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    What Is The Mind-Gut Connection and How Can You Strengthen It?

    Unlock the mind-gut connection: discover the intricate relationship between your brain and digestive system, and learn how to fortify it. Explore the fascinating world of the mind-gut connection and gain insights into the profound impact it has on your overall wellbeing. Our guide provides practical tips and strategies to help you strengthen and optimise this vital link for improved mental and physical health.

    By Liv Surtees / Dec 06, 2023

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    Ever felt particularly stressed and physically felt the anxiety building up in your stomach? Maybe you regularly experience stomach upset just before a big pitch or meeting? Or, maybe you’re suffering from low energy levels and brain fog but you’re unsure why? Well, your mind-gut connection could be the driving force behind these situations.


    If you’ve heard the saying, “the gut is your second brain” but you’re unsure what the mind-gut connection actually is: don’t panic - it’s time to start learning! The mind-gut connection is definitely an important aspect of your body that you need to be aware of if you truly want to improve your health - both physical and mental, of course.


    In this article, we’re going to strap our science brains on (don’t worry, we’re going to be keeping it simple, because we’re all about saying no to jargon!) and delve into what the mind-gut connection is, why it’s important to support this connection, and how you can support your mind-gut connection in 5 easy ways.

    what is the mind-gut connection?

    Whilst they may be at two different ends of the body, the mind and gut are intrinsically linked, in a number of important ways. So, let’s take a look at a few of these in a little more detail and learn about why the mind can affect the gut so much and vice versa!


    The Enteric Nervous System


    One of the most important aspects of the gut-brain connection is the gut-brain axis - this is how the gut and mind communicate.

    The enteric nervous system is the nervous system of the entire digestive tract. This is the part of the gut that people call the “second brain” since it controls and supports a number of important functions in the digestive tract.


    The enteric system also communicates with the central nervous system - hence it’s called the gut-brain axis. So, if your mind is super stressed, this is why you may experience stomach upset or other digestive issues - the nervous systems communicate with one another.


    Immune Cells In The Gut 


    Immune cells (as it sounds - cells that are part of the immune system!) help not only fight any bad bacteria, infections, or illnesses within the body, but they also support mental health. Therefore, they’re clearly incredibly important!


    Within the gut, there are a spectacularly large amount of immune cells. In fact, the gut holds the largest number of immune cells within the body! Therefore, if these cells are not supported or compromised in some way, not only will your physical health suffer, but your mental health will suffer too.


    Neurotransmitters In The Gut


    As well as all of the immune cells that exist within your gut, a large proportion of neurotransmitters such as serotonin (the happy one) and gamma-aminobutyric acid (one that controls anxiety levels) are created within the digestive system by gut cells. Therefore, in order for these neurotransmitters to continually be produced and support mental health, you need to have a healthy gut!

    Image credit: Pinterest


    why is it so important to support your mind-gut connection?

    Clearly, the relationship between the gut and the mind is an important one!


    Essentially, if you are experiencing unhealthiness in your mind (whether fleeting or ongoing), then your gut will be negatively affected and if your gut is unhealthy (again, whether temporary or in the long run), your mind will suffer.


    So, obviously, the best situation you could possibly be in is to have both a healthy gut and a healthy mind so that both support each other! 


    But, what does that truly mean?


    Well, when it comes to gut health, a healthy gut is one that has a diverse and varied microbiome. In terms of gut health, a gut is healthy when it has a varied and strong microbiome. The microbiome should have balanced symbiotic and potentially pathogenic microbes in order to be as strong as possible - this is the meaning of a healthy gut!


    When it comes to mental health, the mind is strongest when the overall level of cognitive function is high. If the brain is supposed and healthy, you’re less likely to suffer from mental health illnesses and you will retain vitality for longer. 

    Whilst it’s possible to specifically focus on either the gut or the mind, if you are looking to reach an optimal level of overall health and wellbeing, you should aim to target and support both.


    So, how can you actively support the mind-gut connection to ensure that the gut-brain axis is as strong as possible and that you benefit from both a healthy mind and a healthy gut? 

    how to support your mind-gut connection: 5 ways 

    1. Eat Inflammatory and Gut-Brain Axis Specific Foods


    Although you might assume that healing your gut or supporting your digestive system is all about what you put into it, here are the only two main things you should be focusing on: eating an anti-inflammatory diet and consuming more of the specific foods that support the gut-brain axis. 


    Here are specific foods that support the gut-brain axis, and therefore if that’s your aim, you should be consuming them...


    Anti-Inflammatory Foods


    Let’s first take a look at why an anti-inflammatory diet can be so beneficial!


    Inflammation, especially when left to develop into chronic inflammation, is a leading cause of not only digestive issues, but mental illnesses too.


