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Gut feelings – The link between our gut, brain, and hormones

In our previous blog, we talked about the happy hormones, oxytocin, dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin. We also touched on how you can support the production of these hormones within your body, including what foods to eat to elevate your mood.

Our diet has a direct impact on our feelings and that’s because of the strong connection between our gut and brain. Today, we’ll dive into what this connection is and how it works within our bodies.

Let’s get started!

What is the gut-brain connection?

Our gut is made up of trillions of bacteria! While some are friendly, others can cause harm to our bodies. The good bacteria have many roles within our bodies, including using the food we eat to produce nutrients that our whole body uses. They also have the important job of using these nutrients to generate hormones like serotonin. That’s why it’s so important to keep our gut bacteria happy and healthy.

The relationship between our gut health and brain is called the gut-brain connection. The gut is home to what’s known as the enteric nervous system (ENS). The ENS is like a “second brain” and is easily affected by the feelings that we experience, and vice versa. This secondary brain is made up of over 100 million nerve cells lining our gastrointestinal (GI) tract, from the esophagus to the rectum.

The ENS plays a significant role in contracting our intestines to move food along the digestive tract. It’s also what helps transport our happy hormones. Our friendly bacteria help the ENS communicate with our brain through the vagus nerve, a nerve that extends from the brain to the colon. We don’t know for sure how this communication works. But researchers believe that our good bacteria interact with the cells in our gut to produce molecules that pass on information to the vagus nerve. This is how our brain finds out what’s going on in the gut.

That’s why everything we eat, from the moment it enters our mouth to the moment it’s eliminated through bowel movements, has an impact on our brain. It’s also why our mental wellbeing and gut health go hand in hand.

Balance within your gut microbiomeWoman eating a yogurt bowl with fruits and almonds

Monitoring what you eat can have an impact on your mood. For example, unhealthy foods such as cookies, cakes, and soft drinks, can disrupt the balance of good bacteria in the gut. That’s because these foods are generally high in sugar. And harmful bacteria love sugar! So, this increases levels of bad bacteria that produce toxins to overrun the good bacteria, harming the gut as a result. This leads to various digestive issues such as constipation, diarrhea, bloating, and more. 

And without enough good bacteria in our gut, we can’t produce as much of happy hormones. This eventually leads to a drop in our energy levels and mood. 

Digestion and mental health

The gut-brain connection is a two-way street. That means your mental health can impact digestion as well. The more stressed you feel, the more cortisol and adrenaline levels start to rise, altering the environment in your gut and lowering the amount of beneficial bacteria within it. This then suppresses the production of your happy hormones. 

Cortisol is our primary stress hormone and adrenaline is the hormone that controls our fight or flight response. While adrenaline increases your heart rate and blood pressure, cortisol slows down your digestive system and immune responses. 

This slows down the digestion process, meaning that it can take longer for your food to leave the stomach, making you feel nauseated and bloated. And eventually causes irregular bowel movements, including constipation or diarrhea. 

It’s also why you tend to get sick more easily when feeling stressed. This all happens because your body is trying to focus all its energy on managing the stressful event or threat, leaving your digestion and immunity as a secondary concern. 

In both situations, not having enough happy hormones in your system brings your energy down. It’s an endless cycle that no one wants!

What can you do to support gut health?

A healthy gut starts with a healthy, well-rounded diet filled with plenty of fibre, good bacteria and probiotics! Some great dietary sources of probiotics include yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, and more. If you’re finding it hard to include these foods in your diet, you can also opt for a daily probiotic like our Everyday Probiotic. It’s a shelf stable, high potency, multi-strain probiotic that can help maintain a healthy balance of gut flora. 

If you’re looking for a more immediate solution to replenish good bacteria in your gut, Rapid Restore may be a better fit. This probiotic supplement can help restore your gut microbiome after a round of antibiotics, critical immune care, or digestive upset. 

Orange Naturals everyday probiotic bottleOrange Naturals Rapid Restore probiotic bottle

Making sure you have optimal gut health is one of the first steps you can take to feel happier. Because a healthy gut, means a healthy mind!

Sources:
IBS and Serotonin: The Brain-Stomach Link
The Brain-Gut Connection
Fast Foods Harm Your Gut Microbiome: What You Should Eat Instead
Stress & the gut-brain axis: Regulation by the microbiome

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