Is it surprising to learn that you are more bacteria than body? There are around 100 trillion microbes in your gut alone – way more than all the cells in your body – making your gut central to your health.
You picked up most of your microbes initially from your mother’s birth canal as you came into the world, or from her skin and the surrounding environment if you were born by caesarean. Once you were out in the open, multiple factors like diet, antibiotics, genetics and stress all influenced you microbiome, your own vital community of microbes that lives on and in you.
It turns out that the old wisdom, “follow your gut”, is upheld by recent studies and research. The full effects of those trillions of microbes living in your gut is beginning to be understood by science; in fact, the brain-gut connection seems to be a lot stronger than we thought. The gut microbiome has been linked to a range of behaviours such as, mood swings, stress, depression, anxiety and even neurodevelopment disorders.
We now know that the brain and gut are connected by the vagus nerve which links most of the organs within the body and plays an important role in activating the nervous system. Around 90 percent of the signals that pass along the vagus nerve comes from the enteric nervous system, a huge complex of neurons which inhabits and controls the entire gut. Your enteric nervous system independently and automatically takes care of your nutrition, a huge job in anyone’s book. The brain receives most information about the state of your body through the gut.
Stress and the gut
When you are stressed, your sympathetic nervous system is activated and the hormone ghrelin is released from your stomach. Ghrelin is also known as the hunger hormone because it stimulates appetite. This explains why some of us feel we need to eat when we are stressed. Ghrelin also leads to digestive issues and increased anxiety and over time, depression. Increased anxiety can lead to more ghrelin production and this can start a damaging cycle.
IBS – Brain and gut disharmony
Stress leads to many medical problems, one of them being irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a digestive disorder that affects 10-15 percent of people. IBS occurs when the gut, brain and microbiome aren’t working in conjunction with each other. This usually starts in childhood. As it matures, a child’s gut ideally develops a diverse culture of microbes that, in turn, creates a strong immune system. But many factors including diet, antibiotics, trauma and stress, damage the microbiome. And a damaged microbiome can lead to hyperactivity and medical problems such as food allergies. These symptoms often continue into adulthood where they are diagnosed as IBS.
Behavioural disorders and the gut
A disharmony within your physical microbiome can play a part in the development of neurological disorders. Factors such as antibiotics, environment, and stress can fuel an already hyperactive system causing children (and adults!) to become impulsive and in a state of persistent hyper-arousal. If you also eat an unbalanced diet of processed foods and refined sugars this behaviour and symptoms will continue to get worse. A combination of unhealthy food choices and stress will create a flow of negative effects between the gut microbiome and the brain.
Rebalancing your gut microbiome and restoring harmony between your gut and your brain can be a key to overcoming many medical issues. To find out more, here is a list of articles about the gut-brain connection. Some outline steps you can take to correct your gut microbiome and have a positive effect on your overall health, short and long-term. Happy reading!