    So, if you’re eating a diet that’s high in inflammatory substances, it’s time to stop.


    Instead, focus on having a diet packed with anti-inflammatory foods. Although different substances can cause inflammation in different people (since we’re all beautifully unique and therefore react to foods in a unique manner!), anti-inflammatory foods that are often the most well-tolerated include things such as leafy greens, olive oil, fish, berries, tomatoes, almonds, and walnuts. Bonus points if you’re adding anti-inflammatory herbs such as turmeric!


    Specific Foods That Support The Gut-Brain Axis


    There are also foods that actually specifically support the connection between the gut and the mind. So, why not add more of these foods into your diet?


    Typically, these foods help to promote good bacteria within the gut and include the likes of grains, meat, fish, fruit, and vegetables. More specifically, gut-axis supporting foods include things such as:

    • Fatty Fish
    • Omega-3 Fats
    • Probiotic-Rich Foods such as Kefir, Yoghurt, Sauerkraut, etc
    • Green Tea
    • Nuts and Seeds
    • Berries

    Image credit: Pinterest

    2. Reduce Your Stress Levels


    When you’re stressed, the body releases cortisol and “fight or flight” hormones such as adrenalin (which is largely the reason why you feel giddy when suffering from anxiety). Although occasionally, in situations where you actually need your body to “fight or flight”, high cortisol levels and adrenalin are perfectly fine and genuinely helpful.


    However, when you don’t actually need your body to react in this way or if you continue to be stressed for a prolonged period of time, your heart rate, blood pressure, and feelings of anxiety continue to be heightened. Additionally, stress promotes inflammation.


    Therefore, one of the most important things you can do to support your mind-gut connection is to reduce your stress levels. You can do this in a number of ways, one of the best being practising mindfulness.


    Mindful practices such as meditation, yoga, painting, journaling, breathwork, and listening to music, can help to actively reduce stress levels, significantly. Try to incorporate at least 10-15 minutes of mindful practice into your daily routine and feel your stress levels lower! 


    Of course, it’s also important to say that if you experience high-stress levels, anxiety, or any other kind of mental illness on a regular basis, you should definitely seek professional help. 


    3. Supplement With Adaptogens


    Adaptogens are herbs that physically change the way the body responds to stressors, whether emotional, physical, or environmental, hence the “adapt” in “adaptogen”.


    Adaptogens are incredibly powerful at lowering stress levels both in the short-term and even more impressively, in the long run. Adaptogens reduce stress levels and promote the production of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, both of which support the mind-gut connection and support overall health and wellbeing. 


    Adaptogens are widely available and are typically consumed as capsules or powdered supplements. The most popular and potent adaptogen supplements out there are Ashwagandha, Rhodiola Rosea, Astragalus, Tulsi, and Ginseng.


    Pro tip: adaptogens might provide long-term benefits but most of them are supposed to be taken on a daily basis only for a period of 3 months at a time. Always read and follow the instructions on any supplement you buy!


    4. Supplement With Probiotics and Prebiotics


    Whilst you definitely add probiotic-rich and prebiotic-rich whole foods, an easy way to support your mind-gut connection is by consuming probiotics and prebiotics as supplements!


    Although you may have only ever taken probiotics or prebiotics after a course of antibiotics or stomach upset, most people can consume these supplements on a regular basis as a way to support both their mind and gut.


    Probiotics support the balance of the gut microbiome but can also directly reduce the symptoms of mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety.


    Prebiotics are a type of insoluble fibre that cannot be digested - it sits within the gut and promotes the growth of microorganisms within the digestive tract, also promoting the production and balance of bacteria within the gut.


    So, supplementing with both probiotics and prebiotics can support your mind-gut connection and overall health - it’s certainly a good idea!


    Pro tip: Once again, always read and follow the instructions on any supplement you buy and if you have any adverse side effects, consult a medical professional for advice.


    5. Talk To A Gut Health Specialist


    If you want professional support to improve your mind-gut connection, why not seek the help of a gut health specialist? 


    Whilst you definitely can improve your mind-gut connection yourself, healing your gut and supporting your mental health, professional support can help you not only understand your body as a unique individual, but it may fast-track your success with healing your mind-gut connection too!


    Additionally, if you have any pre-existing health conditions, seeking the help of a gut health specialist is the best thing to do to ensure you’re supporting yourself safely and beneficially.


    time to heal your gut?

    The mind and the gut are two areas that when focused on can provide incredibly powerful benefits to the entirety of the body. So, it’s time to start strengthening the mind-gut connection and experience the benefits that come with that!

    This article is here for educational purposes only and we are not giving active advice. 

    You should always seek the advice and support of medical professionals if you have queries about your health or want to change your lifestyle dramatically.


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