Our body consists of many organs that have their unique purpose and function. But do we know if they are somehow connected? Perhaps you can recall a time when after feeling anxiety, you had nausea or a time when you were so stressed you got constipated. Research has shown that the brain and the gut have a connection.
The gut has a chemical connection with the brain. It works with the brain sending signals via hormones and neurotransmitters which affect the gut microbiome. The gut microbiome bacteria, viruses, fungi and other microscopic living things are referred to as microorganisms, or microbes, trillions of these microbes exist mainly inside our intestines and on our skin. These gut microbiomes can be thought of like sensors that catch messages that come from the brain. The reason one individual can feel more joy over a meal than the other individual is not only due to physical differences of the gastrointestinal tract but also due to the differences in emotions. According to many researchers, our guts feel emotions due to the microbes that form the mind-gut connection. These gut microbiomes can affect both our gastrointestinal organ function and our mental health.
Although the mind-gut connection might seem pleasant when experiencing unnecessary joy over a meal, there are also negative emotions that may occur from this connection. A mild amount of stress is necessary for our fight-or-flight responses and is crucial for survival. However, when stress increases and becomes chronic, it can cause effects on one’s gut function. Effects on one’s gut function include; diarrhoea, constipation, bloating, and even irritable bowel syndrome. Among the brain-gut axis, the effects can occur the other way around, meaning that physical problems in your gut can lead to anxiety and depression. Individuals that experience IBD (irritable bowel disease) are more likely to experience anxiety and depression due to the discomfort and pain they experience in their gut.
The good news is, researchers have found a variety of interventions that can maintain a healthy mind-gut connection. Psychotherapy, specifically CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), have been shown to help with depression, functioning, and to improve an individual’s quality of life. Relaxation and Stress Management interventions can help individuals relax their muscle tension, distract their minds and control their breathing. Mindfulness is highly effective in our mind-gut connection. With mindfulness-based stress-reduction or mindfulness-based therapy, one can have improved their control over their mind and body as they bring their focus to the present and reduce stress. Meditation can help reduce blood pressure, symptoms of anxiety and depression, and symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Yoga is an ancient mind-body technique that has been shown to improve both body posture and the regulation of the sympathetic nervous system. It combines meditation as a way to promote health and relaxation in general. Yoga has also shown benefits to an individual’s wellness and emotional health, this helps increase personal empowerment that can lead to improvement of one’s activation.
For a healthy gut, take good care of your mind and vice versa!
If you are seeking professional help, you can book an appointment here.
Ela Jean Demir holds a Bachelor degree in Psychology from the Izmir University of Economics in Turkey. She is currently doing her internship at Willingness.
Collins SM, Bercik P. 2009. The relationship between intestinal microbiota and the central nervous system in normal gastrointestinal function and disease. Gastroenterology 136:2003–14
Qin, J., Li, R., Raes, J., Arumugam, M., Burgdorf, K. S., Manichanh, C., Nielsen, T., Pons, N., Levenez, F., Yamada, T., Mende, D. R., Li, J., Xu, J., Li, S., Li, D., Cao, J., Wang, B., Liang, H., Zheng, H., . . . Wang, J. (2010). A human gut microbial gene catalogue established by metagenomic sequencing. Nature, 464(7285), 59–65. https://doi.org/10.1038/nature08821
Yeh, A. M., Wren, A., & Golianu, B. (2017). Mind–Body Interventions for Pediatric Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Children, 4(4), 22. https://doi.org/10.3390/children4040022