The Gut-Brain Connection

The gut-brain connection is more powerful than we may realise. Maybe for you too, sometimes gut instincts just make more sense than anything else. Ever had butterflies in your stomach? Well, it turns out that the gut is a lot more influential on our behaviour that even gut instincts and butterflies credit.

Digestion alone is pretty amazing as foods get broken down into their constituent fats,amino acids and monosaccharides in order to be transported through the gut wall into the bloodstream for transportation to cells. Once in the cells these basic building blocks are reassembled into larger molecules which can be used by the body.

So that complicated process is amazing enough and presumably takes a lot of organising from somewhere deep in our subconscious. It turns out though that the gut is a nervous system all on its own which relays messages and instructions to the brain rather than passively receiving directions from the brain.

The gut is part of the Enteric Nervous System (ENS) and has sometimes been referred to as the second brain because it can function on its own without input from the brain. The ENS is made up of the entire gastrointestinal tract from the esophagus down to the exit and includes the stomach, small and large intestines, pancreas, gall bladder and a large amount of nerve fibres.(see this link for more detail.)

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The system has two layers of neurons which regulate the processes of digestion and movement of nutrients into the body while also sending messages to the brain about the state of the digestive system (hunger, pain, discomfort, stop eating – full up etc.). Other neurons receive messages from the brain.

The ENS also communicates with the immune system, signalling the need for tight junctions in the intestine to open up allowing water to flow into the gut and flush out foreign invaders (see leaky gut).

So it is not really any great surprise then to discover that what is going on in your gut can have a direct effect on your mental health.

Non Coeliac Gluten Sensitivity has been implicated in a wide range of autoimmune illnesses and also mental conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

People who manage to eliminate all foods which they have become sensitive to from their diet often report a greater feeling of calm. Their mental stability seems to increase and they can deal with stress more easily. Eliminating these foods is not easy and an elimination diet may be the quickest way to identify them, however the benefits are worth it. Calming the gut will calm the brain.

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