We feel no differently with our second brain than we do with our heads! Not only that, but these two ‘brains’ communicate with one another in such a way that the term Brain-gut Axis was coined by scientists. That is, the direct link between the nervous system and the digestive system with its constant exchange of chemicals and electrical messages. Hence what affects the stomach will directly affect the brain and vice versa!
Ever had your stomach in knots before speaking in public? Then you know the stomach listens carefully to the brain, as the entire digestive system is closely attuned to a person’s emotions and state of mind. People with irritable bowel syndrome for example suffer symptoms during times of stress and anxiety and even perfectly healthy people can have an increase of stomach pain, nausea, constipation or diarrhea during stressful life events.
Another example of the brain-gut axis happens during sleep. The head’s brain produces 90-minute cycles of slow wave sleep, followed by periods of rapid eye movement (REM) where dreams occur. During the night, when it is empty, the gut’s brain produces 90-minute slow wave muscle contractions, followed by short bursts of rapid muscle movement and interestingly individuals with bowel problems have been shown to also have abnormal REM sleep.
Why the gut is termed our second brain is because nearly every chemical that controls the brain is also located in the stomach region, including hormones and neurotransmitters such as Serotonin, Dopamine, Glutamate, GABA and Norepinephrine. Interestingly over 80% of the serotonin in our body resides in our gut! But few know the enteric nervous system exists, and therefore gut health is often overlooked. Symptoms from the two brains can get confused, and just as the brain can upset the gut, the gut can also upset the brain.
Maintaining optimal gut health is therefore of utmost importance as it not only affects our digestive and absorptive ability of nutrients as well as our detoxification and defecation of toxins and metabolic waste products but it also has a direct effect on our overall well-being. An individual with a healthy well-functioning gut should not experience heart-burn, bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation or irritable bowel. On the other hand, an imbalance in the gut can be the cause of many ailments including leaky gut syndrome, food sensitivities, candida/yeast overgrowth, inflammatory bowel and more recently it has been linked to auto-immune disorders –thyroiditis, arthritis, diabetes- and depression.
A few basics for optimal gut health include:
1. Hydration: drink plenty of water and herbal teas
2. Fiber from vegetables, legumes & whole unprocessed grains
3. Liver supportive nutrients [found in radishes, citrus, mustard family plants (broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus), dandelion greens, dandelion root tea, turmeric (curcumin), etc.]
4. Fermented foods as a source of beneficial bacteria (probiotics) including miso, fermented tofu, tempeh, soy sauce, sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir to prevent overgrowth of harmful bacteria. It is a number’s game at the end of the day, the more beneficial bacteria in your gut the better!
To learn how you may be compromising the health of your gut and what therapies beyond the above mentioned recommendations you may benefit from, please see your health-care professional.