The Body’s Second Brain: How Gut Health Affects Your Mood
M.S., R.D., CSSD, CSOWM, FAND – Sr. Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training
Ever had “butterflies” in your stomach? How about a “gut instinct” or maybe a “gut-wrenching” experience? When a “gut check” tells you how you feel, it’s tempting to think that it’s all in your head. But the truth is, when instincts tell you to “go with your gut,” your gut really is trying to tell you something.
There really is a strong connection between your brain and your digestive tract, and they are in constant communication with one another. An incredible amount of information travels between your gut and your brain – so much so, that the nervous system that resides in your digestive tract is often called the body’s “second brain.”
The Body’s Two Brains
The connection between your brain and the “second brain” in your digestive tract is something you’ve probably experienced in the form of a “gut reaction.” You know the feeling when you get some bad news or have a difficult conversation with someone. Your gut tells you exactly how you’re feeling. When stress or anxiety strikes, your brain sends a signal to your gut – and the next thing you know, you’ve got a churning stomach.
The signals travel in the other direction, too: from gut to brain. This system alerts the “first brain” if you’ve eaten something you shouldn’t have, and also keeps tabs on your hunger level and your mood. When something in your digestive system isn’t quite right, an alert is sent to your brain – often before you even notice that anything is wrong.
Your Gut and Your Mood
It’s clear that certain emotions can trigger a digestive response, but there is also speculation that the reverse may also be true – conditions in your gut may influence how you feel.
According to Scientific American, recent evidence indicates that not only is our brain “aware” of our gut microbes, but these bacteria can influence our perception of the world and alter our behaviour.
There is no question that your brain and gut are well connected – so it makes sense that keeping your digestive system in tip-top shape is vital to your sense of well-being.
How to Improve Your Digestive Health
The steps you take to keep yourself healthy are the same ones that promote digestive health, too. Here are some tips to get started:
Include plenty of fibre from colourful fruits and vegetables and whole grains in your diet. Fibres help promote regularity (which could affect your mood!), and certain fibers also promote the growth of the “good” bacteria in your microbiome.
Stay adequately hydrated throughout the day.
Make sure to eat a source of probiotics Fermented foods, such as yogurt, pickled vegetables, and tempeh, provide natural probiotics that support immune health by crowding out other bacteria that can potentially make you sick.
Make regular exercise a part of your routine.
Taking time to enjoy your meals helps, too. When you slow down you may eat less food, and you’ll probably be less stressed – which means you’ll be sending signals to “both” your brains. When you eat more slowly, it allows time for your gut to tell your brain that you’re full – and for your brain to tell you that you’re more relaxed, too.