Your Other Brain

There is a lot evidence that your mood can be affected by the health of your digestive system.

The enteric nervous system (ENS) controls digestion and can work independently from your brain. The small intestine contains as many nerve cells as your spinal cord, and a malfunctioning gut can trigger mood swings, depression and anxiety. The effects of an unhealthy balance in the gut can cause more than a belly ache.

Your gut is connected to the brain via the vagus nerve and links the emotional and cognitive centers of the brain with gastrointestinal functions like releasing enzymes, stomach acid and bile. The microorganisms in your digestive system play a crucial role in your mood by their effects on the brain through this connection. So, we really are what we eat.

The microbiota in your gut also controls the production of serotonin and dopamine and can intensify pain signals. Anxiety and depression can also be caused by vitamin B12 deficiency and malabsorption caused by low levels of stomach acid.

Those “butterflies in your stomach or “lump in your throat” are the results of blood being sent from the stomach to the peripheral muscles as part of the fight-or-flight response. Heartburn is caused by signals the central nervous system sends to the ENS that alter nerve and muscle function. People who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) know this all too well.

The best approach to balancing the complexities of the digestive brain is the use of pre-biotics and probiotics that stimulate gut microbiota. Prebiotics fuel beneficial bacteria and include raw garlic, onions, asparagus, chicory root and artichokes. Great sources of probiotics include yogurt, tempeh, miso, naturally fermented sauerkraut, kimchi and kombucha. Supplementation is recommended for those who do not get enough in their diets.

It’s something to think about if you suffer from anxiety, depression or other mood disorders. Use your “other” brain. Listen to your gut.

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