We've heard the term 'second brain' before and by now I'm sure you know that our gut communicates directly to our brain influencing a number of responses and metabolic pathways that occur every day.
But how does this really happen??
This communication occurs mainly through a large nerve called the vagus nerve which is our tenth cranial nerve, meaning it extends directly from our brain and branches into all areas of the GI system.
Hello communication pathway!!
It's nerve complexes make up what is called the Enteric Nervous System (ENS) and when it comes to gut control, these nerves are in charge of the hormones released from the gut.
Some of these hormones include ghrelin which tells the brain we are hungry and that we need food, leptin which tells the brain we are full or satisfied, insulin which is released from the pancreas in response to sugar in the blood, and even neurochemicals like serotonin that stabilizes our mood and feelings of well-being.
Together, the vagus nerve and its complexes are responsible for the rest and digest (parasympathetic) response required to control and regulate appetite and satiety, release of GI secretions like hydrochloric acid and other gastric hormones, muscular contractions for digestion, and blood flow surrounding the digestive tract.
These nerves also sense hunger, satiety, food reward, hedonic sensations around food (the pleasure we get from eating certain things), gut distress and agitation from food sensitivities.
They are also responsible for that gut feeling or pit in your stomach you get in response to an external stress. This occurs when the parasympathetic response is blunted and the sympathetic (fight or flight/stress) response is activated. This shuts down digestion and all it's processes.
Ever notice when your stomach hurts you may feel sad or unmotivated? Or when you're stressed out you either don't want to eat at all or you want to eat everything in sight? Blame it on your gut microbiome diversity and the hormonal signals sent to your brain eliciting these behaviors! Our gut health can directly affect our mood and the photo below highlights this!
This is why it's so important to eat for a healthy gut! So here are my main takeaways:
Eat whole foods and limit processed ones. Processed foods are usually high in saturated fat, high in simple sugars and added sugars, additives and preservatives, and thickening agents. All of these can agitate the gut.
Avoid the allergenic foods if possible: Some people have a hard time digesting cruciferous vegetables, lactose from dairy, eggs, certain nuts, and wheat. So if you notice you get bloated after consuming these, try removing them from your diet for a bit to see what's the culprit!
Poop every day. This is how our body eliminates toxins, removes excess hormones like estrogen, and waste from the body. If we aren't having a daily bowel movement and the crap is just sitting there, these waste products can be reabsorbed into our body leading to hormones disruptions and further distress.
Drink enough water especially if you aren't pooping daily. I always start my day with lemon + pink salt in my water. This provides the body with natural minerals and electrolytes. 2 liters would be the minimum I'd suggest but please consult your physician is you need to be on any type of fluid restriction for heart, renal or other issues.
Get in movement! This helps with gut motility and blood flow. Movement does not have to mean 2 hours in the gym. It can be as simple as a walk or stretching.
Get 6-8 hours of sleep! This is when your body repairs and recovers itself from the day.
Prioritize mental health and self care. You cannot pour from an empty cup. You just can't. If you try, you'll feel even more drained. Lay on the floor and take a break, put your phone away for a bit, watch a funny movie, take a hot shower or bath, get a massage, spend time with friends and family even if it has to be virtually! Take care of yourself first.
If you notice any of these areas being negatively impacted then it may be time to work on minimizing the stress in your and take a break from the things that you can!