Nutritional Health 101 - Part 2 - the Gut-Brain Connection
Updated: Mar 2
The next part to the story brings in the brain. Our stomachs are not operating in isolation. There is a constant 2-way transmission of data between the gut and the brain.
Back to the topic of hormones and another comes into play - serotonin - the happiness hormone. If I were to say 'serotonin' to you, I am pretty certain that you would immediately think about your brain and how we need serotonin to be happy and creative. But did you know that 95% of the serotonin in your body is manufactured in your gut? You also probably know that when we are anxious or stressed, our bodies release adrenalin to enable us to respond to the dangers we perceive. Now this worked well when we lived in caves and the proverbial tiger was prowling about outside. Once the danger had passed, our bodies reset, the adrenalin dispersed and we resumed normal operations. The same happens for animals when chased by a predator. Their adrenalin spikes and all their energy and attention is directed to their blood flow and muscles. At this time their digestive system shuts down to enable them to divert all attention to escaping. Once out of danger and they calm down, the adrenalin disperses and normal services resume. Transpose that now into today's stressful lives. Our bodies respond in exactly the same way but as the anxiety and stress can be pretty much constant, our bodies never get a chance to recover and our digestive system is never in a state of calm. And remember, I said earlier that 95% of your serotonin is manufactured in your gut - well that is no longer happening and so you start to feel less and less happy. If you then add to that the standard western diet, even one perceived to be healthy with lots of wholegrains, pulses and fruits i.e. much too high in carbs and spiking our insulin multiple times a day and causing the imbalances I described in Part 1, you can understand how this can become a real problem.
from the Harvard Health Publishing, if you would like to dig deeper into the topic.
Here is my version of what happens.
The gut and the brain are now both in crisis and our bodies start to malfunction. We may not notice it at first but as the inflammation increases, we start to feel tired and listless, we gain weight, feel even more depressed and less able to cope. The digestive problems start to give us indigestion, acid reflux and IBS. We suffer from brain fog and find it hard to concentrate. In this state we are aware that we are underperforming but often blame our surroundings and resent, or lash out at, the people around us. Or maybe we just withdraw, little by little.
Now we find ourselves in an iterative cycle:
we feel depressed and cannot be bothered to worry about what we eat - maybe even comfort eating all those foods full of sugar and processed fats.
our stomach cannot cope and malfunctions
we cannot absorb nutrients properly and our bodies are so busy processing all the insulin we produce that there is no time to focus on repairing the damage
in this state of constant stress, production of essential hormones, like serotonin, is reduced
our brains start to suffer and we become down and depressed
we cannot be bothered to worry about what we eat and so we fall back on more easy to access high carb foods...
And so the cycle continues, until a medical check tells us that we are in danger of developing T2 diabetes, or need to reduce our cholesterol.
But we CAN stop this self-destructive cycle and return ourselves to wellness.
More in Part 3...