The Gut-Brain Relationship
Did you know that our brain and gut have a close relationship? If you have ever felt “butterflies in your stomach” or had “gut-wrenching” experiences when feeling particularly stressed (e.g. before sitting for the exams or giving out a presentation), it may be for the gut-brain connection. Unhealthy gastrointestinal systems can cause experiences of mental health-related problems such as anxiety and vice versa.
Inside our gastrointestinal wall is the enteric nervous system (ENS), aka our ‘second brain’. While our brain thinks about the presentation or what to wear for the first date, our ENS thinks about (plans and manages) digestion. Importantly also, the ENS sends/receives signals to/from the brain. So when we experience gastrointestinal problems (e.g. constipation, diarrhea, nausea, or those ‘butterflies the stomach’ sensation), the ENS communicates the situation to the brain, triggering emotional change.
Research evidence shows that improving our gastrointestinal condition can improve our mental health condition and, conversely, alleviating our stress can improve our gastrointestinal problems (e.g. constipation, diarrhea, nausea).
So what are the best ways to care for our gastrointestinal and mental health? Research findings show that below are the keys to ensure our brain and gut have a long-lasting healthy relationship:
1) eating healthy (and this also means eating slowly by relishing every sip and bite to enjoy our meal !);
2) engaging in regular and moderate exercise;
3) maintaining a healthy sleep routine (know what time to wake up and calculate back by taking into account that most adults need 6~9 hours sleep).