You’ve probably heard the phrase “listen to your gut” before, but did you know just how wise your gut is?
In this blog post, let’s take a closer look at the intimate connection between your gut and your thoughts and feelings.
Nervous system and gut health
Most psychologists can attribute your moods and cognition to chemical reactions in the body, especially the brain, which can be viewed as the control center for the nervous systems all over your body.
This extremely intricate system is constantly communicating and active, even when you sleep, your brain doesn’t just shut off completely. It uses chemical messengers called Neurotransmitters as well as electrical impulses as two of its primary ways to communicate across the body.
In your gut, there is a dedicated collective of nerves called the Enteric Nervous System (or ENS) and it is sending and receiving signals about your wellbeing and nutritional status all the time.
While the ENS isn’t capable of thought, research has shown that it has a profound influence on your ability to handle stress and experience positive emotions and thoughts because of how much the brain uses its information. (1)
How stress affects your gut
What is really fascinating is that the gut and stress have a bidirectional relationship. When our digestive system senses malnourishment, nutrition imbalance, or digestive dysfunction, it impacts our mental health. (2)
On the other hand, when our mental health is plagued by a chemical imbalance and chronic stress, this reduces our digestive functions and ability to absorb and use nutrients. (2)
Going through prolonged periods of stress changes eating habits and appetite levels, usually negatively affecting nutritional status. Whether it’s overeating processed comfort foods or undereating from loss of appetite or yo-yo-ing between bouts of undereating and binge eating, these all change the make-up of the gut microbiota. (3) As such, we can expect stress and mood changes to negatively affect the trillions of bacteria that reside in the gut to help us digest and absorb nutrients.
How to manage stress and optimize gut health
Knowing that such a mutually influential relationship exists between stress and gut health, what can we do to improve both?
For the optimization of your gut health, meditation and mindfulness exercises help to regulate the fight-or-flight response as well as the inflammatory responses that impact gut health. (4)
These are practices where you are able to observe your own thoughts and focus on disassociating from racing cognitions without judgment and assigned meaning.
The key to turning meditation into a sustainable practice is to start small! For those who are used to the hustle and bustle of a busy schedule, slowing down can be extremely difficult, but beneficial. In the beginning, even 3-5 minutes of meditation attempt helps to develop the habit. The less judgment and meaning you can associate with the “success” or “productivity” of each session, the better!
The point of meditation is to practice not to validate or accomplish.
And of course, when you pair mindfulness exercises with gut-healthy fermented foods, you are fortifying your resilience against the effects of stress on gut health.
Using probiotic-rich foods like R’s KOSO can maintain the population of good bacteria, which in turn promotes balanced neurotransmitter and hormone activities in the body and brain.
Keren Chen | CBT Nutritionist
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