What You Need to Know about the Mind-Gut Connection
They’re found in very different parts of the body, so just how does the mind-gut connection work? We reveal how the two are so closely linked and provide four easy ways to keep them both feeling calm.
by Chantelle Pattemore
For years it’s been thought that the mind and gut are somehow connected, and with good reason: We feel sick to our stomachs when we’re nervous, or get those butterflies flapping if we’re excited.
But it wasn’t until more recently that scientists developed a better understanding of how the relationship actually worked — and their thinking is so persuasive that the gut has since been given the moniker “the second brain.”
It’s not like there’s a physical rope that ties these two parts of our body together, so what is it that enables such a connection? Experts believe there are several factors at play.
Hit a Nerve
It may not be an actual piece of string, but in physiological terms it’s the closest we’re going to get: the vagus nerve. A key part of the parasympathetic nervous system, it runs from the brain to the gut, allowing billions of neurons to fire off messages so they can “talk” to each other. This line of communication is vital: Research reveals that when it is hindered by factors such as stress, the all-important balance of good and bad bacteria in our gut is thrown off course.
Constantly buzzing throughout our bodies are various chemicals and neurotransmitters — many of which are responded to and/or created by the brain and gut. These include the “happy chemical,” serotonin, the “pleasure chemical,” dopamine, and the “sleep-inducing chemical,” melatonin, which is linked to our sleep cycle. It’s thought that up to 90 percent of our serotonin is made in the gut, so if your stomach isn’t at its best to produce and regulate this chemical, your mood will soon be aware of it.
All Systems Go
Our awareness of our body’s central nervous system is far from new, but comprehension of a similar system in our gut certainly is. The enteric nervous system (ENS) is a network of neurons and neurotransmitters that control activity in the digestive tract, from breaking down food to bringing on bowel movements.
Researchers are still trying to understand the full picture, but messages from this system are fired up the vagus nerve to the brain, so any malfunctions or unpleasantries in the gut are swiftly made known. On the flip side, it is through sending messages to the ENS that the brain influences gut activity, such as speed of digestion.
Keeping the Mind and Gut in Check
Just as our mental health impacts our gut, our gut health affects our mind and emotions — meaning it’s important to look after both aspects to maintain good overall health and well-being.
Fortunately, there are plenty of steps we can take to keep our mind and gut calm, and ensure the relationship between the two remains in tip-top shape. Here are four of our favorites:
In recent years, there’s been plenty of discussion around the good and bad bacteria, or the “microbiome,” in our gut. These bacteria influence ENS neurons, so if they’re off-kilter, the messages fired up the vagus nerve to the brain will be impacted. Fortunately, research reveals that taking probiotic supplements — which good bacteria feed on — can have a positive impact in patients experiencing depression and anxiety.
Thanks to the mind-gut connection, stress can quickly get your stomach churning and cause feelings of nausea. However, our SETTLE tincture contains hemp CBD oil — long associated with reducing worry; along with ginger and peppermint oils, which have both been used in traditional medicine for centuries to aid in soothing the stomach. Simply pop a couple of droplets underneath your tongue so the oils can start infusing into your blood vessels.
They say that you are what you eat, so plenty of healthy and nutritious ingredients will definitely make for a happy tum. With a high probiotic content, fermented foods such as kefir (look for this in yogurt), sauerkraut, kimchi and miso are great options; so are foods with plenty of fiber (think lentils, beans and berries) and “good” fats, such as salmon and avocado. When it comes to foods to avoid, sugar and processed foods are not your stomach’s friend.
Taking time to meditate can significantly improve our stress levels, but its benefits don't end there. Research shows that when we feel worried our body releases fight-or-flight chemicals, which can disturb the bacteria in our gut. However, meditating aids in managing the body’s response to stress, in turn reducing the impact on gut bacteria. And, as an added bonus, CBD could help elevate your meditation routine.
There’s no denying that the link between our mind and gut exists — and is far stronger than we might assume. But with a better understanding of how the two influence each other, and the approaches we can take to keep them in sync, you can help their relationship truly blossom.
Chantelle Pattemore is a London-based journalist and content writer. With a focus on health, well-being, fitness and food, she has written for titles including Women’s Health, Greatist, Men’s Fitness, Shondaland, Reader’s Digest and Stylist.