You know those nervous “butterflies” you get on a first date or that sinking feeling after you’ve opened an unexpected bill? That’s a communication occurring on a pathway from the gut to the brain through a nerve called the vagus. Scientists are discovering this pathway has a surprising level of influence on our thoughts and emotions.
The gut – also called the gastrointestinal tract – is a 30-foot organ system that runs from your mouth to your rear end. About 500 million neurons line the walls of your gut. That’s more neurons than your spinal cord and your peripheral nervous system, which is why the gut is often called “the second brain.”
The small intestine and colon make up the last section of the tract and contain their own reflex circuits that are able to act independently of the brain. This has significant implications. Your gut may be more important than once thought.
How Your Gut Affects Your Emotions
Your gut can positively or negatively impact your mood and even your overall mental health. Serotonin and dopamine are two neurotransmitters, which are responsible for feelings like joy, pleasure, irritability, and impulse. When these chemicals are out of balance you may experience depression, anxiety, OCD or struggle with addiction.
About 95 percent of your serotonin and 50 percent of the dopamine in your body is made up your gut. Many believe this is why you crave fatty food when you’re sad because it triggers a release of dopamine in the brain. One study showed that those who received fatty acid injections in their stomach were not as affected when shown sad pictures compared to those that received saline injections. This means your gut isn’t just for moving nutrients, it is a source of happiness you can tap into.
Your Gut Microbiome
Your gut microbiome is an ecosystem of over 40 trillion microbes that impact your gut neurons. Just like any ecosystem, the environment of your gut determines which species of microbes survive. The surviving microbes are what influence your gut neurons.
These little critters influence happiness and energy levels. This means everything you consume can have a positive or negative impact on your life. No pressure!
Eating for a Healthy Gut and a Happy You
Now that you understand the importance of caring for your gut, make changes that support your gut to become a healthier and happier you. Unlock gut benefits by incorporating simple lifestyle changes, including:
- Avoid sugar – Sugar promotes yeast overgrowth and feeds bad bacteria.
- Eat a variety of high-quality food – By diversifying your diet you have a better chance of introducing a range of good bacteria into your gut.
- Say no to grains – Grains contain irritants such as lectin and gluten, which are hard on your gut.
- Eat foods high in pre and probiotics – Encourage the good guys with foods such as sweet potatoes, asparagus, and fermented foods such as sauerkraut.
When you’re told to “trust your gut”, it is now known this isn’t a metaphorical term anymore. There is actually a mind-gut connection more powerful than once thought.