What Is The Brain Gut Axis?
Your Brain Gut Axis is the communication system between your brain and your gastrointestinal tract, which includes your stomach, intestines and colon, and is also known as your gut microbiome. So, what is the connection between the brain gut axis and healthy gut microbiome?
Over 70% of your immune cells live in your gut and rely on a healthy bacterial balance to function properly. Your gut also stores 95% of your body’s serotonin.
Your brain and gut are connected via nerve cables that transmit information in both directions. Communication between your gut and brain affect the co-ordination of your digestive system (source of daily qi/life energy), regulate mood, stress, sleep cycles, mental functioning and many other necessary bodily functions.
The close relationship between your brain and your gut makes your gastrointestinal tract highly sensitive to your emotions. We have all had that feeling of ‘butterflies’ in our stomach when we are nervous, worried or excited. Or that feeling of lethargy after eating a heavy meal? Or when you feel hungry, your stomach or intestines start making noise? That’s your brain gut axis at work!
This close connection often results in our emotions having a very physical effect on our digestive tract and everything that it is related to. This can often result in nausea, bloating, digestive issues, heartburn, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory conditions and even autoimmune syndromes.
But remember, this communication goes both ways, so any digestive issues can also affect you mentally and emotionally. An unbalanced gut can actually be the cause of stress, sleep disorders, depression and many other mental/emotional issues.
Brain Gut Connection
The brain gut connection connection is a two way communication pathway that includes:
The central nervous system (CNS), brain and spinal cord
The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), including the vagus nerve
The Enteric Nervous System (ENS), nerve cells within the gut
The Hypothalamic Axis, the pathway for hormones.
The Vagus Nerve Connection
We have all heard of the Vagus Nerve by now, it seems to be the new holistic healing buzz word. And there is a reason for that! Your vagus nerve is an integral part of your gut brain communication axis and is of prime importance in maintaining a healthy gut bacteria environment and optimal physical health.
The vagus nerve is the primary pathway for your gut bacteria and your internal organs to communicate with your brain. They pass information along the vagus nerve pathway, which your brain uses to directly affect your behaviour. The vagus nerve receives information from your gut microbiota as well as from your senses and this information travels along the vagus nerve to your brain, which receives, sorts and organises this information. Your brain then decides which response to stimulate. So, as you can see, the quality of the information received by your brain is of prime importance for your health.
A Healthy Gut Microbiome
Given all this, it is vitally important that we maintain a healthy gut bacteria balance, keeping our gut microbiome well maintained. The microbiome (gut bacteria) live in the interior lining of your intestines and are a vital part of the communication system with your brain. There are literally trillions of gut bacteria living in your intestines, breaking down and digesting the food you eat as well as supporting the proper absorption of nutrients, regulating your metabolism, helping eliminate ingested chemicals, regulating your immune system and balancing your overall moods and emotional state.
Both good and bad bacteria inhabit this microbiome and it is important to maintain a healthy balance of ‘good’ and ‘bad’. If ‘bad’ bacteria become dominant, then the problems begin. Dysbiosis is the term used to describe an imbalance in the microbiome and can be caused by stress, poor diet, unhealthy lifestyle, overconsumption of sugar, processed food, junk food or chemical laden foods, all of which can result in poorly performing ‘good’ bacteria and an increase in ‘bad’ bacteria. If you feel that your microbiome is out of balance, the first step can be taking a Probiotic to help restore the balance.
Chinese Medicine And Your Gut
Although knowledge of the Brain Gut Axis seems to have only recently emerged in modern medicine, traditional Chinese medicine has known about it for many centuries. For over two thousand years, Chinese medicine has recognised the close connection between brain and gut, between your emotions and your digestive health.
According to TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) and 5 Element Theory, the element associated with the stomach and spleen (digestive system in TCM) is Earth.
The Earth element is closely associated with the archetype of the Mother (Mother Earth), the mother who feeds and sustains us, the Mother who is the source of mental, emotional and physical protection. Imbalance in this Earth element, according to TCM, leads to a fear of scarcity, that there will not be enough (food, money, love, security etc). This can result in excessive, and often obsessive, worry and anxiety. Non Dual Self has a wonderful article on Mother Archetype as a Symbol of Source of Life.
The stomach and spleen are the foundation of all health, being the energetic organs of digestion and nutrient absorption and therefore the ‘Root of Post Heavenly Qi’, post heavenly qi being the energy we derive from the food we eat and the air we breathe from birth onwards. TCM says that so long as stomach qi is strong, the prognosis will be good. The stomach spleen energy system converts our food into blood, qi and body fluids and is also responsible for properly processing your emotions and it can be easily affected by long term stress, chronic worry, anxiety or overthinking. Excessive stress or unbalanced emotions weaken the Spleen and Stomach qi and can directly negatively affect your gut.
Overconsumption of sugar, sweet foods, deep fried foods, processed foods, chemicals (herbicides, pesticides, chemical food additives), fast food, fatty foods, cold raw foods and alcohol can all damage the energy and efficiency of your stomach spleen energy.
To strengthen stomach spleen qi (energy) you can add warming foods into your daily diet. Spleen and stomach tonifying foods include; grains (barley, millet, oats, brown rice, amaranth, quinoa), vegetables (alfalfa, sprouts, cabbage, celery, dark leafy greens, kelp, spinach, watercress, sweet potato, avocado), fruit (apples, dates, apricots, red grapes, peaches, plums, raisins), beans (adzuki, beans, black beans, kidney beans), nuts & seeds (almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts, sesame seeds, walnuts, pistachios), fish (sardines, trout, tuna, salmon), meat (chicken, turkey, lamb), herbs & spices (nettle, parsley, cardamon, ginger, garlic, vanilla, cinnamon, aniseed, fennel), non dairy milk, eggs, herbal teas, bone broth.
There are many holistic healing methods that can help you heal your gut, including Ayurveda, herbal therapies and traditional Chinese medicine. My speciality is in Chinese medicine so I will concentrate on TCM for this article.
Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine are a millenia old tried and tested holistic approach and can effectively support digestion, absorption and elimination related disorders. TCM can also advise on dietary decisions and lifestyle changes to further benefit your overall health and help you to restore your healthy gut bacteria balance.
For any gut bacteria related disorder, it is always advisable to cultivate a diet rich in fermented foods, omega fatty acids and leafy green vegetables while limiting complex carbohydrates (e.g. brown rice instead of white, wholewheat instead of white flour). It is also beneficial to eliminate processed foods, remove gluten, adopt an organic diet, quit smoking and eliminate alcohol.
Self care and love are also a vital element in supporting your healthy digestive system and emotional balance. Regular acupuncture therapy, exercise, stress reducing therapies (yoga, meditation etc.) will all help to regulate your nervous system, reduce stress and restore digestive balance.
I sincerely hope that you find this article helpful in your health journey and please comment below with any queries or helpful information. I wish you a happy and healthy gut day 🙂
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