The Gut-Brain Connection
Updated: Dec 5, 2018
by Dr Jenna Rayachoti
Do you ever get “hangry” or have diarrhea before an important meeting?
Do you feel emotional or irritable after some meals and not others?
Do you feel bloated all the time and also have trouble with sleep, mood, libido, and stress.
This is in part due to the connection between our brain and our gut.
The communication that occurs between the brain and the gut is called the gut-brain axis (GBA). It is bidirectional, meaning the gut can influence functions and pathways in the brain and vice versa.
This communication, controlled largely via the vagus nerve, is the reason why the gut is sometimes referred to as the second brain. In fact, there is an entire nervous system in the gut called the enteric nervous system. It is comprised of several important hormones and neurotransmitters that are often associated with the brain, but are indeed produced in the GI tract. They include serotonin, the antidepressant hormone; GABA, the anti-anxiety hormone; Melatonin, the sleep hormone; cortisol, a stress hormone; and histamine, a compound responsible for allergic reactions. I think it’s fair to say that we all want to feel happy, calm, rested, and not congested. Feeling this way starts in the gut!
Let’s walk through an example of what is going on when we have the urge to use the bathroom right before a big meeting. When we are stressed, the brain signals cortisol to be released from the adrenal glands, which causes an increase in blood flow to the periphery, away from the gut. Why does this happen? Evolutionarily, when we encountered a predator, our legs needed the adrenaline and extra blood flow to run. Digestion was no longer important so it was turned off until the predator was no longer a threat, and we could return to resting and digesting. But today, our body doesn’t know the difference between an actual threat (predator) and a perceived threat (humiliation during a meeting). The result is indigestion, diarrhea, cramping, bloating, gas, etc.
Additionally, we often don’t take time to eat without distraction. When was the last time that all you did was sit and eat your whole meal without looking at your phone or making a to-do list? Many of us eat on the run or while our brain is running a mile a minute in front of a computer, the TV, or our phones. Do you notice that your belly feels uncomfortable after meals spent in front of the news or during an important meeting? Our bodies are meant to rest and digest, so do your gut and brain favor, and just chill out and take time for your meals.
As you can imagine, if our gut is not functioning optimally, not only do we feel bloated and have abdominal pain, but sleep, mood, libido and stress levels are adversely affected. In addition, our ability to fight off infections is weakened and we end up aging faster.
When the gut-brain axis is compromised, both of the systems (the gut and the brain) are affected.
Digestive issues such as SIBO, H.Pylori, ulcers, candidiasis, chronic viral infections, IBD (Crohns and ulcerative colitis), IBS, celiac disease, obesity, maldigestion, reflux, peptic ulcers (PUD), food allergies are are all linked to a compromised gut-brain connection.
And anxiety, autism, demyelinating diseases such as Guillain Barre or MS, Alzheimers, Parkinsons, and other behavior and psychiatric diseases have been shown to be affected by an altered gut-brain connection.
So what can we do about it?
As a naturopath, I work to restore the normal function of the body. I seek to find the root cause of symptoms and utilize a holistic, individualized, comprehensive approach to care.
To start, I work with patients on establishing the fundamentals of health - nourishing food, exercise and movement, uninterrupted sleep, loving relationships, and reduced stress. I may also use high dose probiotics, digestive enzymes, healing herbs, and amino acids such as l-glutamine to aid in the healing of the gut lining.
In my experience, it is also important to identify any food allergies/sensitivities, microbial imbalances, gut inflammation, hormonal imbalance, environmental triggers, and stress triggers that could be contributing to gut-brain axis miscommunication.
If you’ve been experiencing bloating, irritability and restless sleep lately, don’t let this become your new normal. Let’s get to the bottom of your gut-brain axis.
Please make an appointment with Dr Jenna Rayachoti to learn how your health may be affected by the mysterious relationship between your gut and brain!