Have you ever felt butterflies in your stomach? Has an upset tummy ever given you a sour mood? Has stress ever caused you to lose your appetite?
This is because the brain and the digestive tract are more closely linked than you might think. Our digestive system (also known as the enteric nervous system) contains roughly 85-90% of the body’s serotonin, the same chemical in the brain that is responsible for feelings of wellbeing. Our gut also contains digestive enzymes and healthy bacteria that boost our immune system and help us digest food. In fact the gut is the largest concentration of immune cells in the body. As a result, our gut affects us mentally and vice versa.
Our digestive tract, especially our intestines, control gastrointestinal functions, communicates with our main central nervous system (CNS), with our spinal cord, and countless other functions.
This two-way connection is directly responsible for the reason why emotions can affect our digestion through symptoms like nausea, constipation, heartburn/reflux, appetite loss, and other associated issues. And of course, these symptoms can in turn affect the day’s mood.
One huge problem closely linked to the brain/gut connection is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Overall it can have several different causes - sometimes it’s nutrition like processed foods, or absence of healthy gut flora, or anxiety. The result is intestinal inflammation and a faltering immune system, as well as mental and cognitive disturbance.
It often starts young as children develop future mental issues, as well as being exposed to processed foods, sugar in candy, etc. Perhaps a change in young lifestyle choices could be a solution to digestive problems that affect 30-40% of the population.
So we know our digestion and our minds/mental health affect each other greatly. It can create or worsen anxiety, stress, depression, and a host of other mental issues. So what can we do about it? How can we strengthen and fortify our digestive tract and our mental health to feel at our very best?
Doctors will generally investigate the root cause of digestive problems first. They’ll eliminate food allergies, test the microbiome of the gut, and gather the information necessary to treat the issue.
It comes down to the five “R”s.
- Remove bad foods through a systematic elimination diet guided by your doctor. This can phase out food allergies and create an environment for healthy bacteria in our guts.
Replace with digestive enzymes that were lost during our digestive upset.
- Reintroduce good bacteria through probiotic foods or supplements.
Restore intestinal mucosa with certain prescribed medical drugs used for that specific function.
- Re-establish intestinal function, by moving on with broader lifestyle change - healthy nutrition, proper sleep, a vibrant social life, regular exercise, and other activities your doctor or nutritionist may recommend.
Sometimes a mental health professional can be useful to guide patients towards more digestion-friendly thought patterns. Techniques like muscle relaxation feedback therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy can help put us in a more positive mental state. Ask a therapist or psychiatrist about these techniques and if they may help with your problem.
If you need the help of an experienced mental health professional, please contact Bregman Medical Group. We have experience treating problems with the mind-gut connection and various disorders. We offer psychiatry and therapy online straight to your device! Simple schedule online at www.bregmanmd.com or call 305-740-3340.