For decades, our understanding of the digestive system was based on how it broke down and absorbed the food we ate and completely independent of the brain. But time and again, these two organs have been proven to be interconnected. Our digestive system is much more delicate, complex and powerful than we once assumed. The gut might actually even be influencing our basic emotions, pain sensitivity, and social interactions and guiding many of our decisions.
Functions Of The Gut In The Body
The gut is essential for normal intestinal functions and plays a crucial role in vital functions such as sleep, appetite, pain sensitivity, mood, and overall well-being.
Our gut has capabilities that surpass all our other organs. It has its own nervous system, known as the enteric nervous system (ENS) and often referred to as the “second brain.” This second brain is made up of 50–100 million nerve cells, almost at the same level as the spinal cord. The gut is also the largest storage facility for serotonin, a signaling hormone that plays a crucial role within the gut-brain axis.
The gut is connected to the brain through thick nerve cables that can transfer information in both directions and through communication channels that use the blood stream. Hormones and inflammatory signaling molecules produced by the gut send signals up to the brain, and hormones produced by the brain transfer signals down to the various cells in the gut, such as the smooth muscle, the nerves, and the immune cells, altering their functions.
For many people with sensitive bowels, this signal transfer doesn’t work properly and so the gut bombards the brain with too many messages and confuses it. This results in gut disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, and many others generally termed as “unexplained medical symptoms.”2
How Your Gut Affects Your Emotions
1. Trauma And The Gut
Any emotional or physical trauma reflects on our gut and is generally seen as unexplained symptoms. It can show up as indigestion, frequent bowel movement, or nausea and loss of appetite. All these are related to the gut and arise in times of severe trauma.
2. Functional Gut Disorders
Functional disorders usually appear as a need to go to the bathroom too often, bloating of the stomach, constipation, excessive gas, or nagging abdominal pain. There is no permanent cure for this as it is controlled by the emotional state of the brain and all that can be done is manage the symptoms through medications. Stress and anxiety usually trigger this gut response.3
Gastrointestinal symptoms are very difficult to decode or understand and tend to make us anxious about whether we are suffering from something severe. This can lead to severe stress and depression, which can increase our bowel movements or cause constipation. Again, while symptoms can be managed, treatment lies deep within the mind and behavioral therapy may work.4
4. Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can be defined as a borderline personality disorder of the gut. Here, the gut starts to behave in a regularly irregular pattern – a bit like in atrial fibrillation of the heart. Patients suffering from unexpected bowel movements can become anxious, afraid, and might fear going out and socializing. Without understanding how the mind and the bowels are linked,
Your gut will relax only when your mind does, and your mind will do so only when it is in your control! So take some time out to deal with the stressors of daily life and expect good gut health in return.
|↑1||Lasalandra Michael, Friedman.S.Lawrence. The Sensitive Gut, Harvard Medical School. Simon and Schuster, 2001.|
|↑2||Mayer Emeran. The Mind-Gut Connection: How the Hidden Conversation Within Our Bodies Impacts Our Mood, Our Choices, and Our Overall Health. HarperCollins, 2016.|
|↑3||Canavan, Caroline, Joe West, and Timothy Card. “The epidemiology of irritable bowel syndrome.” Clinical epidemiology 6 (2014): 71.|
|↑4||Emeran Mayer, The Mind-Gut Connection: How the Hidden Conversation Within Our Bodies Impacts Our Mood, Our Choices, and Our Overall Health, HarperCollins, 2016.|
|↑5||Salt, William B., and Neil F. Neimark. Irritable Bowel Syndrome and the Mindbodyspirit Connection: 7 Steps for Living a Healthy Life with a Functional Bowel Disorder, Crohn’s Disease Or Colitis. Parkview Publishing Company, 2002.|