Thinking back to the most stressful situations in my life, the main thing I recall is that aching, ulcer like sensation in the pit of my gut telling me that things are not okay. Then the internal struggle between my head and my gut about what to do next. The term worried sick comes to mind. As it turns out, there is more to that gut feeling than we think.
More and more research is coming to light suggesting that there is a very strong connection between how we feel and what is happening in our gut. Today we are going to delve a little bit deeper into this research to understand the connection and why it is important. We recently had the pleasure of talking with our resident gut expert, Nutritionist and Byron Bay beauty Katherine Hay from Kaptured Nutrition, who has a very healthy obsession with the gut and food.
Did you know that the neurons that make up your brain are also contained in the lining of your gut? In fact, that is why the gut is called the second brain. Say what!?!? Katherine explains “The enteric nervous system sends bidirectional communication between the gut and the brain, via the vagus nerve.” More reliable than our NBN cables, this pathway sends messages about how the gut is operating and therefore dictates emotional responses around food, behaviour, thought patterns and mental state. So when you next get that craving for a donut it may actually be your gut bugs telling your brain “eat me….eat me”!
“The microbes in your gut also produce dopamine and serotonin like the brain. These neurotransmitters make you feel good and control your mood, so when your gut microbes are out of balance these neurotransmitters are impacted and therefore your emotions, behaviour and mood are impacted,” Katherine informed us.
“Beneficial gut bacteria, also known as probiotics, are essential for gastrointestinal health, and are now being investigated in the role of preventing mental health disorders, including anxiety, with some research suggesting that early intervention of probiotic use may reduce the risks of infants developing psychiatric disorders later in life, due to a positive change in gut microbiota.” Katherine explained.
“Signs of anxiety include feelings of worry, apprehension, tension and nervousness. Anxiety disorder can be debilitating and cause Gastrointestinal Tract (GIT) complaints, as well as mental health signs and symptoms. With these symptoms, inflammation pathways are activated and biochemical enzymes are released in both the brain and the GIT. Inflammatory cytokines
are elevated and cognitive impairment start to progress in the form of anxiety.”
Katherine shares that “Often, people who suffer from mental health conditions, both diagnosed and undiagnosed, don’t pay any attention to the gut and how important it is for the
management of these conditions. I work with my clients on a specific and tailored pre and probiotic therapy treatment to improve these conditions. I incorporate functional ‘food as medicine” principles to ensure optimal gut functioning and healing.” See our 5 probiotic rich foods blog to learn about the the right foods to help the good gut bacteria thrive.
Thanks Katherine for all your insight into the gut brain connection. We are constantly learning more about the diverse universe of the gut microbiome and its impact on mental wellbeing. Those old sayings like a “gut feeling”, a “gut reaction” or “gut instinct” may have been on the money.
Written by Claire Gray, Co-founder Gutsy Life
Katherine Hay is a Clinical Nutritionist at Kaptured Nutrition and an Accredited member of the Australian Natural Therapists Association. Katherine specialises in gastrointestinal complaints (gut health, food sensitivities, intolerances, allergies, IBS), mental health, autoimmune disease, female reproductive health and body weight.
Sources for this article:
Bruce-Keller, AJ, Salbaum, JM & Berthoud, HR (2017). Harnessing Gut Microbes for Mental Health: Getting from here to there. Biological Psychiatry,
Evrensel, A & Emin Ceylan, M (2015). The Gut-Brain Axis: The Missing Link in Depression, Clinical Psychopharmacology and Neuroscience, 13(3): 239–244.
Partty, A, Kalliomaki, M, Wacklin, P, Salminen, S, Isolauri, E (2015). “A possible link between early probiotic intervention and the risk of neuropsychiatric disorders later in childhood: a randomized trial”, US national Library of Medicine, National institute of health.
Perlmutter, D 2015 “Brain Maker”, Little brown and company, Hodder and Stoughton, p. 103-495.
Spielberger, C (2010). “State trait anxiety intervention”, Corsini encyclopedia of psychology, Wiley online library.
Disclaimer: This article is of a general nature and based on medical research. This is not health advice, please speak to specialised health professional to discuss your specific health needs.