What’s going on in your gut has a lot more to do with your mind than you may think. Our doctors explain how the mind and gut are connected, and ways to keep both healthy.
How are the mind and gut connected?
Like many organ systems in our body, our brains and our digestive systems “talk” to each other all the time. They communicate back and forth via “messenger” molecules like hormones, cytokines, serotonin and other neurotransmitters. The gut, for instance, takes in information directly from the outside world via food, water and other substances. These are then “read” by bacteria and receptors that send information back to the brain. This information affects our bodily functions, especially hormones and immune response.
Why is this connection important?
Since the mind-gut connection is bidirectional, an imbalance in one organ system has the potential to profoundly affect the other. There are many examples of this relationship: digestive problems like a stomach virus or diverticulitis lead to the sensation of stomach pain, and psychiatric conditions like depression and anxiety can increase the risk of developing conditions like irritable bowel syndrome.
How does this connection affect mental health?
Gut health and function can contribute significantly to cognitive function and mental health disorders of all kinds, including mood and anxiety disorders. Many people in our culture today make statements about a “food hangover” or “sugar high.” The foods we eat can send different signals to our brain.
Can stress cause digestive issues?
Stress leads to higher levels of inflammation in the body, and this can have a major effect on the digestive system. There can be effects on appetite (increased or decreased), cravings for certain kinds of foods (usually carbohydrates and sweets), constipation or loose and more frequent stool, heartburn and cramping.
Four simple tips to promote a healthy mind-gut connection