Is Brain Health Good for Gut Health?
Life in lockdown and the uncertainty around the future can lead to feelings of anxiety and stress. For some of us, this stress can lead to an increase in gut-related symptoms.
Research on the gut-brain connection has shown that the gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to emotions. Feelings of anxiety or stress can certainly trigger symptoms in the gut.
The relationship between the brain and the gut and the way they interact, is a fascinating one that can help explain why we might experience an upset stomach when under stress or why, when nervous, we get butterflies.
Our mental health can absolutely affect our gut health, and the converse applies as well.
What is the gut brain connection?
Often referred to as the Gut – Brain Axis, it is a complex two-way communication system connecting the emotional and cognitive centres of the brain, with the intestinal functions of our gut. Being two-way means that a troubled brain can send signals to the gut, just as a troubled intestine can send signals to the brain.
The vagus nerve is the longest nerve of the nervous system, which runs from the brain stem to the gut, branching out along the way to reach other internal organs. It is the main communication pathway in the Gut-Brain Axis.
Neurons are cells found in your brain and central nervous system as well as your gut. Communication between neurons is made possible via neurotransmitters, the body’s chemical messengers. Interestingly, the gut produces more neurotransmitters than the brain, including serotonin, which regulates our emotions.
Can we treat our gut issues by making more effort to look after our minds?
In some cases, it can definitely help. At GastroNorth, we provide a multi-disciplinary approach to treating irritable bowel disease. We connect our patients with psychologists and hypnotherapists who provide gut-directed therapy. We have seen first hand that this additional therapy to reduce stress or treat anxiety or depression, can lead to an improvement in digestive symptoms.
However, most gut symptoms can be attributed to gut diseases and should not be blamed on psychological stress or mental illness before medical consultation or investigation.
In recent times, I have been experiencing gut symptoms – what should I do?
If you have been experiencing stomach or intestinal problems such as heartburn, abdominal cramps or loose stools, and you are concerned, you should see your local doctor. Your doctor will ask you how long you have been having these symptoms, how severe they are and whether something in particular triggers these symptoms. They might also ask about your diet, lifestyle and family history.
Have you been feeling stressed or anxious lately, are you also having difficulty sleeping or do you feel a little on edge?
Sometimes the worry about your symptoms can actually contribute to them, which is why we recommend putting your mind at ease by having a check up. Knowing all is ok, might be helpful in relieving some of your symptoms. Your doctor may refer you to a gastroenterologist for an investigation of persistent symptoms.