Influencers…..Stress and the Gut Brain Connection
In the past, mental health issues have been treated by focusing on the brain (more specifically the neurotransmitters). Although it has been beneficial for some, there are many of whom it just simply did not work. Leaving them feeling even more helpless.
Thankfully in more recent times research has shown us the importance of the gut-brain connection, and paying attention to the gut in mental health conditions is vital.
Have you ever felt so anxious you feel nauseous? Or butterflies in your stomach when you’re nervous or excited? This is the gut- brain connection at work.
The gut-brain axis is a bidirectional pathway of communication that occurs from the brain via the vagus nerve to our gut. Being a connection that runs both ways means that gut issues can be the cause or the product of mood disorders including stress, anxiety and mental health disorders.
Did you know that Serotonin which is a neurotransmitter that stabilises moods and gives feelings of wellbeing is produced in the brain but 90% is actually found in the gut?
Studies have also shown:
- Acutely depressed patients have shown to have higher gut levels of certain bacteria and lower levels of some compared to patients with milder depression.
- Children with neurodevelopmental disorder have been shown to have less microbe diversity and lower levels of certain microbes compared to others.
- Certain good bacteria in the gut produce certain outcomes. Therefore diversity of microbes is essential. Probiotics strains such as Lactobacillus helveticus, Lactobacillus reuteri and Bifidobacterium longum have been shown to reduce anxiety. While Bifidobacterium infantis has been found to have antidepressant effects.
That is not all. There are so many other issues in the gut that are linked with mental health issues including digestive disorders, anxiety, mental health disorders, brain fog, neurodevelopmental disorder, leaky gut, food sensitivities, parasites or infections, and the list could go on.
Exposing stress….and how it responds
Our stress response was designed to save our lives, the problem is nowadays our stress response is often being activated everyday.
Our “ON” button is stuck on.
When you are stressed, chemical messengers are released from your adrenal glands, enabling you to stay and fight or run to safety. When this happens, blood, energy and oxygen moves from our internal organs like the digestive system and the reproductive system and goes to the essential parts needed to survive in that instance like the brain, heart and muscles. Let’s be honest, if you’re being chased by a tiger, you’re not wanting to sit down and have a meal, you’re going to run. The problem is many people are in this constant state of stress which causes more stress on the body and causes issues such as slowed digestion, damage to the digestive system in turn causing digestive symptoms and a focus on storing fat.
The impact on the gut caused by stress:
- Lessens Enzymes
- Lowers stomach acid
- Impairs digestion causing regurgitation, bloating, indigestion and gas.
- Changes the makeup of our microbes
- Affects absorption of nutrients
- Damages gut wall, contributing to a leaky gut
- Messes with the immune system
- Inflammation occurs
- Are you constantly eating on the run?
- Do you struggle to relax?
- Do you always have tight/sore muscles?
- Do you constantly wake up tired/ not refreshed in the morning?
- Do you have sensitive teeth or jaw pain?
- Do you eat plenty but never feel satisfied?
- Do you always crave carbs/ sugar?
The following areas involving the GUT have been directly linked and strongly influencing/causing mental health issues:
- Nutritional deficiencies: Nutrients like B Vitamins, magnesium, iron, zinc, essential fatty acids etc are essential to optimal mental health and when deficiencies occur symptoms occur or are exacerbated.
- Oxidative stress: the ability to deal with and recover from stress (physical, environmental and emotional) is strongly influenced by the diversity of gut microbes. Certain microbes have actually been found to increase oxidative stress and in turn encourage neurodegenerative diseases.
- Diversity and integrity of gut: as we have seen above certain microbes have positive effects on anxiety and depressive symptoms. Also, when the integrity of the gut is impaired nutritional deficiencies occur, gut dysbiosis, gut symptoms etc which all impact mental health.
Diet: increase nutrient dense foods that nourish and avoid foods that will exacerbate symptoms.
- Probiotic foods to promote and diversify gut microbes.
- Prebiotic foods to feed the good microbes.
- Lots of fibre of vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds to feed the good bacteria, boosts nutrients and gets rid of toxin build-up.
- Protein for amino acids to fuel your brain whilst sustaining you for longer, minimising those stress cravings.
- Fish contains both protein and essential fats (omega-3 fatty acids) which can support a healthy stress response and healthy mood.
- Avoid sugar and refined carbs, these just give you a little sugar spike, don’t give you any nutrients to help your body deal with stress and will help feed the bad bacteria.
- Avoid excess caffeine, this is just going to stimulate the nervous system more.
To promote your “rest and digest” nervous system to support optimal digestion.
- Deep breathing
- Yoga & Meditation
- Mindful eating (chewing slowly!)
- Eat at the table with the TV/ technology off. So that your body can focus properly on digesting.
Remember that supplements are not the answer, supplements just support while you work on the underlying problem.
- Digestive enzymes: taken with each meal to support digestion, in turn this will help reduce all those nasty digestive symptoms, help absorb nutrients and help reduce the stress of digestion while it’s impaired.
- Probiotic: to promote diversity and number of good bacteria in the gut. Chatting to a professional about which is the best probiotic to choose is important as different strains have different influences in the body.
- Magnesium: we use more when stressed so many people are deficient, it’s a muscle relaxant and improves sleep and stress.
Tip: Oats are amazing for nourishing the nervous system. Best way to have them is rinse them, soak for 1hr before cooking (or overnight). Add on some yoghurt for good fats and probiotic, with some antioxidant rich berries.. The perfect nourishing breakfast!
**Always read the label. Follow the Directions for Use. If symptoms persist, talk to your health professional. This medicine may not be right for you. Read the warnings before purchase.**