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Exploring the Gut/Brain Connection

Posted Dec 14 2011 12:35am

Have you ever experienced a “gut feeling” or a “gut reaction” or “butterflies in your stomach” when you’re nervous? If so – it wasn’t your imagination, you were likely reacting with your “second brain”, your so-called enteric nervous system. This second brain located in your gut can significantly influence your emotions, mood and behavior. Your second brain even produces serotonin. In fact the majority of the serotonin you produce is in your intestines, with only a small amount produced in your “first brain”. Perhaps it’s no accident then that when we experience psychological stress, many of us suffer physical symptoms – typically either a stomach ache (second brain response) and/or a headache (first brain response?).

Having the right balance of bacteria in your intestines may significantly influence the reactions of your second brain. Consequently, having a healthy balance of gut bacteria is critical for proper brain function, especially when it comes to your emotional well-being. Your first and second brain are connected by your vagus nerve and, according to research published earlier this year , this is the primary pathway your gut uses in communicating with your brain. The researchers concluded that probiotics can have a significant positive impact on your mind and emotions. Conversely, in other research, deficiencies of beneficial intestinal bacteria are being linked to obesity, diabetes, learning disorders, depression and other mood disorders.

On a personal note, I battled depression off and on from my teenage years until my early 30s when I was finally diagnosed with Celiac Disease. Eventually, after eliminating gluten from my diet, my intestines healed and I have not suffered anything more than the occasional situational depression ever since. While I advocate obtaining most nutrients from food rather than supplements, I’m a big believer in probiotic supplements as it’s difficult to obtain enough from food. Not only is the health of your gut bacteria critical to brain function, it is also the seat of your immune system. Probiotics can also help increase your absorption of nutrients from the foods you eat and the supplements you take. Furthermore, f you’ve had your appendix removed, it’s even more important to supplement with probiotics as researchers now believe that the appendix is a storage place for beneficial bacteria . Of course in addition to supplementing with probiotics,  by all means include foods naturally rich in beneficial bacteria (such as cultured yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, etc) in your daily diet.

Be Well,

Carolyn


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