Do you ever get “butterflies in your stomach” when you’re feeling anxious or excited about something? Can you think of times in your life when you’ve “trusted your gut” and benefitted from following this intuitive feeling? Our gut feelings behave like a second brain. What is really fascinating, is the science behind the gut-brain connection.
We all have something called the enteric nervous system (ENS) which is essentially two layers of millions of nerve cells that line our esophagus all the way down to our rectum. The ENS is responsible for controlling digestion, but research shows that it is also capable of communicating with our brain. When something is irritated in your GI system, the ENS will likely send a signal to your brain, resulting in a mood shift. A common manifestation of this link is seen in people with IBS or GI issues who also develop mental health challenges like anxiety and depression.
Since our gut and brain are connected, treating one area could have positive impacts on the other. For example, people with IBS often benefit from taking anti-depressant medications and/or seeing a mental health counselor. Similarly, feeding your gut with good bacteria and healthy foods can have impacts on your mood.
Making small additions to your diet can be a great way to start supporting a healthy gut and brain. Here are a few foods to consider:
Fermented foods (yogurt, cheese, sauerkraut) are made up of healthy microbes that are great for your gut.
Omega-3 fats (oily fish, seaweed, chia seeds) provide good bacteria for the gut and reduce the risk of brain disorders.
High fiber foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts) contain prebiotic fibers that reduce stress hormones.
Foods high in polyphenol (dark chocolate, olive oil, coffee) may improve cognition and increase healthy bacteria in the gut.
Check out this video if you’d like to learn more!
Johns Hopkins Medicine. The Brain-Gut Connection. Retrieved from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/the-brain-gut-connection
Leonard, J. (2019). 10 ways to improve gut health. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325293.php
Robertson, R. (2018). The Gut-Brain Connection: How it Works and the Role of Nutrition. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/gut-brain-connection#section4