The age-old phrase “trust your gut” is somewhat scientifically correct. We do have a “second brain”, and it is in our gut. Surprise!
Whenever scientists talk about the “second brain”, they are referring to the enteric nervous system. It comprises 100 million neurons along the gastrointestinal tract, from the esophagus, through the stomach, and down to the anus. It is an independent entity from our central nervous system but they often communicate through hormones and neurotransmitters, thus establishing the gut-brain axis. For example, the stomach can send information about hunger or satiety to the brain to prevent us from overeating and vice versa.
Not only does the “brain” manage our digestion, but it also has to listen to microbes residing in our gastrointestinal tract. The gut microbiome, as it’s known, has about 10^14 microorganisms which are more than the number of cells in our body, and weigh up to 2 kilograms – heavier than a human brain. 75% of the microbial population (phyla Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes) are sensitive to shifts in the internal environment. Consequently, any disruption to the microbiome can affect our moods, emotions and perception.
Mental disorders are often accompanied by stomach problems. 17.2% of people with anxiety disorders and depression experience irritable bowel syndrome. Children that are on the autism spectrum are four times more likely to have digestive issues. 24.6% to 63% of people with Parkinson’s disease have chronic constipation. A diet with probiotic-rich foods can decrease negative thoughts and relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression.
There is still ongoing research to further understand the gut-brain connection, but regardless of that, it is important to take care of your gut by following a healthy diet and lifestyle. If you are in need of mental health support, you can visit here (Canada), or here (international).
Take care of yourself!