In a charged emotional setting or intense decision-making time, you’ve probably gotten the sometimes frustrating but generally accurate piece of advice: “listen to your gut.” Idiomatically, your friends mean that deep within yourself, you’ll have an instinctual answer to your challenge. But now, new data suggests that your gut could really be the key to your overall mental and physical well-being. Listening to your gut might really give you all your answers—on how to stay healthy.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal explains the gut’s structure, and how it might affect the central nervous system.
The gut is considered a single digestive organ including the esophagus, stomach, and intestines. What you may not know is that this system has its own control center independent from your brain. Called the “entric nervous system,” this “gut brain” controls organs including the pancreas and gallbladder through nerve connections. The gut also generates hormones and neurotransmitters that will interact with other organs such as the heart. One nerve, called the vagus nerve, extends down from the brainstem and serves as the primary channel between the brain and gut.
So, head and stomach are connected. When we approach medicine holistically, this information seems obvious. But often we see our bodily systems as separate entities. How could head pain be the result of a seemingly calm abdomen? Turns out, your gut might have a lot more to say than you suspect.
At Stanford University, Pankaj J Pasricha (head of gastroenterology and hepatology at the School of Medicine) and his team irritated the stomachs of newborn rats to test the connection between brain and gut malaise. By the time the upset rats were eight to 10 weeks old, they displayed more depressed and anxious behaviors than the stable rats. Their physical irritation had healed, but it seemed the gut issue led to later mental problems.
If this study and other similar explorations equate to human situations (as they often do), what can we do to improve our minds through our gut?
According to WSJ, researchers from McMaster University proved that certain bacteria, or gut flora, help to facilitate integral interactions between the gut and the brain. This interaction provides for system stability, protection against pathogens and viruses, and proper nutrient uptake, among other benefits. You can support and promote your gut flora by eating a balanced diet and consuming probiotics. Probiotics are in foods like yogurt and kimchi, but can also be taken easily and effectively in supplement form. DrDeborahMD recommends alternating through a variety of probiotics to keep your gut flora blossoming and your brain happy!
Image from Health.com