Why is gut health good for the brain?

Ayurveda, backed up by the most recent scientific research (such as microbiology) regards the gut as the prime initiator of bodymind’s imbalances and disease. The ancient practices addressing gut health in order to reverse degenerative brain diseases and psychological imbalances are proving to be the winning deal in terms of health and wellbeing of the mind. The gut and the brain work in unison. Following the recommendation by Dr Deepak Chopra, using the word “bodymind” is a way to emphasise the fact that those seemingly different organs two never act alone.

Gut is the first brain

The gut is often referred as the second brain. Evolution, however, tells us differently. It is in fact the first brain. 

Animal evolutionary process shows that he brain developed after the gut. The same kind of process repeats itself in the embryonic development. In the foetus, the digestive tract forms first, then the brain separates from the same tissue, moving up to the developing skull, remaining in connection with the gut through the vagus nerve.

The seat of intuition

The gut  is the first one to recognise potential danger (through a process of neuroception). Before the brain understands an experience, the gut has already made its judgement about the situation. We may call this experience “gut feeling”.

Our bodyminds are in a constant alert for danger, monitoring the environment, making judgements based on our conditioning. When danger is not around, we feel calm and at peace. Feelings of safety and comfort accompany this state of being.

When some sort of threat presents, we get into a state of defense depending on the level of the perceived threat. We might not yet see danger, but our gut has spotted it already. That odd feeling that something’s not right that might result in worry, anxiety, or even a sudden need to go to the toilet, odd cramps and spasms, butterflies and other messages from the gut are usually an indication that we are feeling vulnerable.

When there is an unexplained feeling that everything is fine, when we make an uninformed decision based on the fact that it just feels right, it’s the gut delivering that message. When you suddenly feel an instant connection with someone it is a sign that your gut allows that interaction to happen.

Gut messages are those feelings we call intuition. We should listen to these messages that come from the deepest of our bodyminds because they tell the tale of our subconscious programming. The brain is programmed from childhood to trust and to distrust in order to be safe and comfortable. Sometimes these patters become faulty and certain things feel overpoweringly dangerous even if the actual threat is small. When I set up my business 13 years ago, word “marketing” made me go blank in mind and my gut twisted and turned.

Putting myself out there put me in a state of fear like nothing else. My gut reactions were not based on reality but on my early life patterns of low self-confidence.

The point is, if you find yourself having strong gut feelings that do not match the actual reality, you’ve found out a pattern and you can start healing. It starts by addressing gut health because when gut heals, the brain heals as well and in the next paragraph I’ll tell you why.

Satisfying poop gives a serotonin high

The best sing of good gut health is a satisfying non-offensive morning poop. Serotonin, one of the feel-good hormones that also works as a neurotransmitter, is mainly created in the gut. Around 95% is created in the deepest recesses of our abdominal cavity. When the contents of the colon are released well, it reflects in our mental state. The feeling of satisfaction is so high you want to go and tell the tale. With good gut function the brain feels a high and it is all due to serotonin release. In addition, the sense of achievement releases dopamine. That’s a great way to start the day!  

We all know what happens in our head when our number two is not right. I’m sure most of you readers have had constipation in some form and how it acts in the mind. The congestion is soon so overpowering that you can’t think of anything else. You become obsessed of the fact that you can’t go which makes things even worse.

Sufferers of IBS, Crohn’s disease and other gut related functional and inflammatory conditions know well how their mental states reflect on the gut. Stress and anxiety are notoriously bad for digestive health. The good news is that, rather than go to therapy, or whilst waiting for your appointment, you can address the gut first, which then helps you to recover from detrimental mental patterns as serotonin starts kicking in.  

Gut health reflects on ageing

There is a direct relationship between your internal skin and external skin. The more you mistreat your gut the sooner you show signs of ageing. 

The most detrimental activity for ageing in both body and mind are late evening meals. Night time should be dedicated to healing and repairing from daily damage. This is prevented by nightly digestion, an activity that clogs the drains of the body causing puffiness, inflammation and early signs of ageing. 

Gut governs the mind through the vagus nerve, hormones and bacteria

Gut sends messages to the brain through different routes. The highway of nerves between the two ends is called the vagus nerve. When this nerve is stimulated the gut relaxes. Majority of traffic is directed from the gut to the brain. Only 25% of messaging comes from the brain.

The vagus nerve passes information between the gut to the brain via nerve impulses but gut also signals the brain also by hormones and bacteria. Leptin and ghrelin are two hormones that create an interplay between hunger and satiety.

Bacteria’s contribution to gut health is well known and not only they help digestion, production of vitamins and essential fatty acids (butyric acid aka ghee!) they also have a big role in cognitive functions for both good and bad. Diverse, seasonally changing bacteria help the brain to perform at its best. This can be achieved best by living with the cycles of nature, in other words ayurvedic diet and lifestyle routines.

Beliefs define gut behaviour

The messages towards the gut from the brain are based on perception, or more correctly, on our beliefs. What we believe to experience in our head, good or bad, passes through the vagus to the organs creating a sense of ease or butterflies depending what the level of safety. Walking on the country lane, spotting a snake might cause a reaction of fear and tension. When we realise it being a stick, our bodymind relaxes again. Our belief about the stick defined the way our body behaves: tension or relaxation, especially in the gut.

An unhealthy gut tends to overreact in perceived situations of danger. A healthy gut promotes objectivity and less reactivity in the face of a potential danger.  

The first step for healing the gut

Healing and repairing the digestive tract is surprisingly easy. Simplify, simplify, simplify is the way to strong gut health. Less is more. Eating more food does not heal the gut. If there are problems do not eat more, whatever the gut issue at stake. When digestion is ongoing, the gut lining does not have a chance to repair. Fasting after 5pm is a safe measure for everyone.

The lining of the gut can renew itself in three days. Small intermittent fasting with “baby food” such as tasty pureed soups, bone broth or porridge and digestive herbs according to the characteristics of the imbalance. When stronger measures need to be taken, Ayurveda offers multiple options, the best being a full panchakarma procedure which we offer in Dorset three times a year. Jivita Ayurveda’s retreats are a powerful way to recover, to bring back the intelligence of healing to the bodymind.

Benefits of retreating for healing

Any urban environment poses a challenge for healing as it brings easily on stress and elements of interest we cannot avoid taking on. In a retreat environment social media, TV, events and happening, friends and family leave are left behind and you can focus fully on yourself, and I can full focus on your recovery. The hours of the day are maximised for healing, which is difficult when work and other aspects of life interfere with the process.

During our retreat programs you’ll learn fasting in a safe, stress-free way, eat tasty simple foods, enjoy beautiful English countryside, practice yoga with emphasis on pranayama and meditation, learn new daily techniques of detoxification and relaxation.  

Check out our retreat options where you can choose from 3,5,7 and 12 day opportunities to come and reset the bodymind and learn the habits to avoid gut issues for good.

Our next retreat is on 8-18th January.  Contact me in anu@jivitaayurveda.com and we can start planning your special gut healing program.

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