Your Brain-Gut Connection

brain-gut-connection pic

I’m sure most of you have heard of probiotics. If not, probiotics are “good” bacteria that live in your gut to support gut and immune system health. What if I told you it has been shown that these good bacteria, or microflora, also support brain health? Pretty crazy!

As reported by research done at UCLA and published in the peer-reviewed journal Gastroenterology: “Researchers have known that the brain sends signals to your gut, which is why stress and other emotions can contribute to gastrointestinal symptoms. This study shows what has been suspected but until now had been proved only in animal studies: that signals travel the opposite way as well.”

So if you experience stress, depression, anxiety or other negative emotions have you noticed changes in digestive health? Or have changes in digestive health led to these same negative emotions?

How do the brain and the gut communicate?

You actually have two nervous systems:

  • Central Nervous System: composed of your brain and spinal cord
  • Enteric Nervous System: which is the intrinsic nervous system of your gastrointestinal tract

These two systems are connected via the vagus nerve, the tenth cranial nerve that runs from your brain stem down to your abdomen. It is now recognized that the vagus nerve is the main route your gut bacteria use to transmit information to your brain.

So you may think that your brain is the organ in charge, your gut actually sends way more information to your brain than your brain sends to your gut. For example, you’ve probably experienced the visceral sensation of “butterflies” in your stomach when you’re nervous, or had an upset stomach when you were very angry or stressed. The opposite is also true, in that problems in your gut can directly influence your mental health, leading to issues like anxiety and depression.

Neurons, which are specialized nerve cells that carry “messages” throughout the body and brain to allow the brain and body to communicate, are found in the gut as well as in the brain. For example, neurons that produce neurotransmitters like serotonin, are found in your brain and in your gut. Serotonin is involved in mood control, depression and aggression, and in fact has the highest concentration in your intestines, not your brain.

Besides research connecting gut bacteria in mental health and behavior, other research has shown that your microflora also has an effect on:

  • Immune system function
  • Gene expression
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Autism

Your gut bacteria are constantly under attack from antibiotics, processed foods (which are loaded with sugar), agricultural chemicals, chlorinated or fluoridated water, conventionally-raised meats and animal products and genetically enhanced grains.

To help optimize your gut bacteria avoid processed or refined foods, eat fermented and unpasteurized foods and take a good quality probiotic (which are usually available at health food stores).

Hopefully by reading this you realize that nourishing your gut flora is extremely important, including infants and kids, because essentially you have two brains, one inside your skull and one in your gut, and each needs to be well nourished and healthy for optimal function.

Dr. Jess

 

2Dr. Jessica Stensland is a busy family wellness Chiropractor in Urbandale, Iowa. She spends her weeks taking care of dozens of families.  Not only does Dr. Jessica specialize in pediatric and pregnancy chiropractic care, but she’s a board certified Acupuncturist.  Dr. Jessica believes that a healthier community means taking care of all ages.   She is a Minnesota native and enjoys seeing family and friends in her free time, in addition to staying active and reading the many books she has on her kindle.

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Negativity Affects Our Health

Hey everyone!

So in my very first blog I talked about the mind-body connection (it’s labeled “The Mind-Body Connection” https://holisticfamilies.org/2015/12/08/mind-body-connection/ – so if you haven’t read it, go read it!) and I just wanted to add more to it about how positive and negative thinking affect our health.

Have you ever thought about being sick and you sometimes actually do get sick?? Focusing all your attention on illness has been scientifically proven to influence the body to illness. Too much knowledge about what can go wrong with the body can actually harm you. The more you focus on the infinite ways in which the body can break down and get sick, the more likely you are to experience physical symptoms.

Negative emotions such as fear, aggression, anxiety or pain, have an effect on the area of the brain that deals with emotion: the limbic system. These negative emotions trigger the brain to send out a warning signal that activates the “fight-or-flight” stress response. This stress response is the body’s way to protect you from danger. The “fight-or-flight” response is an amazing thing to have short-term, but long-term? Not so much… Constantly thinking negative thoughts and having negative emotions will cause a long-term effect on your health. When you activate the “fight-or-flight” response, your body “shuts off” the blood supply to areas that don’t need it: the digestive system, reproductive system, and immune system to just name a few. At the same time, it increases blood supply to muscles and releases hormones to increase heart rate and breathing. So a chronic stress response can cause inflammation, pain, suppressed immune system, amongst other issues that can arise. (If you want to read more about this, check out my blog “Are You TOO Stressed?” https://holisticfamilies.org/2016/02/18/are-you-too-stressed/ – I talk about the “fight-or-flight response in more detail and the long-term affects it has on your body.)

One of the hormones that is released during the stress response is cortisol – a stress hormone. On the flip side, thinking positive, happy, hopeful, optimistic, joyful thoughts decreases cortisol and produces serotonin, which creates a sense of well-being. This helps your brain function at an optimal level.

Negative emotions disturb your interaction with your environment, affecting your ability to perceive, remember, and reinforce existing or create new nerve connections. Being happy improves your cognitive ability by being more alert and productive. Being happy also:

  • Stimulates the growth of nerve connections.
  • Improves cognition by increasing mental productivity.
  • Improves your ability to analyze and think.
  • Affects your view of your surroundings.
  • Increases attentiveness.
  • Leads to more happy thoughts.
  • Happy people are more creative, solve problems faster, and tend to be more mentally alert.

From a chiropractic point of view, when there are subluxations or restrictions in your spine, there is nerve interference that is directly affecting your brain. Instead of good information being sent to your brain, the restrictions are causing bad information to be sent to your brain causing a stress response or the fight-or-flight response. This stress response causes hormones, specifically cortisol, to be released to cause inflammation, pain, chronic muscle tightness, digestive issues, reproductive issues, etc. Every person responds differently to this stress response. Pain is just ONE potential outcome of a stress response. So just because someone might not have pain, it does not mean their body is functioning normally like it should. By adjusting specific areas of the spine, we are allowing good information to be sent to the brain to relieve the stress response and decrease cortisol levels. By getting adjusted, it also increases blood flow to the brain and the release of serotonin, dopamine, melatonin and oxytocin which allow you to feel better, be happier, sleep better and have more energy. There are a TON of benefits from chiropractic care!

So start thinking positively and see a chiropractor! It will be worth it!

Dr. Jess

positive thinking pic

 

2Dr. Jessica Stensland is a busy family wellness Chiropractor in Urbandale, Iowa. She spends her weeks taking care of dozens of families.  Not only does Dr. Jessica specialize in pediatric and pregnancy chiropractic care, but she’s a board certified Acupuncturist.  Dr. Jessica believes that a healthier community means taking care of all ages.   She is a Minnesota native and enjoys seeing family and friends in her free time, in addition to staying active and reading the many books she has on her kindle