other intestinal problem.

Studies in laboratory mice have shown that certain probiotics can increase the production of GABA and reduce anxiety and depression-like behavior.

Here are food sources rich in probiotics to add in your diet:

  • Fermented vegetables
  • Coconut kefir
  • Natto
  • Kvas
  • Yoghurt
  • Kimchi
  • Pickles
  • Sourdough bread
  • Miso
  • Sauerkraut
  • Tempeh

2. Prebiotics

Prebiotics are dietary fiber promoting growth for the good bacteria in your gut. This helps the gut bacteria produce nutrients for your colon cells leading to a healthier digestive system. 

Prebiotics can also boost probiotics, hence they can become a powerful combo when combined.

These nutrients include short-chain fatty acids like butyrate, acetate, and propionate. The bloodstream can absorb these fatty acids and improve metabolic health.

Include these prebiotic-rich foods listed below in your diet:

  • Asparagus
  • Dandelion greens
  • Bananas
  • Leeks
  • Chicory
  • Garlic
  • Jerusalem artichoke
  • Onions
  • Shallots
  • Spring onions
  • Whole grains



3. Antibiotics

Antibiotics help treat issues by fighting off the bad bacteria in your gut. 

Sometimes antibiotics eliminate even the good bacteria in your gut in their efforts to fight infection. 

Studies have shown that after even six months, good bacteria eliminated by antibiotics are still absent in your gut. 

Take antibiotics only when prescribed by the doctor to prevent health concerns that may lead to antibiotic resistance. 

Why Choose Willow Place for Women?

Here at Willow Place for Women, we help our clients understand what they can do to improve their overall well-being and start a new healthy and happy journey!

Individuals in our program have the opportunity to utilize a number of our services and therapies. Our therapy and educational sessions work specifically to address the underlying causes of eating disorders. Or, to teach helpful relapse prevention skills to help women establish true and meaningful healing. Specific services available in this program include:

DBT: Dialectical behavioral therapy intends to help individuals change negative thought patterns that encourage eating disorder behavior. Once a person is more in charge of the way they think, they can take control of how they behave. This specific therapy includes individualized sessions in which participants speak with a cognitive behavioral therapist in a safe and secluded environment.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: Before true healing can begin, a person must both accept their issues and commit to a life of recovery. This type of therapy involves helping individuals accept their eating disorder condition. And, dedicate their lives to healing and recovery.

Nutritional Groups: Group therapy sessions allow individuals in treatment to understand that they’re not alone by socializing with others dealing with similar situations. Also, they provide a setting in which people can practice techniques discovered throughout time in treatment.

Process Groups: Since we offer daytime outpatient treatment, those enrolled in the PHP will have the weekends to themselves. But, we want to make sure that all women in our care get the support they need every day. So, before and after each weekend, we offer process groups. During these groups, individuals set goals and discuss occurrences on the weekends.

Interpersonal Process: This type of individualized therapy aims to discover the underlying causes of eating disorders. Once it’s determined why an eating disorder develops, both therapists and the individual in treatment can determine the best methods to stress management, goal setting, finding meaning to life, and much more!

Supportive Therapies: Along with the therapy sessions listed above, the women enrolled in eating disorder PHP can take advantage of a number of supportive therapies which aim to provide additional support throughout the process of recovery. These include art therapy, movement therapy, acupuncture, yoga, and family involvement!

Willow Place for Women is a women’s only outpatient eating disorder, trauma, and substance use disorder treatment facility. 

During this pandemic, we are still working to provide support for women who need our help across the globe. 

We offer online treatment for your wellbeing during this uncertain time of the COVID-19 virus. 
Contact us today to tell us about what you’re dealing with. 828-707-6084

Request a Call Back

If you or someone you love is battling a severe chemical dependency, an eating disorder, or both, please feel free to contact one of our trained addiction specialists today. All calls are free and completely confidential. While we know that suffering from a severe and life-threatening substance dependency can, at times, seem insurmountable, we sincerely believe that every woman is capable and deserving of the opportunity to recover. Reaching out is the first step – give us a call today, and we will gladly walk you through the process of beginning your beautiful, fulfilling journey of addiction recovery.

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