Your Gut Is Your Second Brain
Did you know that our gut and our brain developed from the same fetal tissue? These two systems are connected via the 10th cranial nerve called the Vagus nerve that runs from the brain stem down to the abdomen. This nerve is known to provide the primary route by which our gut bacteria communicate and transmit signals to the brain.
Often nicknamed as our “second brain”, an extensive network of neurons line our guts with an estimated 100 million neurons, exceeding the number found in either the spinal cord or the peripheral nervous system according to Michael Gershon, M.D. and chairman of the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at New York–Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center. Gershon is an expert in the new but growing field of neurogastroenterology as well as the also author of the 1998 book The Second Brain, which is based on thirty years of research and experience.
Therefore, it can’t be emphasized enough that a good diet is not only important but essential to our mental health and wellbeing.
A whopping 95% of the body’s serotonin is found in our bowels. Serotonin is a chemical that functions as a neurotransmitter and is responsible for maintaining:
- Balanced mood
- Appetite and digestion
- Libido and sexual desire
Thus an imbalance in this chemical can result in a multitude of disorders including heartburn, nausea, diarrhea and IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), constipation, abdominal pain, as well as a great number of mental and behavioral disorders such as emotional mood swings, depression, autism, ADHD, and schizophrenia according to Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride.
What The Research Says
According to one study published in the Journal for Nurse Practitioners under Clinical Nutrition, it is not uncommon for individuals who experience low spirits, premenstrual mood swings and feelings of depression to reach for “sweet carbohydrate/ fat-rich” comfort foods. Sure, this short term strategy may very briefly uplift the mood but over the long haul, it will continue to upset the balance of the bacterial flora in the gut. This certainly does nothing to help stop the repetitive cycle of craving, temporary relief and subsequent regret. On the contrary, studies have found that eliminating sources of sugar and caffeine altogether was effective in alleviating symptoms of depression and emotional distress, not to mention a variety of gastrointestinal disturbances (gas, bloating, IBS, etc).
The National Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Journal also published a study that provided further evidence that consumption of sugar, animal fat, and calorie-dense foods in industrialized countries greatly undermines the functioning of intestinal microbial flora.
Another reason one’s mood can dip may be a consequence of a nutritional deficiency. In particular, deficiencies in Omega 3 essential fatty acids, B-Vitamins, zinc and magnesium and certain amino acids make an individual more prone to mood swings and depression. Nutrition plays a key role in the production of neurotransmitters that help regulate mood.
Overall, high quality nutrient dense food choices lead to an enhanced immune system, increased vigor and energy, and a clearer mental state. All of these wonderful side benefits of great nutrition provide the energy necessary to combat daily stress with resiliency and a calm and collected composure.
Rev Up Your Energy To Rev Up Your Mood
If you think about the times that our moods suffer, it’s usually during tough times. Or perhaps we only perceive them that way because of our fatigue and exhaustion. Just think back to when you were a kid; naps were your parents’ favorite way to even out our irritable moods because when we got tired, all of a sudden something completely trivial seemed like the world was coming to an end and left us screaming, crying and throwing an unnecessary tantrum. Adults are usually a little less dramatic and manifest similar emotions through irritability, impatience, depression, and general moodiness.
When you’re tired, you view anything that comes in your way as an obstacle and become easily irritated and overwhelmed. On the other hand, when you are feeling energized and alert, that same thing no longer appears as an obstacle but more as a challenge that you are ready to tackle with determination rather than dread.
So feed your body and mind right, because emotional well-being is just as important as physical well being in leading a life full of joy.