“Gut Health Is The Key To Overall Health.”
Over the past decade or so, many studies on animals and humans have shown a distinctive link between the gut and the brain. This means that gut health plays an important role in the occurrence of varied mental conditions such as anxiety, mood disorders, depression, etc.
The brain is connected to the gut via the enteric nervous system (ENS), the vagus nerve, and the gut-brain axis.
The enteric nervous system: The ENS is present in the digestive system walls and is called the second brain. Different studies of this ‘brain in the gut’ have provided evidence of the links between mood, digestion, thought processes, and overall health.
The enteric nervous system is made up of 2 thin layers that consist of over 100 million nerve cells that line the digestive tract, right from the esophagus all the way to the rectum. It is also connected to the central nervous system. The central and local sensory neurons present in the gut lining continuously check the gut wall’s mechanical state, and the information gathered therein is integrated by local circuit neurons.
The motor neurons use this data to influence varied functions like activity of gut wall smooth muscles and different gland secretions like mucus, digestive juices and enzymes, bile, etc. The ENS can operate on its own and communicate with the nervous system via the sympathetic nervous and parasympathetic systems and hence is called the ‘second brain’.
The vagus nerve: It begins in the brain and extends down the brain stem to the thorax, neck, and abdomen. The nerve offers motor parasympathetic fibers to every organ, other than the adrenal glands, present from the neck to the transverse colon’s second segment. It plays a role in regulation of speech, heart rate, perspiration, and different gastrointestinal functions.
The gut-brain axis: This is made up of two-directional communication between the ENS and central nervous system, connecting the cognitive and emotional brain centers with the peripheral functions of the intestines. Different animal studies have shown that the microorganisms in the gut can influence the vagus nerve and play a vital role in balancing of effects on behavior and the brain.
Role of bacteria in anxiety levels
Studies have shown that gut microbiota (the bacteria present in the gut) and the associated gut health can have an effect on behavior and brain chemistry. It may be noted that IBS/Irritable Bowel Syndrome sufferers who experience physical symptoms like abdominal pain, cramps, diarrhea, gas, bloating, and constipation, etc. have also been diagnosed with mental conditions like anxiety and depression.
This link between gut bacteria/gut health and occurrence of anxiety is a two-way street. Thus, good gut health may positively affect anxiety levels, while bad gut health may cause anxiety levels to rise.
Gut bacteria influences the production of dopamine and serotonin. The latter helps manage gastrointestinal motility. It is also known that serotonin is a ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitter that affects the feelings happiness and well-being. Thus gut microbiota can affect anxiety levels.
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