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Did You Know We Have 'Two Brains?'

There is another brain within the human body made up of billions of connected neurons and neurotransmitters that transmit orders to induce physiological reactions. This network of neurons, referred to as the second brain, or ‘brain down below,’ is our stomach and intestines.

How are the gut and brain connected?

The gut can function independently, yet it is more than a digestive system - it’s an enteric nervous system. It controls a colony of one hundred thousand billion gut microbiota (our gut flora or gut microbiome), impacting more than just our gastrointestinal functions. Our microbiome also affects our immune systems, mental health, personalities, and central nervous systems.

The gut-brain connection links anxiety to stomach issues and vice versa. Have you ever had a gut-wrenching experience? Do certain situations make you feel nauseous? Have you ever felt butterflies in your stomach? We use these expressions for a reason. The gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to emotion. Anger, anxiety, sadness, elation – positive and negative emotions can trigger gut symptoms.

The brain has a direct effect on the stomach and intestines. For example, just thinking of eating can release the stomach’s juices (hydrochloric acid) before food enters the stomach. This connection is a two-way street. A troubled intestine can send signals to the brain, just as a troubled brain can send signals to the gut. Therefore, a person’s stomach or intestinal distress can be the cause or the product of anxiety, stress or depression. This is because the brain and gastrointestinal system are intimately connected.

This is especially true in cases where a person experiences gastrointestinal upset with no apparent physical cause. For such functional GI disorders, trying to heal a distressed gut is difficult without considering (and treating) the role of stress and emotion.

Is anxiety connected to gut health?

Given how closely the gut and brain interact, it is easy to understand why you might feel nauseated before giving a presentation, feel intestinal pain, or have diarrhea during times of stress. However, that does not mean that the functional (GI) conditions are imagined or deemed ‘all in your head.’

Psychology combines with physical factors to cause pain and other bowel symptoms. Psychosocial factors influence the actual physiology of the gut as well as symptoms. In other words, stress (or depression or other psychological factors) can affect movement and contractions of the GI tract (peristalsis), leading to either diarrhea or constipation.

In addition, many people with functional GI disorders are hypersensitive to pain compared to others because their brains are more responsive to pain signals from the GI tract. Stress can make the existing pain seem even worse.

Does the gut cause any serious brain diseases?

Certain brain diseases, like Parkinson’s disease, for example, could stem from the degeneration of our intestinal neurons. Conversely, we can treat the colon’s inflammatory response causing colitis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), stomach pain, and other digestive disorders with cognitive and subconscious therapy and naturopathic support through diet and nutritional and herbal supplements supplementation.

Naturopathic Medicine has always known about the gut-brain connection; finally, science has proven it. The stomach and intestine’s intelligence is fascinating research teams worldwide as new research comes to light. Such research includes specific bacterial flora connected to healing particular diseases, including mental-emotional.

What is the most effective way to address gut and mental-emotional issues?

Combining naturopathic medicine and psychological treatment creates the best outcomes for people experiencing intestinal and psychological distress.

What would a Naturopathic treatment entail?

Naturopathic doctors take a medical history, including both the physical and psychological aspects and formulate an easy protocol to follow that may include one or more of the following: dietary improvements, nutritional supplements, lifestyle changes and IV therapy or another modality. Naturopathic doctors work with their patients to develop a suitable and doable plan to get optimal results in healing the physical and the emotional. Natural supplements are not addictive and have no side effects. Instead, they give the body the nutrients needed to heal.

To discuss The Gut (GI) Brain Connection in more detail with Dr Terri Van Alstyne, please do not hesitate to reach out and make an appointment now!

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