It’s true what they say … the mind is a powerful thing. It’s so powerful that it has a direct effect on what I believe to be one of the most integral parts of the human body and our overall health – aka. the gut.
Have you ever had fear or anxiety trigger unwanted symptoms? Or vice-versa? Are you stuck in this vicious cycle between your gut symptoms and your mind? Let me be the first to say, you are not alone! Today, we are going to dive into this crazy, complex connection known as the gut-brain axis and how it specifically relates to stress.
The Gut-Brain Axis
Believe it or not, the gut is also known as the “second brain.” As it’s the only organ with its own nervous system, known as the Enteric Nervous System (ENS), it contains over 100 million neurons that line the walls of your digestive tract. The ENS not only regulates various digestive processes, but emotional processes as well and communicates them back to the brain. In essence, the gut and the brain communicate bi-directionally via important neurotransmitters through the vagus nerve.
I know … I just threw a lot of vocabulary at you, but I’m about to put it all together…
The vagus nerve is what links our gut to our brain and allows for signals to be sent in both directions. In fact, the gut sends way more information to the brain than it receives. If you were to sever the vagus nerve, the gut would still be able to function … as if it has a mind of its own.²
Does anyone else find this fascinating?!
These signals, also known as neurotransmitters, are important chemicals produced in the body that can change the way we think, behave and how we feel. One such neurotransmitter is serotonin. Serotonin is not only produced in the brain, but also in the gut and is responsible for both mood and GI activity. In fact, about 95% of your serotonin is produced in the gut alone! GABA, another important neurotransmitter produced in the gut, is crucial to how we respond to fear, anxiety, and stress. Its role is to inhibit excitatory reactions and keep you more calm, cool and collected. More of this please!
Our Big Takeaways?
- The gut and the brain are intricately connected and communicate with one another.
- Our mood + behaviors are greatly affected by the gut-brain axis. Anxiety can cause unwanted gut symptoms and unwanted gut symptoms can cause anxiety. If our bodies are not in balance, we can get caught in a vicious cycle!
- Physically: Heal your gut – Want to know how to get started? Read this post.
- Mentally: Manage stress – See below!
Stress + The Gut
Stress is one of the biggest underlying root causes of all disease in the world.¹ We are constantly in a state of fight or flight between mental and emotional stress (work, life, relationships, etc.), and physical stress on the body through external toxicities (heavy metals, pesticides, pollution, etc.).¹ Stress should be finite.¹ However, in our world today … that is not the reality.
One of the main stressors on the body is digestive stress.¹ With over 100 trillion bacteria (that’s more than the number of cells in your body!), any imbalances in the gut due to candida, parasites, malabsorption or eating foods you’re sensitive to, for example, can cause an immune reaction.¹ As a result, the gut sends signals to the brain that something is wrong and we’re … you guessed it, in fight or flight mode. Here, the gut-brain axis is in full effect; The brain can then send signals back to the gut that manifest as anxiety, nervousness, depression, fatigue, and much more.¹
While digestive stress is an example of a physical stress on the body, mental and emotional stress is also an important and very real struggle. Have you ever worried yourself sick? This is a prime example of how sensitive the gut-brain axis is. Stress in the brain directly affects how the gut carries out its digestive functions and causes uncomfortable symptoms that many of us are all too familiar with – indigestion, feeling nauseous, diarrhea or constipation.
In order to truly heal, we need to get out of fight or flight mode – also known as the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) – and turn on the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) to be able to relax.¹ Only then will our bodies be able to repair and recover!¹
It’s pretty clear that we could all benefit from reducing our stress. Not only do I want to not stress myself sick, but I would also love to have a happy gut to prevent less stress on my body as a whole.
Here are some great ways to de-stress:
- Exercise/Move your body – Kickboxing, dance, walking, + yoga are great options!
- Spend time in nature
- Meditation – Want to know how I personally meditate? Check out this post!
- Gentle Massage
- Psychotherapy – Check out cognitive behavior therapy (CBT)
- Tapping – We’ll be discussing this more in our online gut course.
I would also be sure you are treating any nutrient deficiencies you have with the necessary supplements.¹ Be sure you talk to your doctor! Adaptogens are also a great option by helping our bodies respond to stress in a more balanced way.
Adaptogens for Stress:
- Siberian Ginseng
Stress and the gut can be a tough combination to address, but there’s hope! By working to heal your gut and incorporating different ways to de-stress, you too can break free from the vicious cycle caused by the gut-brain axis.
Ready to learn even more on this topic and how to fix it? Stay tuned! Our online gut course is coming. Be the first to know by signing up HERE!