The Gut-Brain Connection: How Your Gut Controls Your Emotions
You have probably been told more than once in your life to “go with your gut,” and while most people use this phrase to mean “go with your instincts,” there may be more to it than that. The gut — which researchers often refer to as the “second brain” — is an amazing organ. It is the only organ that has its own nervous system, boasting more than 100 million neurons, which is more than what is in the spinal cord or the peripheral nervous system. So complex is the gut that it can continue to function even if the vagus nerve, or the primary nerve that connects the gut to the brain, is severed.
Given all this information, it becomes easier to understand how the gut can influence your emotions. But are you aware to what extend your gut plays a role in your mental health? Most people are not.
The Gut’s Role in Mood Regulation
It’s common knowledge that the gut produces bacteria that aids in digestion and regulates metabolism, but did you know that it also produces hundreds of neurochemicals that are responsible for many of your mental processes, including mood regulation, memory and learning? It’s true.
The digestive tract produces approximately 95% of your body’s serotonin, the chemical that influences your mood. The bacteria within your gut also produces other neurotransmitters, such as norepinephrine, GABA, acetylcholine and dopamine, all of which play a critical role in concentration, motivation, anxiety, reward and mood. If your gut experiences an imbalance in bacteria, or if you consume too much bad bacteria, it can have a direct effect on how you feel.
This is most evident in individuals who live with irritable bowel syndrome or other GI tract disorders. For decades, researchers thought that stress, anxiety and depression contributed to stomach problems, but as it turns out, it’s likely the other way around. Findings from several recent studies show that irritation in the GI system sends signals to the central nervous system that trigger changes in mood. This may explain why as much as 40% of the population that lives with IBS also live with depression and anxiety.
Treat Your Gut Kindly
You don’t have to live with IBS or any other GI tract disorder to experience the mood-changing effects of an upset stomach. You merely have to make your stomach mad. On the other hand, if you want to boost your mood, try treating your gut a little more kindly.
If you feel irritable, groggy or in any way moody, make a few lifestyle changes geared toward improving your stomach health. While there are several suggestions worth considering, a few of the better ones are as follows:
- Reduce your stress levels through meditation, yoga or simply laughing.
- Refine your diet to include more lean protein and plant-based foods and less high-sugar, high-fat and processed foods.
- Eat slower to promote better absorption of nutrients and digestion of foods.
- Get enough sleep
In addition to the above measures, add a probiotic supplement to your diet to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in your gut. In addition to improving your mood, probiotics help to reduce bloating, increase muscle mass, lower cholesterol levels and reduce inflammation. With the right supplement, and by incorporating the above tips, you can get on the path to better mental and physical health today.