The Gut – Brain Connection

The Gut/Brain Connection

Did you know that the Brain and the Gut are besties! They have their own communication channels that can send messages backwards and forwards. That is from the brain to the gut and the gut to the brain.

If one isn’t functioning well, then neither is the other. That is why when you have gut issues it can affect your mental well-being. If you have a leaky (or faulty) gut lining, then it’s likely that the lining of the brain is also leaky (faulty).

This physical and chemical connection is called the Gut/Brain axis and this communication happens via the vagus nerve and many chemical neurotransmitters.

The vagus nerve is not just a superhighway between the gut and the brain, it also has many other functions. These include controlling of mood and digestion, immune response, and heart rate, so it’s any wonder that mood and gut are strongly related.

Maybe you have heard of vagal tone before ? Vagal tone is the internal processes that represent the activity of the vagus nerve. If you have low vagal tone, then the vagus nerve does not function optimally, and this can allow for inflammation to flare.

So, what influences vagal tone?

Stress and Anxiety both reduce the vagus nerve capacity by reducing the digestive function. The microbiome plays a large role in influencing the vagus nerve, as it senses the different microbiota metabolites and sends messages to the central nervous system. Quite a complex bit of machinery!

Studies have shown that people with irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease have low vagal tone.  This then favours an inflammatory situation, which both conditions suffer from.

As I mentioned the microbiota of the gut has an influence on your vagus nerve and therefore influences your mental health. Changing the diversity of your microbiome should be a part of your treatment for these conditions. Therefore mood and food should be a consideration when you are suffering from anxiety or depression.

There are some nice simple ways to improve the vagal tone. These include:

  • meditation
  • deep breathing (slow and deep into the belly)
  • loud singing
  • a good laugh

All of these work to stimulate the vagal nerve. And really a good laugh and loud singing are not only fun but are going to help your mood by increasing your endorphins. Meditation and deep breathing are going to help you control stress and anxiety.

So next time you are singing loudly in the shower or having a big belly laugh, think about how great it is for improving your vagal tone!

References

Breit, S., Kupferberg, A., Rogler, G., & Hasler, G. (2018). Vagus Nerve as Modulator of the Brain–Gut Axis in Psychiatric and Inflammatory Disorders. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 9, 44. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00044

Duan, H., Yu, L., Tian, F., Zhai, Q., Fan, L., & Chen, W. (2020). Gut microbiota: A target for heavy metal toxicity and a probiotic protective strategy. Science of The Total Environment, 742, 140429. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.140429

Kuwahara, A., Matsuda, K., Kuwahara, Y., Asano, S., Inui, T., & Marunaka, Y. (2020). Microbiota-gut-brain axis: Enteroendocrine cells and the enteric nervous system form an interface between the microbiota and the central nervous system. Biomedical Research (Tokyo, Japan), 41(5), 199–216. https://doi.org/10.2220/biomedres.41.199

 

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