The link between digestion and mood is now being called the “gut to brain connection.” If you have ever experienced how digestive upset can cause emotional turmoil in turn, you will probably find this description highly appropriate!
Yet while you may readily associate having to speak in public with feelings of nausea or a big job interview with “butterflies” in your stomach, it has only been recently that science has been able to explain this link in a way that is more than simply intuitive. They have even given it a name – the “enteric nervous system,” or ENS for short.
Today, gut-brain researchers have at long last identified some of the key mechanisms that link the micro biome in our gut and the neural connections in our brain. Research is also highlighting specific ways that an unhealthy digestive system can impact mood.
In this article, learn about seven ways that an unhealthy digestive system can affect your mood.
Poor digestion can trigger depression.
Some research studies now suggest that digestive upset in the early years of life may trigger later-life depressive episodes.
What researchers believe is happening relates to how inflammation affects the body. When there is inflammation in the gut, the so-called “second brain,” it is thought that the body experiences this as digestive upset and the psyche experiences this as depression.
Not only does it make sense on an intuitive level that feeling worse in your body might make you feel worse – weaker and more fearful – in your mind – but now researchers believe early-life dyspepsia (gastric upset) may permanently rewire the brain to be predisposed to depression.
Irritable bowel syndrome may lead to anxiety.
The researchers at the John Hopkins School of Medicine believe there is a link between irritable bowel syndromes (IBS), a chronic health condition that may affect as many as 15 percent of adults nationwide, and anxiety.
For many years, researchers were convinced that the presence of mental anxiety was a trigger for IBS. But now, many researchers are reversing the hypothesis to look at how IBS may be triggering anxiety. This, in turn, may lead to more mainstream emphasis on the use of healthy digestive supplements to help normalize and better support the gut biota.
IBS can create periodic symptoms that vary from stomach cramping and bloating to diarrhea and constipation. For some, IBS is severely life-limiting or even crippling. This alone could be sufficient cause for anxiety symptoms, but researchers believe the connection goes further – to the communication happening between the ENS and the main brain.
Gut sensitivity can produce a higher level of stress.
Researchers at Loyola Medicine’s Digestive Health Program believe there is a link between higher gut sensitivity and higher stress levels.
A certain percentage of the population is now known to have what researchers call increased “gut sensitivity.” These individuals, called “gut responders,” are more likely to experience some of the symptoms of stress through their gut and their second brain, the enteric nervous system.
For these individuals, it is highly likely that the nerves in the gut itself are more sensitive to the effects of stress, a phenomenon known as visceral sensitivity. If you have a more sensitive gut, you are more likely to feel any event in your gut, from mild gas to severe conditions such as ulcerative colitis (Crohn’s disease), very strongly.
Here again, the question is now one of which way the connection flows. Does stress trigger increased digestive upset or does digestive upset trigger increased stress, or could it be that it works both ways? As anyone who has ever experienced digestive distress can attest, this alone can be a stress-inducing situation.
Anorexia nervosa is now linked to anxiety and depression.
The psychiatric condition anorexia nervosa, long a popular and heavily sensationalized target in the mainstream media, is just now starting to be better understood by researchers.
Today, University of North Carolina researchers at the Center for Excellence for Eating Disorders (CEED) feel it is highly likely that changes in the gut microbiome that happen during anorexia may subsequently trigger symptoms in the patient’s psyche that include anxiety and depression.
The specific microbiomes the researchers are targeting in their studies are now thought to influence both weight changes and mood changes. Not only does it make good sense that being unable to feed yourself properly might trigger feelings of anxiety and depression, but it may be that it works in the reverse as well.
The vagus nerve may trigger ongoing emotional and mental distress.
Health Day reports that researchers have now uncovered a connection between the gut and the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is basically an electrical column that links the brain and the gut-brain.
Messages travel in both directions along this column, but up to 95 percent of the messages being transmitted are traveling from the gut to the brain and not in the reverse.
This points researchers towards the probability that changeable moods – for example, individuals who cycle from anxiety to depression to stress to panic – are linked to changing levels of hormones that control the digestive system function.
Diet and mood can be closely linked.
According to the BBC’s documentary series “Microbes and Me,” there is now strong evidence to link what you give your gut microbes to consume, digest and break down and how you feel mentally and emotionally.
The evidence is sufficiently compelling that some researchers are now investigating a new psycho-biotic treatment approach!
Changing gut bacteria can change mood.
The American Psychological Association (APA) reports on animal research showing how changes to an animal’s gut bacteria changes the animal’s mood in measurable ways. Bold animals may become shy or vice versa just by changing whether beneficial or harmful bacteria are dominant in the microbiota of the gut.
This knowledge is now pointing towards more strategic use of supplements such as probiotics to enhance beneficial bacteria and improve mood.