Stress relief and restoring gut health
On this page you will learn more about the microbiota-gut-brain axis, the connection between the gut and the mind. It will adress following topics:
- the role of the vagus nerve
- our intestine and the microbiome with its prime functions
- stress as a major enemy for gut health
- the influence of the mindset on our microbiome
Table of Contents
'Belly to brain' or 'brain to belly'? The 2-way system
belly2brain is not a one-way, but a two-way system: it influences each other in both directions. There is a hell a lot happening all along the line, between the gut and the brain, which includes:
- the HPA-axis, the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis, with the important hormones like adrenaline and cortisol;
- other hormone glands, above all the thyroid gland, the “boss” among our metabolic functions;
- the gut-brain axis with the vagus nerveas a sort of telephone line: The connection between gut health and brain function is a growing field of interest. It is remarkable that 80% of the information transmitted via the vagus nerve travels from the organs to the brain. These organs include in particular the following: gut and its microbiome, pancreas, liver, kidneys with adrenal glands, thymus gland, but also lungs and heart. We should not underestimate the importance of the vagus nerve. By increasing vagal tone you support the regulation of blood pressure, blood sugar balance, but it is also involved in keeping many hormonal processes in the body in check;
- Even the immune systemhas its play in this vast scenario of organ functions!
Under stress, the digestive system has to stop its activities for a short period of time because of one hunting or fleeing from the tiger, also known as the fight/flight mode. Chronic stress can have an enormous impact on intestinal function in the long term:
- nutrients from food are not absorbed properly, thus the most expensive food supplement can turn into expensive urine
- gas production is increased
- the barrier in our intestines becomes permeable to pathogens, also known as the leaky gut syndrome
- the speed of passage through the intestine can be greatly delayed, which also means that pathogenic substances that should actually be excreted are absorbed
- it lowers our immune response to food and is reflected in allergies
unfortunately, an impaired intestine releases even more stress hormones.
Stress and the gut - a vicious circle!
Frankly, we are living at a high pace and stress will not disappear overnight! We have to learn to deal with it. Nevertheless, we can change our perception of it. Worrying simply makes us unhappy, promotes premature aging, and drives us into inexplicable states of exhaustion. The constant release of cortisol, norepinephrine, and adrenaline not only makes us grumpy but also lowers our immune system. As you may know, 70% of the immune system is located in the intestine, in close proximity to the microbiome. Both our nervous system and the immune system are highly influenced by the function of our gut. Dr. Wolf Funfack says: The abdominal brain does not only regulate the activities of the digestive tract, but also intervenes in our entire nervous system. Despite this extremely important role, hardly any other organ is treated as neglected as our gut. But luckily, it is getting an increased attention lately!
How can I protect
the gut and the microbiome?
The gut is the inner barrier between the outside world and the body! If the protective mucus layer is intact, the intestine is wonderfully capable, to protect beneficial vital substances from harmful invaders.In order to protect this delicate protective layer from permeability, it is worth paying attention to a few things: Help the biodiversity of your intestinal bacteria by taking sufficient pro-and prebiotics. Eat fermented foods and a variety of soluble and non-soluble ballast substances. Digestive enzymes ensure that the food is broken down into the smallest components that can be optimally absorbed by the body. Choose raw or gentle steamed veggies!
- Protect your intestine from inflammation and permeability.
- Avoid preservatives, pesticides, sugar, emulsifiers, toxic metals, excess gluten, antibiotics and medicines, ready meals…
- Avoid stress, enjoy your food, and chew it well. Also train your consciousness: What is good for me? Many of us have forgotten to listen to our body signals and intuition! If we relearn this, we will find it easy to eat mindful foods and we will consciously stay away from junk food!
Intestinal mucosa and digestive enzymes
The importance of an intact intestinal mucosa: With the help of digestive enzymes, the food pulp is broken down into its smallest parts so that it can be absorbed into the blood through the intestinal mucosa and ultimately be available to the cells so that they are always supplied with everything that keeps our body and minds healthy.
What is the purpose of the intestinal microbiome?
The microbiome in the gut is made of a vast variety of bacteria species in the intestinal tract, also called intestinal flora. What does the microbiome do?
- nourishes theintestinal mucosa
- splits the food into absorbable building blocks
- produces B-vitamins such as B12, B1, B2, B5, B6, folic acidas well as biotin and vitamin K
- enables the absorptionof vital nutrients
- breaks down toxins – ready for being discarded
- communicates with the immune system and brain
Prebiotics, the favorite food of bacteria, primarily in the form of ballast substances: Different microbial strains feed on different prebiotics. Therefore: Eat the rainbow! In addition, short-chain fatty acids are formed by the bacteria during the breakdown of dietary fibers, including butyrates. These fatty acids are anti-inflammatory and serve to defend against infection and even protect the brain.
