You know the feeling that you get when you are nervous? Like there are butterflies in your stomach? Have you ever had that “sinking feeling” in your gut after you made a big mistake? Sometimes we have those “gut reactions” to situations – where we can’t really explain it, but we just feel like something seems amiss. It is totally normal to experience some nervousness, anxiety, fear, and even panic occasionally. In fact – we should learn to listen to our gut, because sometimes, our gut feelings can guide us in ways that our brain can’t.
But what about when these feelings start to become chronic, overwhelming, and negatively affect someone’s life?
Whenever someone tells me that they have a lot of anxiety or a related mood disorder – my first question is “how is your digestion?” The typical response is, “terrible – but what do my digestive issues have to do with my anxiety?” It is all about the second brain.
Our Second Brain
Our gut and our brains are connected so closely that Dr. Michael Gershon coined our gut “the second brain”. Lined with a complex and extensive set of neurons, called the enteric nervous system, “gut reaction” helps to explain what our second brain does – it guides our feelings, moods, certain behaviors, and reactions.
Our enteric nervous system/gut is responsible for manufacturing important neurotransmitters that play a role in our mood and brain function. So when there has been a gut imbalance or a leaky gut, there often can be mood imbalances and neurological manifestations, because the gut is no longer able to effectively absorb nutrients or convert them into these important brain chemicals. For example, over 90% of our serotonin, often referred to as “the happiness hormone,” is found in our guts. Low serotonin can lead to depression, anxiety, and other mood imbalances. Other neurotransmitters that can be involved in anxiety include GABA, dopamine, and epinephrine. So you can see how gut issues can affect our emotions.
Digestive Issues Very Common
The trouble is – gut imbalances are rampant – 1 in 5 Americans regularly suffers from digestive complaints. They are so common that we often just suffer through them, thinking that is just “normal” for us, and that there is nothing that we can do. But it is important to not ignore digestive issues because the gut is the foundation of our health. If allowed to continue, gut health issues can develop into other problems – affecting the brain, mood, joints, skin, thyroid, immune system, and more.
Digestive troubles over time can lead to poor absorption, which can develop into nutrient deficiencies, imbalances in neurotransmitters and amino acids – all of which can drive depression, anxiety, mood disorders; and other problems like ADHD and even addictions.
Although this may not work for everyone, there are a number of things to try if your second brain is causing you anxiety:
Heal the root cause, the gut:
Get some relief from the symptoms:
Until the gut is healed, it might not be effectively making neurotransmitters, which can cause someone to feel imbalanced, unfocused and anxious. Often, this is one reason that can drive people to abuse drugs and alcohol – they are trying to correct or self-medicate these imbalances. It is possible to test the neurotransmitters and take supplements that can help the body to produce more of the depleted neurotransmitters to feel more balanced.
The Gut & the Immune System
The gut is also the foundation of the immune system, so someone that frequently gets colds or infections, might want to look at improving their gut health to boost their immune system. One food that heals the gut and boosts the immune system is organic bone broth – so there is truth to the Old Wives Tale that chicken soup heals a cold (also helps to prevent one too).
This is a very in-depth topic. If you are interested in learning more about how the gut affects the brain, mood, and other areas of health, here are some additional articles:
Our gut is the foundation of our health. As Hippocrates so wisely said over 2,000 years ago:
“All disease begins in the gut.”
Please note: If you are experiencing extreme stress, anxiety or overwhelm – please seek out help from a mental health practitioner right away. The national Suicide Hotline can help you to find the necessary resources if you are in a mental health crisis: 1-800-273-8255.
Article written by Nutritionist Sara Vance, author of the book The Perfect Metabolism Plan A regular guest on Fox 5 San Diego, you can see many of Sara’s segments on her media page. She also offers corporate nutrition, school programs, consultations, and affordable online eCourses. Download her free 40+ page Metabolism Jumpstart eBook here.
©2015, all rights reserved. Sara Vance.
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Thank you, Sara, for your article. It is wonderful that gut health is getting such important attention as the root of our stress and influence over our emotional well-being.
I would like to add another technique as an integrative approach to increasing gut health that affects mental health. My colleague Robert Sterling and I worked as counselors for 40 years studying the intelligence of the gut responses and “We propose that there is much more you can do in addition to building up the good flora in your body to assure good gut health that effects positive mental health. Based on our clinical studies and research findings, we propose that the more a person uses the Somatic Reflection Process on gut feelings and unites body-mind, the happier their gut is, the more positive signals will flow from gut to head brain, and the person’s mental health will be vastly improved, as well as a stress reduction that has positive effects upon the physical body and the elimination of dis-ease. We have found the Somatic Refleciton Process on gut feelings is vital for improving the emotional immune system and mental health and we recommend it along with any probiotic diet plan to work hand-in-hand.”
I do hope you will join our exploration of gut intelligence at: http://instinctualgutfeelings.blogspot.com/
author of “What’s Behind Your Belly Button? A Psychological Perspective of the Intelligence of Human Nature and Gut Instinct”, includes a protocol of the Somatic Reflection Process and verbatim clinical sessions. Available on Amazon.
Thanks Martha for reading the article and for your input! I definitely think the mind-gut connection goes both ways – thanks for sharing this resource!
Also forgot to thank you, Sara, for the important tip about organic bone broth, which I had forgotten about.
© copyright 2019 Sara Vance