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The Gut-Brain Connection

Did you know that your gut health could be related to your mental health and wellness?

The gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to emotions. Sadness, anger, or anxiety can trigger reactions in the gut. If you've ever felt anxious or had "butterflies in our stomach," you know that emotions can influence how we feel physically. For years, researchers knew that anxiety and chronic stress were associated with gastrointestinal conditions, such as IBS. Recent research indicates, however, that there is a bidirectional relationship between brain and gut health. That is, anxiety and chronic stress may contribute to gastrointestinal distress, while inflammation in the GI tract can also send signals to the nervous system that cause mood changes. Neurotransmitters in the gut can also affect the brain and sense of wellbeing, and the gut-brain axis is also related to the immune system.

There are tens of trillions of microorganisms that are found in the gut and help maintain gut health. A balanced gut microbiome may be associated with improved mental and physical wellbeing, while imbalances in the gut microbiome may be associated with GI distress and mood instability. If you struggle with chronic anxiety, stress or depression, with accompanying gastrointestinal distress, it may be beneficial to start altering the bacteria in the gut through nutrient rich and probiotic foods, exercise and stress management techniques. Read more below about lifestyle changes you can make to heal the gut-brain connection.

1. Diet. Research has shown that a few food groups may be responsible for altering gut bacteria and improving brain health. These food groups include omega 3 fatty acids (oily fish), fermented foods (yogurt, kefir), foods high in fiber (nuts, seeds, whole grains), polyphenol-rich foods (cocoa, green tea, coffee) and tryptophan-rich foods (turkey, eggs, cheese). Additionally, taking probiotics supplements can help maintain gut wellbeing.

2. Exercise. Regular exercise and movement has been demonstrated to rebalance gut bacteria and improve gut bacteria diversity. Exercising for only half an hour a few times a week can improve heart, brain and gut health.

3. Reducing stress. Stress management techniques such as mindfulness, guided meditation, progressive muscle relaxation or cognitive behavioral therapy have demonstrated efficacy in positively influencing the gut brain axis, reducing gastrointestinal distress, and improving quality of life. Please reach out to our office today to learn more about stress management opportunities and CBT-focused counseling services!

By Jade Caswell, MA, Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern


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