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Have you ever experienced nervous butterflies before a job interview or important presentation? Or how about that “pit in your stomach” feeling when you realize you’ve just made a big mistake?
These feelings aren’t just in your head. Underlying these sensations is a vast network of over 100 trillion microbes in the digestive tract and over 100 million neurons that line the gut.
In the past, scientists believed this network was simply responsible for digestion. But it’s much more than that. As researchers turned their microscopes to the gut, they uncovered something remarkable: the gut behaves like a second brain.
It doesn’t help you write poetry or solve complex problems. Instead, the gut heavily influences your mood. Perhaps even more so than your brain.
On the flip side, your mood can have a substantial impact on your gut. So your gut and brain are intimately connected to one another. Scientists call this the gut-brain axis or connection.
According to Harvard Medical School, “a person’s stomach or intestinal distress can be the cause or the product of anxiety, stress, or depression.”
Studies have found that people with mood disorders often have a disrupted gut microbiome. But how is it possible that your gut can have such a profound impact on your mood?
While research is still in its infancy, scientists have found that your gut produces around 50% of all dopamine and an estimated 95% of all serotonin. Both dopamine and serotonin are neurotransmitters that play a pivotal role in your mood.
When you have high levels of these neurotransmitters, you feel happy and motivated. When they are low, you can feel deflated, stressed, and unhappy.
With that in mind, if your gut is not functioning as it should, it can negatively impact your mood by disrupting the production of these important neurotransmitters.
The gut and brain have a bidirectional relationship. This means not only can your gut influence your mood, but your mood can also impact your gut health.
If you’re chronically stressed, for example, it can decrease the tone of your vagus nerve which is connected to your entire digestive tract. The vagus nerve plays a role in telling the brain what’s going on in the gut and controls a variety of digestive functions.
When the tone of the vagus nerve is low from chronic stress or other factors, studies have found that it can trigger the symptoms of IBS such as bloating, gas, cramping, constipation, and fatigue. This would explain why so many people experience digestive issues when they are nervous or stressed.
There’s also evidence that stress can contribute to leaky gut syndrome which can result in chronic inflammation and cause your immune system to attack your own body.
When the gut-brain axis is dysregulated, things can go from bad to worse. As your gut health negatively impacts your mood, the increased stress can cause your digestive system to react, causing digestive distress.
The good news is that you can take advantage of the gut-brain connection. By focusing on improving your digestive and mental health at the same time, you can turn it into a positive cycle for upgrading your well-being.
Even if you’re only concerned with boosting your mood, both your mental and digestive health must be addressed due to their powerful relationship. In fact, in recent years medical experts have successfully used a strategy of optimizing gut health to help patients overcome mood disorders.
Supporting a healthy gut is one of the most effective ways to enhance your mood and combat stress due to the strong connections to the brain that exist in the gut. Try these six strategies to support a healthy gut.
Foods with omega-3 fats like wild-caught salmon or flax seeds can increase the number of good bacteria in your gut and help to improve your mood.
Vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and unprocessed fruit all contain fiber that can encourage the growth of healthy bacteria in your gut. Fiber can also protect your gut from the negative effects of stress. If you’re not getting the recommended 25-35g a day, consider a superfood fiber supplement to boost your intake of soluble and insoluble fiber.
Green tea, berries, cold-pressed olive oil, dark chocolate, and flax seed are all loaded with polyphenols, a type of plant-based antioxidant that can boost your digestive health and enhance brain function.
Sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, and yogurt are filled with beneficial bacteria and are great ways to enhance digestive and mental health. If you’re not eating fermented foods daily, choose supplements with probiotics so you support gut health on a daily basis.
Your gut also relies on micronutrients such as minerals to support and nourish digestive health. Magnesium, for example, is essential for helping to move food along the gastrointestinal tract, while potassium is necessary for muscle contractions. Research shows that zinc also plays a role in supporting the health of the microbiome. To boost your micronutrient intake, eat leafy green veggies, or consider a supplement with trace minerals.
Your digestive tract is ground zero for the intake of countless toxins in the food you eat. That makes detoxing the gut a priority so you can prevent some of those toxins being absorbed into the body where they can do even greater harm.
Adding more fiber helps to scrub toxins from the intestines, and the natural mineral zeolite is an effective way to mop up toxins from the gut and body. Research shows that as little as 12 weeks of zeolite use can strengthen the integrity of the gut.
Stress has a huge impact on the gut-brain axis. It can negatively affect your mental and gut health. That’s why it’s important to learn effective strategies to keep your stress levels at bay.
These strategies include meditation to help focus on the mind-body connection, daily exercise to destress the body, and getting enough quality sleep since even a single restless night can increase anxiety levels.
And because stress can seem unavoidable, it’s critical to build your resilience, so that you can bounce back faster from the inevitable stressful events that can happen on a daily basis.
The gut-brain axis is a powerful connection that science is only now beginning to comprehend. Research shows that your gut health can influence your mood for good or bad, and how you feel can have a dramatic effect on your digestive health. It’s important to nourish both gut health and mental health so that you can optimize your well-being.