The hormones - the true pilots of our lives
Important hormone glands are also located along the line between the brain and the belly, such as the HPA-axis. The hypothalamus and pituitary gland are the control centers for the adrenal glands. The latter produce important stress hormones. Without those, we would struggle to cope with our hectic lifestyle. In addition, also other hormone glands along this line can influence our well-being, vitality, and even
The Whole Brain - a holistic approach
In his book, The Whole Brain, Dr. Kellman describes the connection beween our gut, its microbiome and the function of the thyroid gland and how that whole cocktail affects your brain. If the intestine is disturbed or the microbiome is impaired, it can have a negative effect on your mind and your emotions. In recent years there has been a lot of media coverage about this. But it doesn’t stop there…
How is the brain influenced by the microbiome?
Not only is there a close connection between the brain, the gut, and the microbiome, but the thyroid gland is also involved. Everything must be considered from a holistic point of view because if one part of this system is disturbed, it affects the others. If the thyroid gland is out of balance, this also affects the function of the intestines. Raphael Kellman, MD, a pioneer of holistic and functional medicine, presents his revolutionary concept of “The Whole-Brain”. In it, he describes a biological system consisting of the microbiome, the gut, and the thyroid gland. He concentrates on the interaction of this holistic system and cures depression, brain-fog, and mental disorders with very holistic methods without unnecessary medication.
Health care is self care!
How many people nowadays complain about lack of concentration, anxiety, or just feel tired and fatigued. I must admit that I too have seen a medical doctor several times in the last two decades. They obviously prescribe antidepressants quite quickly. I always thankfully declined and assured my well-meaning doctor that all I needed was a little rest. The general practitioner only has a few minutes per patient. Of course, he tries to find the fastest and most effective solution. In 2019 I fell into ‘acute exhaustion’ after a radical house renovation. I was pleasantly surprised that my current general practitioner recommended taking targeted Probiotica with additional micro-nutrients and phytochemicals. I am pleased that even in conventional medicine, gut health is increasingly associated with integral well-being.
Change your life, change your gut microbiome!
One valuable book has just been published in response to the 2020 pandemic, “Cultivating Your Microbiome: Ayurvedic and Chinese Practices for a Healthy Gut and a Clear Mind”. Bridgette Shea has a very holistic view on the topic of restoring gut health. She brings ancient Asian wisdom into play, which looks at health in its wholeness. There is no one-size-fits-all. But she makes some general assumptions, that apply to all types and constitution. If possible, avoid:
- refined sugar,
- factory-farmed meat,
- anything processed, boxed or canned,
- excessive dairy, like pasteurized yogurt as a food group or meal replacement,
- processed oils and
- refined white flour: preferably, avoid gluten, but stay away from glutenfree fake-gluten products
- vegetarian non-meat products are another form of processed food, as are lactose-free milk replacements. processed nut milk (you can make your own with a few minutes of prep)
- caffeine and alcohol in moderation
- choose a restricted diet only if medically necessary, and for a limited period only
How does the intestine influence the mental health?
For a long time, it was believed that psychological complaints and emotional upsets were only caused by functional disorders in the brain. Dr. Kellman suspected early on that the health of the gut has a strong influence on our mental well-being. Trillions of bacteria ensure a balance of bodily functions. The function of organs such as the thyroid, liver, and brain also depends on the gut microbiome. However, if organs like the thyroid gland for instance do not function optimally, the intestinal functions are impaired. In ‘The Whole Brain’, Dr. Kellman describes in detail which specific nutrients make us psychologically more resilient and boost our moods.
Why is stress bad for gut health?
Conversely, the power of our thoughts also determines our health. How we perceive ourselves and our environment can have a strong influence on our mental and physical well-being. Is there really a tiger waiting around every corner or is it a nice kitten? Today we know that intestinal health also determines mental well-being. Conversely, however, stress has a very negative effect on the intestine and its microbiome and can in turn impair its function and thus our health.
THINK yourself healthy! Change your mindset.
State-of-the-Art experts like Bruce Lipton or Joe Dispenza advocate the idea that I can influence my life positively and do not have to be a victim of given circumstances. Just re-frame your belief sytem. Find more about the power of thought and epigenetics by Bruce Lipton.
We are determined by underlying beliefs that we are often not even aware of. But manipulating your mindset, in the long run, is much more complex than kicking the unwanted weight in the gym or counting calories at every meal. If your subconscious is programmed according to the belief “I can’t lose weight”, you will hardly succeed in losing weight in the long-term. Mindfulness training and cognitive behavioral therapy can help you make a lasting change in your life, whether you want to feel better mentally, physically, or mentally. More about cognitive behavior therapy – also called CBT – on Wiki: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
The power of perception. Is self-healing possible?
Lissa Rankin, a physician and author of the US bestseller ‘Mind over Medicine’ combines medicine and holistic approaches. Nowadays, she supports her patients today by activating their self-healing powers. Of course, a healthy lifestyle is important. But just as important are the environment, our beliefs, and a meaningful lifestyle.
The body’s self-healing powers, the bestselling author describes in her book, can only work optimally in a relaxed state. Proactive stress reduction, some exercise, a mindful diet, but also harmonious relationships with our fellow human beings and creative self-expression form the foundation of a holistic approach. With a little goodwill, we can implement pragmatic mindfulness techniques and simple habit hacks into the hectic pace of everyday life.