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The Gut-Brain Connection

The Gut-Brain Connection

We’ve all heard the phrases

“Just the thought makes me feel nauseous…”

“It makes me feel sick to my stomach…”

“It was a gut-wrenching situation…”

“He/she gives me butterflies in my stomach…”

Most of us have also seen how sensitive the gastrointestinal tract is to emotion, whether that be anxiety, sadness, anger or excitement - your first ever presentation, or date,  that not-so-conveniently coincided with a “runny tummy”? And we have probably even realised that just thinking about food can cause us to salivate and our stomachs to rumble… 

Despite everyone having experienced this at some point, most people still don’t truly regard the impact of our gut health - including what we eat - on our brain, and vice versa.

In truth, there is a direct connection between the gastrointestinal tract and the brain - the vagus nerve - which sends signals between the two, and which provides a direct link between how we nourish our body through food - and our mood, cognition, motivations and  even cravings.

It also goes to explain why many people may experience “functional” bowel disorders, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) without an obvious food or pathogenic trigger. Through the vagus nerve’s innervation of the gut, psychological factors (sadness, anger, anxiety) and psychosocial triggers (work stress, a loss in the family, a child being bullied,) influence the actual physiology of the gut, causing pain, discomfort and alterations in gut wall contraction and motility (fostering constipation / diarrhoea). 

Therefore, gastrointestinal upset can be the cause or the product of anxiety, depression, anger and excessive stress or even elation, and you might find that head-scratching bowel conditions might clear up if you address your nervous system and overall psychological wellbeing, and vice versa, that your mood and cognition may be enhanced through paying careful attention to what you are feeding your gut.

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