Ever felt “butterflies” in your stomach or talked about having a “gut instinct?” This mind-gut connection is more than metaphorical. Your brain and gut communicate using a network of neurons in the lining of your digestive tract called the enteric nervous system that is so extensive, scientists have nicknamed it your “second brain.” It turns out that taking care of this second brain may be the key to better health and improved mood—keep reading to find out how.

 

Our digestive system is host to innumerable bacteria and microbes that live in the intestines and form the gut microbiome. According to the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health, “The gut microbiome is so enormous that there are 100,000 times more microbes in your gut than there are people on earth.” Many of these bacteria help our body function, which is why some people take prebiotics and probiotics to increase or support the healthy bacteria that lives in their gut.

 

Many of these microbes live in the mucus layer lining your intestines, which places them in direct contact with the message-sending system that connects your gut to your brain. Your brain sends signals like stress, anxiety or happiness down into your guts to help your body know what to do, and your gut sends signals to your brain, too. So…what does this connection mean for us?

 

 

Brain Health & Gut Health

This cross-talk between your gut and your brain, according to John Hopkins Medical, explains why so many people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) also experience depression and anxiety. “Researchers are finding evidence that irritation in the gastrointestinal system may send signals to the central nervous system (CNS) that trigger mood changes.”

 

Understanding this connection helps explain the effectiveness of IBS and bowel-disorder treatments such as antidepressants and mind-body therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). It turns out that helping one brain may help the other.

 

You may know that imbalances in serotonin has long been considered a possible cause of depression. It turns out that about 95% of the body’s serotonin isn’t produced by the brain in your head, but by that second brain, the enteric nervous system, and is affected by what we eat and the health of our microbiome. This is why many hypothesize that keeping your microbiome healthy will help your mood—by making sure your body is creating adequate serotonin.

 

 

Scientists are still learning more and exploring what this gut-brain connection might mean for us, but one thing seems clear: fueling your body with healthy food could do your body a world of good.

 

 

If you’re experiencing anxiety or depression, please speak with a professional as soon as possible.