Updated: Dec 2, 2020
Written by: Brittney Oliver, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
For millennia, multiple cultures have touted the human Gut as the center of disease and wellness. The microbiome or “gut” is the epicenter for many functions throughout the body, and in more recent research, the gut is proving to have substantial power over the mind.
The microbiome is not so much of a place within the body but rather a community of live organisms responsible for multiple areas of health. These organisms are diverse, and each species of microbe has its own job such as manufacturing vitamins, processing nutrients, assisting the immune system and more. Without this microbial community, we would likely die of the common cold.
As science continues to grow around gut health, we have been enlightened with an even greater level of knowledge beyond the belly, traveling all the way up to the brain. The gut-brain connection describes the intercommunication between the mind and the microbiome through the vegus nerve. The vegus nerve is the main piece of the parasympathetic nervous system responsible for digestion, mood, heart regulation and immune system. This communication pathway represents the synergy of the mind-gut.
Which comes first when it comes to health, the brain or the gut? Does the gut impact the brain firstly or does the brain initially impact the gut? If you are looking for an answer to that question, you won’t exactly find it here. Not only is science still growing in this area but there may never be an exact confirmation or answer to that question. What science is showing us more and more is that there is a pathway of communication and that positive or negative communication can originate at either location, after which it will be sent in signals via the vegus nerve from one to the other.
If the brain is communicating stress then specific neurons are sent down to the gut and the gut, in return, will react. The child who has a tummy ache when nervous or the adult who needs to run to the bathroom right before a major business presentation are perfect examples of how mental and emotional stress can set off a physiological response in the body. In fact, the term “psychosomatic” may be appropriate in this scenario. Psychosomatic conditions are literal, physical issues and conditions believed to originate from the subconscious mind. The theory, which is evolving more and more and becoming ever more present in scientific literature, suggests that the subconscious mind sets off physical ailments in order to distract the conscious mind from what it believes to be a greater devastation such as emotional trauma and pain.
The Gut is also known for starting the mental health fight. About 90 percent of the body’s serotonin and 50 percent of its dopamine is manufactured in the gut by specific microbes. These two hormones are largely responsible for mood regulation and happiness. When the gut is off balance and the microbial community isn’t adequate than many of the microbes needed to facilitate the production of these hormones are in short supply, which means that the brain will be as well.
To add insult to injury, there are species of microbes in the gut that actually set off more stress signals and when these species are overgrown, there will be a lot more stress and inflammation signals traveling through the vegas nerve and up to the brain. A poorly inhabited microbiome may be a double whammy on your mental wellness when the microbes responsible for “happy hormones” are in short supply and the “stress microbes” are taking over.
So now that we have some perspective on just how the mind affects the gut and equally understand how the gut affects the mind, maybe we can hypothesize and new approach to mental health by seeking to nurture both ends of the vegus nerve and the communication pathway. Through a gut friendly diet, movement, therapy and mindset techniques we may be able to nurture a far greater result than any one would accomplish individually. The body is a synergistic being and the brain-gut connection is at the center of the entire working ecosystem. The brain and gut are not separate but may be more of a circular functioning machine much like the heart, veins and lungs. If we as humans can understand this bodily frequency and see it as one, maybe we can start to win the war on mental health.
Brittney Oliver, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Brittney Oliver is a board-certified Holistic Health and Life Coach who specializes in Gut Health and the Mind-Gut connection. After writing her first book, "Buddha Belly," she went on to develop the Holistic Wellness Coaching Academy, where she certifies individuals throughout the world in Gut Health and Mindset Strategy coaching. Brittney or "Coach Britt" as she is commonly known, is passionate about mental health and strives to empower others to live their ultimate life vision. She believes that through seeking purpose, we will find a passion capable of igniting our power to grow far more than willpower ever could.