We've all experienced that feeling, the little flutters in our belly when we are nervous or excited. But what does this sensation mean and what is physically going on inside?
This sensation is a combo of your gut bacteria communicating directly to your brain via chemical messengers in the blood and the gut neurons connecting to the part of your brain that controls your emotions and intuitiveness. Your gut and your brain are working together and this relationship is called the gut-brain axis.
In recent studies, scientists have found the relationship between your gut and brain extraordinary and have considered the gut the body's second brain. This second brain is also referred to as the enteric nervous system (ENS). Your ENS consists of two thin layers of 100 million nerve cells that line your gastrointestinal tract (GI-tract) and runs from your esophagus to your rectum.
Your ENS can trigger drastic changes in emotions, especially from those who are diagnosed with digestive conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or even temporary issues like constipation, diarrhea, and bloating. As medical research has evolved many researchers thought that your emotions contributed to your gut issues. However, recent science has determined it may be the other way around.
Researchers have found that irritation in the ENS may send signals to the central nervous system that triggers mood changes. This link has helped scientists better understand why people diagnosed with IBS and functional bowel problems develop mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.
What can you do to protect your brain and your 'second' brain?
1. Mind-body exercises. Meditation, yoga, or even just a walk in the park can trigger your body's relaxation responses.
2. Find resources for stress relief. You can find podcasts, youtube videos, or even in-person meditation classes at yoga studios or local community centers. Finding outlets to practice mindful thinking and breathing exercises can help you cope with daily stresses.
3. Be mindful of the foods you eat. Eating natural and fibrous foods can help grow the beneficial bacterial that produces GABA production and good neurotransmitters like serotonin to keep you happy and calm.
→ Pasricha, Jay. “The Brain-Gut Connection.” Johns Hopkins Medicine, Johns Hopkins Medicine, n.d., https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/the-brain-gut-connection.
→ Regan, Sarah. “Gut Feelings: What They Really Are & How to Know If You Can Trust Them.” Mindbodygreen, Mindbodygreen, 26 Feb. 2021, https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/gut-feelings-what-they-really-are-when-to-trust-them.