Have you ever felt “butterflies in your stomach” before a big presentation or interview? Maybe you’ve even felt “sick to your stomach” with anger? That’s because you’re gut actually responds to emotions in your brain, and vice-versa. This is known as the mind-gut connection.
This occurs because the entire digestive system is lined with a mesh-like body of neurons which is referred to as the Enteric Nervous System. Through the vagus nerve, our brains are connected to the rest of our bodies, including our digestive system – which allows them to communicate and influence each other. In fact, many researchers actually refer to the gut as our second brain!
While you may assume that all signals go from the brain to the gut, scientists have found that 80-90% of the nerve fibers in the enteric nervous system actually run towards the brain instead of away from it. This is where the gut microbiota comes in. The gut microbiota is the population of bacteria, viruses and fungi living in your gut. You may be surprised to know that trillions of these microbes reside in your digestive tract and play an integral role in your health. So, if you do not provide the gut microbes with the nutrients it needs to thrive, you can emotionally feel quite down!
Now more than ever, it’s crucial that we pay attention to this connection. While the research is still relatively in its infancy, we know that nutrition plays an important role in influencing gut microbiota. These include things like getting enough fibre, getting enough variety in the diet, reducing intake of foods that are high in sugar and fat, and reducing excess intake of red and processed meats.