The Mind-Gut Connection

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A perspective on stress, nutrition, & mental health ~

The mind-gut, gut-brain connection (whatever you’d prefer to call it) is something I’ve more recently started learning about, and it is freaking fascinating! Therefore, I wanted to compile a little info for you to read so you can learn more about it too, and most importantly – how it can affect you & how you can use it to your own advantage.

What is the mind-gut connection?

There is actually a portion of the body’s nervous system that is located in the gut. This means that nerves, nerve cells and neurotransmitters (chemicals that carry information through the body) are located here – the exact same cells and types of neurotransmitters that are in the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord)! The gut’s own nervous system is called the Enteric Nervous System, which receives messages from neurotransmitters in the Autonomic Nervous System (see more below) that is directly related to digestion.

How does it work??

When we start to feel anxious or stressed, the sympathetic nervous system is activated. This is a division of the autonomic nervous system – the system that regulates our body’s involuntary responses, such as blood pressure, digestion, rate of breathing heart rate, & sexual arousal. This system cannot differentiate a real threat from a perceived threat (think Lion chasing you vs. feeling nervous about a presentation) – your body reacts the exact same way to both “threats”. The sympathetic nervous system, in relation to digestion specifically, slows digestion wayyy down in these situations. This can lead to issues such as constipation, indigestion, bloating, upset stomach, and a variety of other issues.

Now we know, this connection actually works both ways – meaning yes, the mind can affect the gut BUT the gut can also affect the mind. How freaking interesting, right????

Research has shown that anxiety and depression can lead to different gut-health issues like mentioned above. BUT NOW, it’s been noted that the opposite can occur as well – that the nutrients/foods we eat can play a role in our Central Nervous System (our brain!!) and our mental health.

How does our gut-health affect our brain health?

As I mentioned, the enteric nervous system has its own neurotransmitters similar to those in the brain. These neurotransmitters play an important role obviously, in digestion, but because they are the same that are located in our Central Nervous System, research is showing that they can play a role in the link between our gut and our mind ~ the gut produces and responds to many of the same neurotransmitters as the brain does.

Some of these neurotransmitters that are important to note are:

  1. GABA – GABA helps to regulate brain activity produces a calming effect in the brain and digestive system, GABA production helps to reduce symptoms of anxiety.
  2. Serotonin – serotonin regulates mood, sleep, digestion, nausea, wound healing, bone health, blood clotting and sexual desire. Its known to many as the happy chemical. 90% of serotonin is actually produced in the gut!!
  3. Dopamine – dopamine regulates cognitive functions such as decision making, attention, memory, motivation, and reward, and about 50% of dopamine is produced in the gut.

These are a few of the important neurotransmitters that are currently being researched in the mind-gut connection. Current studies in rodents have shown however, that the food that is being eating by these animals, did have a significant effect on the brain.

What does this mean for us??

The gut is filled with bacteria ~ we call this the gut microbiome. The foods we eat fuel the microbiome in either a positive or negative way. Studies show that fueling ones body with whole foods helps to feed the gut microbiome in a positive way, to help keep it thriving optimally. From this we can say that feeding your gut whole foods as often as possible can help to keep it thriving, and in theory help with the mind-gut connection and help to positively affect brain health.

This means that healthy eating is not just important for our physical health, but it is important for our mental health as well. I think this is so important to note because so many of us do not realize how much of an effect what we are filling our bodies with, plays on our own brain health and mental health. Working in the hospital, I notice all the time that we do not provide the proper food or nutrition to patients who are trying to heal from both mental and physical diagnoses, so it really does make me think about what we are all doing for ourselves on a daily basis. So my advice to you – eat more fruit, vegetables, whole foods, locally sourced ingredients, and less packaged and processed foods as much as possible.

Now I know this is much easier said than done. You can definitely try and eat all the whole foods you can, however we all know it’s not possible to always get the best of the best. Whether it be because of the high investment of healthy food, or the limited access, it can be difficult to eat the best foods all the time. That is why I am grateful for the whole food capsules that I have been taking for the past 4 years. They help me to bridge the gap between what I am eating and what I’m not eating every single day.

The capsules contain the following fruit, veggies, and berries: Apple, Peach, Cranberry, Orange, Mango, Acerola Cherry, Pineapple, Prune, Date, Beet, Lemon Peel, Broccoli, Parsley, Tomato, Carrot, Garlic, Beet, Spinach, Cabbage, Kale, Rice Bran, Concord Grape, Blueberry, Cranberry, Blackberry, Blackcurrant, Bilberry, Raspberry, Pomegranate, Elderberry, Artichoke and Cocoa, Omega fatty acids from Pomegranate Seed Oil, Raspberry Seed Oil, Algal Oil, Tomato Seed Oil, Safflower Seed Oil and Sea Buckthorn Berry Oil.

I’ll be clear here. I am not saying that these products replace eating real fruit, veggies and whole foods. I am saying that these products help flood your body with over 12,000 nutrients from 33+ varieties of whole foods (that are listed above) each and every day. It’s not what you do once in a while, but what you do consistently that matters. These products can help aide in the improvement of gut health, and therefore can be helpful on your journey to improve your mind-gut connection. To find out more and place your order, click here <3

I am here to empower you to treat your mind and body with love and respect, and of course, there are so many ways to do this. The mind-gut connection is one way to help improve both your brain and gut health, and to help take care of your mind and body in a healthy way. If you have any questions about research or absolutely anything related to the post – connect with me!

An important note: the gut-brain connection is a very new concept in current scientific research, and there is still much research to be done on this subject, but this topic is so important. I am not here to say that eating healthy prevents or cures mental health disorders or problems, but I am here to say that fuelling our body with the proper nutrients can help support all aspects of our insides, including brain function.

Research for this post comes from sources from The American Psychological Association, Harvard University, The National Library of Medicine, The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, and my own nursing education background. 

Cheers to a healthy mind & gut!

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