Why Your Gut Health May be the Missing Link to Optimal Health and Fat Loss – ‘The Gut-Brain Axis’
Posted on 3rd May 2016 at 13:48
Take a closer look at the in-depth two-way relationship between the brain and your digestive system.
If I was to ask you where you thought digestion began, I’m sure many of you would say the mouth or stomach.
But what if I told you that it actually starts in your brain!
If I started describing a nice juicy apple and asked you to close your eyes and picture the apple, think about its texture and how it smells, then got you to imagine taking a knife and cutting the apple open and start to smell that distinct apple smell ….. I could go on.
But the point is by merely thinking about a food your digestive system begins, in the form of saliva. You may have even started salivating when thinking about the nice juicy apple.
The ‘gut-brain axis’ is the communication between your head brain and your gut brain.
This gut brain is called the enteric nervous system, which is an independent nervous system that can run without any other input from the body. There are as many neurons found in the enteric nervous system as there are in your spinal cord. When all is well, the gut brain axis is able to communicate and send quick updates through the valgus nerve which is essentially a direct highway of communication between the two organs.
However, just like in all good relationships, if the gut is unhappy it lets the brain know.
A constant onslaught of negative messages from the gut can affect the nerve activity to the brain, leading to disturbances in both mood and sleep. Similarly if your brain is constantly signalling negative messages to your gut it can alter our gut microbes, leading to low grade inflammation which can cause bloating and gas along with other symptoms.
Below is a visual representation of the relationship between the gut and the brain (the gut brain axis).
We have all experienced this ‘gut brain axis’ at some point.
Have you ever been waiting to give a speech and experienced diarrhoea from anxiety? Or maybe you have had a big job interview and you got stomach cramps? These things happen because your valgus nerve is constantly keeping your brain and gut intertwined.
Another example of how the gut and brain are connected is neurotransmitters. Our gut produces the same neurotransmitters that our brain does. Did you know that 95% of the bodies serotonin (feel good hormone) is located in the gut, where it helps regulate digestion?
Could it be then that a digestive system not working optimally, and not producing the serotonin we need for digestion let alone feeling good, may be the cause of some anxiety, stress and depression? …. Potentially.
As mentioned earlier the first phase of digestion is all in your head. The Japanese actually have a saying ‘the eyes eat first’.
Using what we have just learned about the gut-brain axis you might not be surprised that seeing, smelling and sensing food preps your digestive organs for action. Thinking about food triggers saliva and digestive juices along with enzymes and increases blood flow to your digestive organs – which will be needed once food hits your stomach.
But it doesn’t always work this smoothly. This process depends greatly on what state of mind you are in when you eat.
Are you sat down and relaxed? Or are you angry, stressed and rushing?
If you are relaxed then you will be in a parasympathetic state also called ‘rest and digest’. This rest and digest state is associated with relaxation and when you are in this state it is the perfect environment for your body to digest happily. However many of us eat in a stressed state also known as the sympathetic nervous state. You many have heard me talk about this before when I mention the ‘fight or flight response’. When you are in this stressed state your digestion slows down or stops completely, which makes sense. If you were being chased by a T-Rex would you want your body to be digesting food or using all available resources and energy to sharpen your brain and move your muscles?
The reality is that if you are constantly in a stressed state and eating in a stressed state then your body will start to reduce production of stomach acid, reduce its absorption of nutrients and slow motility (contraction of muscles in digestive tract) all of which will have knock on effects further down the digestive river. The later part will result in undigested food sitting in your stomach, which will cause indigestion, gas and bloating!
How to keep your gut brain axis happy?
Because your eyes eat first and your mental state is so imperative to your digestion it’s important that you actually take the time to sit down, relax and enjoy every meal.
You may find that a lot of your digestive symptoms disappear by simply sitting down and placing your body in the rest and digest state, which as the name suggests is the preferred state your body would like to be digesting food in.
This rest and digest state will help increase the blood flow to the digestive system and help improve the gut mobility, increase enzyme activity and allow you to eat your food without bloating and discomfort.
In the next few articles I will be covering many other ways to improve your gut and digestive health.
By implementing these and improving your digestive system you will positively affect the gut brain axis as you will be stopping the negative signals sent to the brain from the gut.
Share this post: