When you start to feel stressed or overwhelmed, how does your gut feel? Butterflies? Tummy pains? A little bit like you might be sick?
This conversation between our Gut and Brain (more than just when we are hungry!) is therefore really obvious and what we call the Gut-Brain Axis.
In technical terms, the Gut-Brain Axis is the two way communication between your brain and gut through the central and enteric nervous systems (which helps regulate gut digestive function). What this does is link the cognitive and emotional centres of your brain with your intestinal functions (Carabotti et al., 2015) via a few different ways - your vagus nerve, the production of neurotransmitters and turning on your HPA axis (Strandwitz, 2018).
This communication however is way more than just your gut letting your brain know it’s hungry - it is truly amazing how far reaching this communication can be. It plays a role in immune function, hormone production, leaky gut and how your digestive system functions (Carabotti et al., 2015).
Did you know for example that 95% of your serotonin (your feel good hormone) is actually produced in your gut! (Foster, Rinaman and Cryan, 2017)
Like any good communication highway you want the messages to be flowing freely, however bring in stress and it can have a huge impact on it. I like to think about it like a huge highway that suddenly has cars broken down everywhere - that free flow of traffic is not going to happen, the same with your gut.
When we are stressed our body kicks into fight or flight mode and our enteric nervous system kicks into protection mode. There is no need for our body to prioritise the digestion of our food, instead it gets set to be attacked by a saber tooth tiger. Ok, so nowadays that saber tooth tiger may be a meeting with your boss, a playdate with toddlers or the unknown of the past couple of years, but your body responds the same.
This can have a long term impact on your ability to digest foods, can leave you bloated, struggling between diarrhoea and constipation and can even be a driver of leaky gut (Madison and Kiecolt-Glaser, 2019).
So what can you do to help nourish your gut-brain axis?
Food as medicine is essential. Supporting a healthy gut microbiome (and the resulting flourishing bacteria) will help reduce inflammation and support the production of your neurotransmitters (Mayer, Tillisch and Gupta, 2015). Foods that are high in probiotic bacteria such as natural yoghurt, kombucha, fermented vegetables and miso for example are wonderful to include. Upping your plant based foods will feed your good bacteria (as well as other amazing benefits throughout the body) and I also like to bring in some gut healing foods such as bone broth, collagen powder and slippery elm powder (great for vegans and vegetarians).
And don’t forget to add in all of your wonderful mind body medicine tools such as belly breathing, yoga, meditation and EFT Tapping to name just a few.
So if you are feeling like stress has its grip on you one of the first places I would suggest you nurture is your gut.