“Anything the affects the gut, affects the brain.” -Dr. Charles Major
The gut-wrenching feeling you get at certain events (job interview or presentation) is all too real. Studies have found that your gut is susceptible towards emotions such as sadness, joy, anxiety, and anger due to which the brain can react to these signals coming from your stomach
The gut consists of every organ involved in a digestive system and is responsible for digestion of food particles and then processing it into waste products due to this reason why the lining of the stomach is also referred to as the second brain.
Gut bacteria have a significant impact on brain health and other related functions. It means gut bacteria can affect both physical and mental health. The probiotics that are capable of affecting brain health are known as psychobiotics.
Researchers at Yale University school of medicine have revealed that they have successfully treated brain disorder by treating leaky gut in patients. It is an interesting development which indicates how gut brain-connection is vital for the body.
How is the gut connected to the brain?
The second brain (gut) has a functioning of its own, and it can easily interconnect back and forth with signals from the brain. They are both connected through two ways, i,e, physically and chemically.
The vagus nerves are responsible for controlling the transmission of messages to the gut, lungs, heart, and other vital organs present in the body also work as a direct connection of the gut to the brain
Your gut is also connected to your brain through multiple chemicals such as neurotransmitters and hormones that can send messages in all directions. The neurotransmitters produced in the brain regulate emotions, feelings, and also maintain your body’s biological clock. Many of these neurotransmitters are produced through gut cells where billions of gut microbes live.
The chemically initiated messages among the brain and gut can be stimulated and affected through viruses, bacteria, and fungi present in the gut. They can secreate many short-chain fatty acids like acetate, propionate, and butyrate through digestion of fiber and can have a massive impact over brain functioning.
Two Way Connections of Gut and Brain
The most common signs of nervousness are a clear indication of mental stress and anxiety, which could be due to changes in the gut. The two-way connection between the gut and the brain can be explained by learning how stress can cause digestive problems. Dr. Diego Bohorquez and colleagues from Duke University have discovered synapses in the rare type of gut cell.
Fight or Flight
A person dealing with stress and anxiety can have an inborn fight or flight instinct. Even though the fight or flight response of your body can increase the sharpness/ functioning of the brain, raise the heartbeat, drive extra nutrients and blood towards the arms and legs, it can also balance all this by slowing or stopping the functioning of the gut. For short instances, this is not harmful, but constant stress and anxiety can cause ineptness in the working digestive system.
Stress and anxiety are responsible for increasing secretion of acids in the stomach, which may be one of the issues behind indigestion and heartburn.
The stomach depends ultimately on gut bacteria to process food by breaking down into small particles. If there is an imbalance like this bacterium, it can cause digestive problems. Anxiety, depression, and stress can have significant influences on the balance of harmful and good bacteria in the gut.
Sleeping aids proper digestion. If a person is always anxious, restless, and in distress, it will make it hard for them to sleep, and consequently, they will suffer from indigestion and heartburn.
The Link Between Heartburn and Anxiety
Many studies have revealed that there is a significant connection between anxiety and heartburn. Heartburn usually occurs when acid present in the stomach goes back up into the esophagus, causing basic signs of swallowing or burning sensation in the throat and chest cavity. Frequent heartburn can lead to GERD, and if left untreated, and chronic complications such as esophageal cancer.
People with heartburn and anxiety have more fequent and severe symptoms that may reduce their quality of life. That is why studies suggest that anxiety may play a role in development of heartburn as well as GERD.
Many experts now believe that a chemical called CCK (cholecystokinin) is the primary stimulus behind panic and GI disorders and is exceptionally liable in the prevalence of heartburn and anxiety disorders.
Various other theories are also available to prove that anxiety can slow down the process of digestion, increase the amount of acid in the stomach, and escalate tightness in muscles that can put pressure on the stomach.
Another possibility that can create a link between heartburn and anxiety is behavioral changes. When people are anxious, they may get involved in activities like smoking, drinking alcohol, eating poor quality food, that may be soothing temporarily, but detrimental in the long-term.
Research studies have reported that there is an association between gut-brain and heartburn. It is observed that individuals who are suffering from GI problems have shown mood swings, anxiety, and stress.
Case studies have also supported this argument by revealing that the treatment of anxiety has developed significant improvements in GI problems. It also confirms that a healthy brain is not only important for brain functions, it is equally vital for various bodily functions.
What Can You Do?
For maintaining good health, the following steps may be taken:
Consumption of Pro-biotic Foods
Pro-biotic foods can supply a considerable amount of constructive and advantageous live bacteria in your body. Some food products that have rich pro-biotic are greek yogurt, cottage cheese, kefir, kimchi, apple cider vinegar, and miso.
Keep in mind that cooking these foods items on high flame or preserving them at high temperatures can destroy their pro-biotic effect so they must be consumed almost immediately after purchasing.
Consumption of Pre-Biotic Foods
Pre-biotic foods are different from pro-biotic foods because they are filled with indigestible fibers that can be fermented during digestion. These fibers are consumed by probiotic bacteria and are converted into substances that are useful for maintaining proper gut-brain health.
Probiotic supplements may reduce the symptoms of anxiety, stress, depression, OCD, and other neurological and psychological conditions. Your health care provider and health coach can guide you about the usage and consumption of these supplements. At this time, there is no uniform endorsement, but researchers are working hard to understand which bacterial species, a combination of two or more species along with the dosage and supply system can be used to treat particular symptoms.
Another way to maintain overall health is a fecal transplant where the fecal matter from a healthy person is uprooted into the bowel of another person to repopulate the microbes and reduce symptoms
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