Gastrointestinal Issues: What's Your Brain Have to Do with It?

Have you ever become so excited or upset that it caused you to have to run to the bathroom? What about getting news so bad it made you feel nauseated? If you've ever experienced these symptoms, you've felt the brain-gut connection firsthand.

woman holding her stomach

The connection between the brain and the gut is a real thing, and can affect both men and women, though in different ways. Gastrointestinal (GI) issues have an impact on the brain — and vice versa.

The Brain-Gut Connection

The brain-gut connection is evident when we experience butterflies in our stomachs, typically when we're excited, in love or scared. Strong emotions can cause people to experience GI symptoms.

Science is beginning to understand the process behind this link, which ultimately relates to hormones released from different parts of our brain — yes, they are in your head, as well as other places — when we are particularly stressed or excited.

Chemicals circulating in the bloodstream affect the sensitivity and function of nerves in the wall of the gut, which can be collectively referred to as the enteric nervous system.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome and the Brain

Researchers are starting to understand the impact of activity within the gut on the brain. One example is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a condition that affects up to 15% of people in the United States and women twice as often as men. If you have IBS, the nerves in your gut are extremely sensitive, and the brain processes these signals from your gut differently than it would if you did not have IBS. Even small amounts of gas can trigger pain, bloating, constipation or diarrhea.

Gut Issues and Mood

Doctors caring for people with gut issues have observed how GI problems can affect a person's mood and sense of well-being.

For instance, some people with chronic constipation also report a depressed mood or even headaches. While many natural health practitioners focus on the negative effects of toxins in the body, that's not what's likely behind the brain-gut connection. Some experts believe being constipated actually causes the enteric nervous system to send certain signals to the brain, which then trigger a cascade of feelings.

The intestinal biome is being studied and future research may reveal more secrets of the relationship between intestinal ailments and mood — and how it can be modified. Managing gut bacteria may prove to be a way to achieve positive changes in our mood.

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