The Gut-Brain Connection: What Is It and Why Is It Important?

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It’s common for people to feel nauseous when nervous, stressed, or sad. This is because they indicate the link between the stomach and the brain. The gut-brain connection describes sensitivity to emotions in the gastrointestinal tract, which may contribute to the prevalence of digestive diseases. Approximately 60-70 million people in the US are affected by digestive disorders. 

This gut-brain connection is so strong that the links between digestion, mood, and health have led some to call it the brain in your gut, which scientists have named the enteric nervous system (ENS). Moreover, the link between the enteric and central nervous systems is even more connected than previously thought. For instance, gastrointestinal disorders can result in stress and anxiety, while anxiety and stress often worsen gastrointestinal disorders. 

The digestive system is filled with gut microbiota, or tens of trillions of microorganisms often called the microbiome. We acquire this bacteria as infants when passing through the birth canal. The microbiota may impact behavior and emotion. For instance, a probiotic bacteria called Lactobacillus rhamnosus contains a neurotransmitter that can regulate brain activity and calm anxiety. 

Additionally, altering bacteria in the gut through specific diets or by supplementing with probiotics and prebiotics can treat mental health disorders and neurodevelopmental disorders, including hyperactivity and autism. 

How Does the Gut-Brain Connection Work?

The ENS communicates with the central nervous system, including the brain, through the gut-brain axis. It can communicate with the brain both chemically and physically. The primary connection is the vagus nerve, which controls messages sent to the heart, lungs, and other organs. 

Chemicals and hormones traveling along the gut-brain axis are impacted by the gut’s microbiome, which may include fungi, viruses, and bacteria, which may be harmful or beneficial to your health. The gut-brain axis also involves the endocrine and immune systems, impacting physical and mental health. 

The gut-brain connection can have an impact on certain neurological conditions, including:

  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Alzheimer’s 
  • Schizophrenia
  • Autism
  • Anxiety
  • Pain
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis

Additionally, this link also impacts gut health. Certain disorders, such as anxiety and depression can cause intestinal distress and problems in the stomach and bowels. Emotions can impact certain conditions, such as:

  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) 
  • Constipation
  • Bloating
  • Pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomachaches

And while in the past, clinicians have thought that anxiety and stress were the cause of gastrointestinal issues, it is now recognized that poor gut health can signal the central nervous system and influence one’s mood and overall mental health. 

Given the strength of the gut-brain connection, many individuals with gastrointestinal disorders may benefit from cognitive-behavioral therapy. Those who may benefit from this type of therapy include:

  • Individuals with functional bowel problems who have not responded to traditional therapies.
  • People whose stress or emotions worsen gastrointestinal disorders. 
  • Those who want to treat functional GI symptoms without prescription medications.
  • Individuals with newly diagnosed GI illnesses, such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, chronic pancreatitis, and gastroesophageal reflux disease. 

The reality is that the gut-brain connection closely links mental health with gastrointestinal health. To learn more about the gut-brain relationship, talk with an expert who may provide medical advice to help you determine if mental health treatment may help ease symptoms of GI conditions. 

We at Memor Health want to help guide you back to optimal balance. We look at the person as a whole and consider all aspects when deciding on the best treatment for your mental health.

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