Did you know that your “second brain” - THE GUT, contains more neurons than the brain and spinal cord combined?
or that 95% of the body’s serotonin - sometimes called the “happy chemical” (because it contributes to feelings of happiness and well-being), is produced in the gut, along with other neurotransmitters, like dopamine (a neurotransmitter responsible for allowing you to feel pleasure, satisfaction and motivation), GABA (a neurotransmitter that helps regulate brain activity and can control feelings of anxiety), and norepinephrine (a naturally occurring chemical in the body that acts as both a stress hormone and neurotransmitter), all which are critical to mood regulation? - State Change, by Robin Berzin, MD
Do you see where the gut has direct implication in your well being?
The enteric nervous system (ENS) governs the function of the gastrointestinal tract and is made up of more than 100 million nerve cells in and around the entire digestive tract, from esophagus to anus. The ENS is an important part of the gut-brain axis. It is the bidirectional communication link that connects the brain in the skull and the brain in the gut. The ENS not only helps control digestion but also plays a key role in how certain diseases manifest in the body and the state of your emotional well-being.
A worried brain can directly affect the stomach and intestines, and likewise, a troubled gut can send distress signals to the brain, causing you to feel stress, depression, or anxiety.(1)
The ENS is capable of operating independently of the brain and spinal cord, but does rely on innervation from the autonomic nervous system via the Vagus nerve.
More significantly, your microbiome - the body’s universe of trillions of microorganisms inside the gut, is connected directly to your brain via this two-way highway known as the gut-brain axis.
One reason the microbiome is so influential is because your body and its DNA are more microbial than human - only 43 % of you is made up of human cells and human genes. This means what happens in your microorganism community has a profound impact on your physiological and psychological health.
The gut microbiota interacts with the brain-gut axis in several ways, including the vagus nerve, immune system, and production of GABA and short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). There is also research to support the idea that the gut microbiota can influence the development of neuropsychiatric disorders, such as depression and autism, which gives further credence to the importance of maintaining a healthy and balanced gut microbiome. The good news is that even if the gut microbiome is not in optimal balance, it can be altered with simple diet and lifestyle shifts. Research shows that altering the types of bacteria in the gut through diet may help treat neurodevelopmental disorders (those in which the development of the CNS is disturbed) and stress-related disorders, including hyperactivity, autism, and depression.(2)
With 70% to 80% of all our immune cells in our microbiome, our gut also helps control inflammation, including in the brain.
In conclusion, an unhealthy gut can lead to an inflamed brain, increasing the risk of depression, irritability, sadness, anxiety, brain fog, ADHD and general malaise. Your gut is the root of your health and often real cause behind what is going on in your body and brain.
Understanding the connection between the brain and gut has resulted in a wider range of treatment for many diseases. Research focused on Parkinson’s, autism, depression, pain, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, and anxiety has begun to observe the gut’s role in these diseases to see what imbalances or malfunctions (such as inflammation) may be an underlying cause.
Likewise, treatments for bowel disorders and IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) have effectively used mind-body approaches. Considering how closely the brain and gut work together, using a combination of psychological and physical applications can be most beneficial when looking to improve digestive symptoms.(3)
When the vagus nerve is stimulated, it activates the parasympathetic nervous system and the body’s “rest and digest” response. Engaging in activities that wake up the vagus nerve strengthen it and disrupt the “fight or flight” response of the sympathetic nervous system.(4)
Thinking outside the box, when working with a functional or integrative doctor, a hydrogen/methane breath test might reveal whether you have small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), which happens when bad bacteria take over your small intestine and cause symptoms like bloating, gas, brain fog and even rosacea. Also, for the lower digestive tract, a 3 day stool test helps identify the presence of inflammation, parasites, yeast overgrowth, poor digestive function, or too few helpful bacteria all of which can disrupt your mental health.
While specialists are treating the digestive health issues with potent herbal supplements and prescription medication as needed, a health coach can guide you and support you through the gut healing protocol suggested by your specialist. A health coach can help you make simple lifestyle and dietary changes to improve your brain health, gut health, and the connection between the two while keeping bio-individuality in mind.
A health coach also can support a healthy gut-brain axis that don’t involve what you eat. Primary food – the nourishment that comes from things off the plate – is essential for gut-brain health and allows you to look at your well-being from a big-picture perspective. A healthy vagus nerve is an important element for keeping the communication lines between the brain and gut in good order. A poorly functioning vagus nerve can cause any number of problems, including poor motility and bacteria overgrowth in the gut, which can lead to inflammation and neurodegeneration. Luckily, there are natural ways to stimulate the vagus to improve the gut-brain communication, such as breathwork and yoga poses, to name a few. Regularly exercising the vagus nerve promotes a strong and healthy vagal tone, which helps ward off the negative effects of stress. Supporting and stimulating the vagus nerve is a great way to support optimal gut health.
Health Coaches can offer valuable support for clients struggling with IBS - to reduce stress, engage in more rest and restorative exercise, journaling, and dietary support through the three-phase approach to the low-FODMAP diet (if recommended).
By providing a safe and open space for clients to explore their lifestyle and diet, a health coach can help them make significant improvements in their health and well-being.