The Gut and The Brain Go Together

By: Springfield-Greene County Health Department

Have you ever noticed that what you’re feeling emotionally can impact how you’re feeling physically? Poor mental health can take a toll on our bodies, and are especially related to having gastrointestinal symptoms like:

· Heartburn

· Indigestion

· Acid Reflux

· Bloating

· Constipation

· Diarrhea

But how can your brain impact your gut?

First, when we talk about the “gut,” it includes:

· Esophagus & stomach

· Small & large intestines

· Gallbladder

· Liver

· Pancreas

If you’ve ever heard someone say that the brain is powerful, that’s because it is. The gut and the brain communicate with each other and connect physically and chemically. Your brain and gut connect through the vagus nerve, which is one of 12 cranial nerves in the body. It’s your brain’s way of controlling what is called the parasympathetic nervous system (the rest and digest system). In other words, the vagus nerve is the gut’s direct connection to the brain. And the communication works both ways which means poor mental health can be the cause — or the result of intestinal distress.

For example, having anxiety or depression can actually change your gut microbiome, which is the fungi, bacteria, and viruses that live in your gut. And the reverse is also true. Research actually shows that changes in the gut microbiome and inflammation in the gut affect the brain and can cause symptoms that mimic anxiety and depression.

Now that we’ve learned about how the gut and the brain are connected, how do we go about making sure our guts are healthy?

Always talk to your doctor about your concerns if you’re having intestinal distress or think something is going on with your gut. However, there are a few tips you can take into consideration if you are wanting to take better care of your gut:

1. Eat a diet with whole grains, lean meats, fish, fruits, and vegetables.

2. Incorporate prebiotic foods, which are high in fiber, in raw form. This can include asparagus, bananas, garlic, onions, leek, and apples.

3. Naturally fermented foods (like kimchi or sauerkraut) or drinks (like kombucha or kefir) can give your body a great boost to ensure healthy digestion.

Overall, it’s important to understand how mental health and your gut connect to live a healthier life — a staple in our mission here at the Springfield-Greene County Health. All week we will be talking about how mental health can impact our bodies physically, so tune into our social channels on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to learn more.

Check out all of our Medium mental health content here:

Week 1: Welcome to Mental Health Month!

Week 2: Here’s What You Should Know When Talking About Mental Health

Week 3: Finding Help for a Healthier You

SOURCES

Mental Health America

Harvard Health 1 | 2

U.S. Health Group

Healthline 1 | 2

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Healthy Ozarks

Healthy Ozarks

The official Springfield-Greene County Health Department blog