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The Brain-Gut Connection

Sometimes or the other, we tend to hear people using phrases such as “gut-wrenching“, “feeling nauseous” or “butterflies in the stomach“. These phrases are not just for the sake of saying, but actually have deeper meanings attached to them. Our gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to emotions such as anger, anxiety, sadness, happiness, and many more,  as all of these feelings can trigger symptoms in the gut. . All these feelings have the tendency to trigger the gut. The gut-brain connection is not a joke, it can link anxiety to stomach issues and vice versa. 

Our brain is directly connected to our stomach and intestines. When we think about eating, our stomach juices are released even before the food gets there. This connection is a two-way street. When the brain is troubled, it sends signals to the stomach and when the gut is problematic, the brain receives its signals. That is why if a person is going through some intestinal difficulty, it can be a by-product of anxiety, stress, or depression, clearly because the brain and gastrointestinal systems are closely attached. 

Not only do the gut and the brain communicate through the nervous system, but also through hormones, and the immune system. The system that goes through the gut and brain by sending the signals is called the gut-brain axis. The two very important organs are connected both physically and biochemically in numerous ways. A scientist named Pavlov experimented to check the reality of this phenomenon. He used the bell as a neutral stimulus. During the experiment, he gave food to the dogs and rang the bell. After repeating the procedure he tried ringing the bell without providing food to the dogs. He noticed an increase in salivation (mouth-watering) occurred on its own in the dogs, proving a new conditioned response in them. His experiment proved that an object or event results in a triggered conditioned response. For example, even the sight or smell of a particular food releases enzymes in the body which are used in the process of digestion. 

The gut and brain are connected through neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters produced in the brain produce feelings and emotions. Researchers have discovered that a lesser-known nervous system in our guts (our “second brain”) communicates with the brain in our head. Together, “our two brains” play a key role in fighting certain diseases in our bodies and overall health. Hunger and satiety (the state of stomach fullness) are wired in the brain, and the presence or absence of food in the gut and the types of food present also affects the composition and activity of the environment of the gut. Our digestive system has a major effect on our thinking skills and memory too, as certain foods can trigger our memories and take us down the nostalgia lane. Similarly, dried fruits and nuts can increase concentration and memory. That is why we often hear people say ‘Eat good food to be in a good mood’. 

 

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