Have you ever had “butterflies” in your stomach or a “gut wrenching” experience? You know, that type of feeling that you get in your stomach when you are nervous or excited about something? As it turns out there is a scientific explanation as to why, the gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to emotion. Anxiety, anger, sadness, excitement can all trigger physical symptoms in the gut. There is a network of neurons that line our guts; it is so extensive that some scientists have even nicknamed it our “second brain.”
As it turns out, our gut does a whole lot more than handle digestion and cause feelings of nervousness, in connection with our brain; the gut partly determines our mental well-being and plays a key role in the development of diseases throughout the body. In turn, it has been concluded that a healthy gut helps in maintaining good mental and emotional health –what you are eating directly affects your mental and emotional state.
The gut and the brain both develop from the same tissues, one section evolves into your central nervous system –your brain and the other into your enteric nervous system –your gut. The Vagus Nerve connects these two nervous systems. Some of the same hormones and neurotransmitters that control the brain are also found in the gut! The enteric nervous system (ENS) helps you to sense environmental threats and then directly influences your response. Dr. Michael Gershon author of “The Second Brain and chairman of the department of anatomy and cell biology at Columbia University says: “A lot of the information that the gut sends to the brain affects well-being and doesn’t even come to consciousness.”
Study Finds Probiotics Directly Affect Brain Function
A study conducted by researchers at the University of Los Angeles found that probiotics (beneficial bacteria) actually altered the brain function of the participants. The study was conducted on 36 women between the ages of 18 and 55, they were divided into 3 groups:
- One group ate yogurt that contained probiotics that are said to have a beneficial impact on intestinal health twice a day for one month.
- Another group ate a product that looked and tasted like regular yogurt but contained no probiotics at all.
- The control group ate no product at all.
After the 4 weeks the women were examined and it was found that the women in the probiotic yogurt group had a more stable emotional response when exposed to a stressful situation.
“By changing the environment in the gut, we can actually change what happens in the brain.” Noted Kirsten Tillisch, the head of the research team for the study. She also stated “Time and time again, we hear from patients that they never felt depressed or anxious until they started experiencing problems with their gut. Our study shows that the gut–brain connection is a two-way street… ‘When we consider the implications of this work, the old sayings ‘you are what you eat’ and ‘gut feelings’ take on new meaning.’”
How To Ensure Healthy Gut Health
To keep your second brain and your… first brain at optimal health you want to ensure to nurture your gut, by eating a healthy diet rich in probiotics. Yogurt can be a source of probitotics, but there is an increasing amount of evidence to support the claim that dairy is not very beneficial to your health. Read about that here. There are some alternative dairy free probiotic options for you to consider adding to your diet:
- Sauerkraut, preferably raw, unpasteurized sauerkraut, it is actually really easy to make on your own.
- Kombucha tea, also, raw unpasteurized.
- Coconut yogurt.
You can find a recipe for all 3 of the aforementioned here.
Other Nutrition Tips For Optimal Gut Health
- Don’t skip breakfast; breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. A quick smoothie is all you need to get your day started and to ensure a healthy start. Check out 5 simple smoothie recipes here.
- Avoid acidic foods like soda and don’t over indulge in things like coffee and alcohol.
- Eat fruit. Fruit is the best source of vitamins and enzymes that will keep your digestive system working very well.
- Drink lots of water throughout the day and ideally, at least 500 ml of lukewarm water with lemon every morning before consuming anything else.
- Decrease stress in your life and make time for things you enjoy, follow your passions and make time for them everyday.
- Take time to relax, make time for yoga and meditation if that’s your thing. Exercise regularly, these activities boost the presence of healthy hormones required for maintaining a healthy mind, they also keep the gut healthy.
Your brain is going to thank you!