Most people are familiar with the brain-heart connection, but what about the gut-brain axis? This little-known term refers to the communication between the gut and brain, and it’s an important one to understand if you’re on a healing journey.
Your gut and your brain are much more closely linked than you might think. While you were in utero, the brain and the gut were one, then divided to create individual systems. The next thing to form and connect the two was the central nervous system, also called the vagus nerve, or vagal nerve.
We call the Vagus nerve bundle that connects the brain to the gut, “the gut-brain axis,” and it is in constant bidirectional communication. The information that travels up to the brain is about 80-90% of information gathered in the gut, however, 10-20% of information from the brain also travels down to our gut.
The gut-brain axis is responsible for controlling mood, appetite, and digestion, and helps in decisions making, so optimizing its function is key to feeling your best. There are a number of things you can do to support the gut-brain axis like eating nutritious foods, getting enough sleep, and enjoying time outdoors, but often overlooked is the emotional and mental work that helps foster a sense of safety so the body, the mind, and the gut feel at ease.
What Are the Benefits of a Healthy Gut-Brain Axis?
The gut-brain axis has a huge effect on a number of aspects of our health. While we of course know that it affects our digestion and our weight, it also helps to control our immune system, sending out antibodies when needed to all areas of our body. Additionally, it has an impact on our mental health and our hormones. So if you’re struggling with hormone issues, your gut may be the first place you want to look.
What Happens When the Gut-Brain Axis Is Miscommunicating?
Miscommunications along the gut-brain axis can lead to a number of issues including stomach discomfort, brain fog, anxiety, depression, lack of feeling, and IBS. In fact, 50%+ of IBS is actually a stress gut-brain axis issue.
Gut-brain miscommunication can also cause a loss of intuition and difficulty making decisions. Studies have shown that people with disordered eating either in the past or present, have gut-brain axis disruption or a lack of introspective awareness. This means that they can’t feel basic cues from their bodies such as hunger or fullness. What’s more surprising, however, is that they can’t necessarily feel all their emotions or intuition.
Want to find out more about disordered eating and the gut-brain axis?
How Can You Keep the Gut-Brain Axis Healthy?
There are a few different things we need to keep in mind when looking at the health of the gut-brain axis. Many of these points have a domino effect on others, so as you clean up one area of your health, others may follow suit without you even noticing.
Work on Your Vagal Tone
- There are a variety of different exercises we can do to strengthen the sensitivity of our vagus nerve. We call this sensitivity “vagal tone” and it works just like toning a muscle through exercise. Vagal tone exercises include humming, specific eye movements, breathwork, cold immersion therapy, and yoga. When we stimulate the vagal nerve through these exercises we reconnect and reinforce neural pathways in our brain and nervous system. It’s like cleaning up the superhighway for faster MindBody connection.
- When we are overly stressed, our brains switch off our digestive system so that we can deal with our stressor. While this may have been practical when we could run away from our problems in the stone age, in a world where we eat stress for breakfast, it can cause some serious gut health problems. Good stress management means our digestive system stays working as it should.
Keeping Promises / Boundary Setting
- Intuition is called your “gut feeling” for a reason. When we don’t keep promises to ourselves, we override our gut instincts with logic. This makes that nerve connection from the gut to the brain weaker, meaning we struggle to connect to our gut instinct. By keeping promises and boundary setting, we strengthen that neural connection, making it the primary go-to, which helps us regain our intuition.
- The first thing we want to do is make sure that we heal leaky gut. Leaky gut affects the intestinal walls making them more permeable and allowing toxins to seep into the bloodstream. Leaky gut is caused by chronic stress, inflammation, infections, and can be exacerbated by certain foods.
- Eating nutritious foods. We have overcomplicated foods and our diets. Eating mainly a whole foods diet supports not just our waistline, but also our overall nerve and brain health.
- Probiotics keep the gut balanced. They prevent fungal outbreaks or imbalances of bad bacteria which can confuse our gut-brain axis and leave us with bad digestive and mental health.
- Fiber and good carbs feed the good bacteria in our stomach. These not only keep our microbiome balanced and healthy for digestion and hormone balance, bacteria also create neurotransmitters so our gut-brain can communicate with each other.
Cleaning up Any Toxins
- The gut is where 70% of the immune system is. It processes our food, but it also sends out signals for antibodies and other healing strategies, therefore, making sure there’s nothing in the way of the body healing itself is paramount.
- Mold, chemical disruptors, parasites, and bacterial or fungal overgrowths get in the way of optimal gut health because the immune system is overloaded dealing with other factors.
- Checking out the chemicals you expose yourself to, and clearing up overgrowths and infections can help your gut focus on what’s important, and get you on the right track to recovery asap.
- Whatever way you like to move helps. Swimming, hiking, jogging, ball sports, or aerobics classes are all great, although one type of exercise stands out among the pack.
- Yoga not only gets you moving, it’s also a great stress reliever, and as stress is one of the biggest offenders in the gut-brain axis, yoga helps twofold in improving your gut-brain axis health because it involves regulation of breath and strengthens the felt sense of the body.
The gut-brain axis is a hot topic in the world of neuroscience and for good reason. This connection between the gut and brain has far-reaching impacts on our health and well-being. By keeping the gut-brain axis healthy, we can enjoy better mental clarity, improved moods, reduced inflammation, and so much more.
If you’re looking to improve your gut health and support your overall well-being, sign up for the Your Daily® Health Coaching app. We’ll help you create a plan that supports your unique needs and goals. Ready to get started?