Stress & Digestive Health: The Gut-Brain Connection

There is no joke about the gut-brain connection; it can relate anxiety to issues with the stomach and vice versa. Have you ever had the feeling of 'gut-wrenching'? Do you "feel nauseous" in some situations? Have you ever felt "butterflies" in the stomach? For a reason, we use these terms. The gastrointestinal tract is emotion-sensitive. All of these emotions (and others) can trigger symptoms in the gut: frustration, anxiety, depression, elation.

Gut-Brain Connection

The gut-brain connection refers to the communication between the digestive system and the brain, also known as the gut-brain axis. Anyone who has ever felt butterflies in their stomach or been nauseous at the prospect of riding a rollercoaster need not be persuaded that there is an inextricable connection between emotions and physical sensations.

The brain has a direct effect on the stomach and intestines. For example, before food gets there, the mere idea of eating will release the stomach's juices. This connection goes both ways. Signals to the brain can be transmitted by a distressed intestine, just like a distressed brain can send signals to the stomach. The cause or the result of anxiety, stress, or depression may also be the stomach or intestinal pain of a person. This is because there is an intimate connection between the brain and the gastrointestinal (GI) system.

This is particularly true in cases where, with no apparent physical cause, a person develops gastrointestinal distress. For such functional GI disorders, without understanding the role of stress and emotion, it is hard to try to heal a distressed gut.

In recent years, this connection has been of great interest to the medical community and the public at large. New studies show that "your brain affects the health of your stomach, and the health of your stomach can also affect the health of your brain."

Gut Health and Stress

You might experience stress, anxiety, fear, sadness and loneliness during the COVID-19 pandemic. And it can worsen mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression.

When the body experiences stress, it causes a cascade of events that are designed to help us escape imminent danger. It shuts down non-essential behaviors such as sexual appetite, reproduction and digestion, and directs its resources and energy to the brain and muscles using chemical messengers. This also has consequences for the gut microbiome.

A lesser known fact is that an unbalanced gut microbiome has consequences for your mood because bacteria can also influence anxiety and stress by their activities in the gut. They can play a positive role by enhancing our resilience to stressful events, but if the ecosystem is not balanced (called dysbiosis), their activities can have a negative impact on our mental health.

Among many other complications, a dysbiotic gut can lead to intestinal hyperpermeability, an exaggerated inflammatory response, decreased neurotransmitter production, and increased stress levels.

Gut Health and Anxiety

It becomes easier to understand why you might feel nauseated before giving a presentation, or feel intestinal pain during periods of stress, considering how closely the gut and brain interact. That doesn't mean, however, that functional gastrointestinal disorders are invented or "just in your mind." To induce discomfort and other bowel symptoms, psychology combines with physical factors. Psychosocial causes, as well as symptoms, affect the real physiology of the stomach. In other words, movement and contractions of the GI tract may be influenced by stress (or depression or other psychological factors).

Moreover, since their brains are more sensitive to pain signals from the GI tract, many people with functional GI disorders experience pain more intensely than other people do. Stress will make the pain that occurs seem much worse.

You may conclude that at least some patients with functional GI conditions may improve with therapy to relieve stress or treat anxiety or depression based on these findings. Several studies have shown that, relative to traditional medical care, psychologically based interventions contribute to greater improvement in digestive symptoms.

Probiotics, Prebiotics and the Gut-Brain Axis

Brain health is affected by gut bacteria, so improving your gut bacteria will improve your brain health.

Probiotics are live bacteria that, if ingested, provide health benefits. Not all probiotics, however, are the same.

Probiotics are sometimes referred to as 'psychobiotics' that affect the brain.

It has been shown that certain probiotics improve symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression.

Prebiotics, which are usually fibers that the gut bacteria digest, can also affect the health of the brain.

One study showed that taking a prebiotic called galactooligosaccharides substantially decreased the amount of stress hormone, called cortisol, in the body for three weeks.

To Sum It Up

The gut-brain axis refers to the physical and chemical connections between your gut and brain.

Your gut and brain have millions of nerves and neurons running between them. Your brain is also affected by neurotransmitters and other chemicals formed in your gut.

It could be possible to enhance the health of your brain by altering the types of bacteria in your gut.

Omega-3 fatty acids, fermented foods, probiotics, and other foods high in polyphenols can enhance the health of your stomach, which can support the gut-brain axis.

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