Hang with me for a few moments while I paraphrase some research...
In 2011 scientists conducted a study on the connection between the brain and the gut. In the initial mice study, mice were fed lactobacillus rhamnosus JB-1. This bacteria is good for the gut and the scientists wanted to see if they could influence positive behaviors in the mice by introducing this bacteria into their systems. Two groups of mice were then placed in water and forced to swim in circles (poor mice!). One group was the control group (bacteria free), and the other had the bacteria in their system. The mice with the bacteria swam longer, plus their blood had less cortisol than the mice with no lactobacillus present.
In 2013 another group of researchers decided to try to see if the effects of lactobacillus would also be observed in humans. The cutting edge research that came out showed that the subjects who had taken the lactobacillus bacteria had changes in the areas of their brains that were responsible for processing emotions and physical pain.
What's the connection between the gut and the brain? The connections between the central nervous system and the body and complex and numerous and not anywhere within my area of expertise. However, a simple way to understand the connection is to look at the vagus nerve.
The vagus nerve "is the longest of the cranial nerves, extending from the brainstem to the abdomen by way of multiple organs including the heart, esophagus, and lungs." (healthline.com) The vagus nerve helps your brain communicate with the rest of your body.
Is it the vagus nerve that gives us our "gut feelings" or helps us to "go with our gut" when we know something is good or bad for us? Our gut has a complex set of nerves that is just as intricate as our brain. The brain and the gut are buddies, and they need proper communication to maintain a balanced friendship:) What helps this friendship?
Stress forces our brain to take energy away from our gut by decreasing blood flow and decreasing mucus production. This compromises our gut environment and makes us susectible to digestive issues like irritable bowel syndrome and ulcers. People with digestive problems like IBS and Crones disease have reported to have higher levels of anxiey and depression. Interesting fact: 95% of the serotonin the body produces is made in the cells in the gut!!! (This information is from the book by Dr Julia Enders- Gut: The Inside Story. I HIGHLY recommend reading it and I really, really, hope that some artist turns it into a comic book someday cuz it is really that cool to read. It should be required reading for everyone!)
Research is studying the gut brain connection and I look forward to hearing further developments. In the meantime, how can we promote a healthy gut?
Add some fermented foods to your diet.
Discuss with your integrative medicine doctor if taking a high-quality probiotic could be beneficial.
Eat lots of fiber from fresh fruits and veggies to aid digestion.
Practice mindfulness regularly.
Exercise to promote serotonin production, increase cell turnover, and aid digestion.
If you have persistent gastrointestinal issues, discuss the benefits of a low-FODMAP or elimination diet with an integrative nutritionist or dietitian.
I can't wait to see the research that is going to come out in the next few years. And I really hope Julia Enders writes another book.