Do you ever have a "gut feeling" that something is amiss? Maybe you feel your stomach drop before you're about to speak in public or have a difficult conversation with a loved one? For years, scientists have researched this connection between what we think and how our gut feels. This crucial relationship has been dubbed the body's 'second brain.'
What is the body's 'second brain'?
For years, scientists have been studying this gut-brain connection. John Hopkins University revealed that the hidden walls of the digestive system in the gut, known as the 'second brain,' links everything from health to mood to the way people think. This brain, which scientists call the enteric nervous system (ENS), is comprised of two thin layers of over 100 million nerve cells in the gastrointestinal tract.
"Its main role is controlling digestion, from swallowing to the release of enzymes that break down food to the control of blood flow that helps with nutrient absorption to elimination," Jay Pasricha, M.D., director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Neurogastroenterology, explained. "The enteric nervous system doesn't seem capable of thought as we know it, but it communicates back and forth with our big brain — with profound results."
"Depression and anxiety have some impact on gastrointestinal illnesses."
Through this research, many scientists believe that depression and anxiety have some impact on gastrointestinal illnesses such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Extreme feelings of anger or sadness have been shown to trigger specific symptoms in the gut. For example, Harvard Health Publications wrote that just thinking of eating can release stomach juices before a meal is ever consumed.
This cause-effect relationship of emotion and gastrointestinal issues has been widely accepted, yet Pasricha said that recent studies show this relationship may also be the other way around. This means the gut may send signals to the central nervous system that triggers changes in mood or feeling.
A healthy gut may lead to a healthy brain
What you eat may have a direct impact on your emotional or mental state. New research indicates that people with healthy and a diverse set of gut microbes are less likely to suffer from anxiety and depression. For example, a 2014 study published at the National Center for Biotechnology Information shows that the regular consumption of probiotics has positive impacts on neurobiological health in regards to the aforementioned mental illnesses.
Though the research is still ongoing, probiotics are known to rebuild healthy gut bacteria in the body. Foods like yogurt, kimchi and sauerkraut are rich in these probiotics. On the GAPS Diet, participants focus on supporting a healthy gut by the regular consumption of probiotic foods. Many on the GAPS Diet have suggested they've found relief for their IBS or other gut-related illnesses. However, due to this gut-brain connection, people suffering from anxiety, depression and other mental health issues may want to consider eating real foods like those recommended on the GAPS Diet.
For additional information about the GAPS Diet and how to get started, you can consult with a Certified GAPS Practitioner and visit our website today!