Learn about the gut-brain connection and how to maintain a healthy gut for optimal mental health.
We all know maintaining a positive work environment can help contribute to better overall mental health. But did you know the gut can also affect our mental health?
Research has found a connection between the gut and the brain. As more employers prioritize their employees’ mental health, it’s becoming clear that providing support for good gut health can help make that happen.
Emotions Are Linked to Gut Health
How can the gut play a role in mental health? The brain and the gastrointestinal (GI) system are intimately connected. Our autonomic nervous system—the network of nerves running between the brain and organs—regulates important bodily functions, like breathing and heart rate. One component of the autonomic nervous system is the enteric nervous system (ENS), which is made up of nerves located in your gut that regulate digestion.
The ENS, often called “the second brain,” has the same neurons and neurotransmitters found in the brain and spinal cord. Neurotransmitters, hormones, and other elements in the gut communicate signals to the brain.
The gut is actually largely responsible for producing many of the neurochemicals that impact emotions and mood. In fact, about 90% of our body’s serotonin is found in the GI tract. Known as “the happiness chemical” or “the feel-good hormone,” serotonin is a neurotransmitter that may prevent depression by helping to regulate mood, sleep, and other body functions.
Anxiety and That “Gut Feeling”
The gut-brain connection is not a one way street. Think about the language we use to describe the gut in reference to anxious feelings: “butterflies in the stomach,” “gut-wrenching,” “my stomach dropped,” and so on.
Just as being nervous for an important meeting can make your stomach “drop,” an upset stomach can increase anxiety and GI issues that cause stress. Because of the gut-brain connection, physical feelings in the stomach or digestive tract can cause or be the result of our anxiety, stress, or other emotions.
When we are anxious or stressed, those feelings can slow or even stop digestion so that the body can channel its energy toward the perceived threat. The body releases hormones into the digestive system that can affect gut bacteria and the microorganisms in the gut that help with digestion. This shift affects the movement of the GI tract and can cause inflammation. This may lead to physical symptoms like indigestion, heartburn, loss of appetite, nausea, abdominal cramps, or loose stools.
Studies have found that psychological approaches, such as therapy and relaxation methods, can lead to a greater improvement in gut-related symptoms compared to only using medical treatments.
Support your employees’ gut-brain axis with GIThrive, the all-in-one digital gut health program. GIThrive provides employee users with 24/7 support to nurses, a registered dietitian, and a Health Coach who provide personalized gut-health support. Visit the Vivante Health website to learn more.
About Vivante Health
Vivante Health is an innovative digital healthcare company reinventing the way chronic conditions are managed, gut first. Our all-in-one gut health program, GIThrive, empowers people—through brilliant technology, advanced science, and on-demand human support—to improve digestive health, while lowering their cost of care. Click here to learn how employers and health plans are saving money with GIThrive or email [email protected].