Weʼve all heard the expression, "I feel it in my gut," referring to a sense of knowledge that seems to come from the belly, not the brain. It turns out that this instinct is correct: the brain and the belly are not separate after all. Medical research has established that the digestive tract has itʼs own nervous system, with nerves and neurotransmitters just like the brain, and that the nervous system of the gut and the nervous system of the brain are connected.
The brain is intimately involved in the process of eating. Nerves that originate in the brain are responsible for chewing, swallowing and digesting food. You may have noticed that your mental state influences not only your food choices (reaching for that ice cream
after a stressful day) but also the way your body digests those foods (becoming constipated as a result of emotional distress). You may also have noticed the reverse reaction, that the foods you eat influence the way you think, your moods and your ability
to concentrate. These common experiences make the point that the brain and the gut are not separate at all.
What does this mean to you?
Digestive complaints--constipation, diarrhea, hemorrhoids, irritable bowel syndrome, food sensitivities, leaky gut, colitis, diverticulitis, etc-- are becoming more and more commonplace, evidenced by the surge in popularity of natural treatments such as detox programs, cleanses, and the vast array of digestive supplements available today. These
can be helpful in providing relief, but quite often the relief is short-lived and in some cases these treatments fail to provide any relief at all. Does this sound familiar to you?
You may want to consider brain support.
Given this connection between the brain and the gut, you may be experiencing a combination of brain symptoms and gut symptoms without realizing the connection. Common brain symptoms include brain "fog," depression, poor memory, inability to focus, and learning difficulties. Common gut symptoms include constipation, bloating, food sensitivities, and abdominal pain and/or cramping.
Why isnʼt digestive support enough?
For some people, digestive support will be enough to correct digestive complaints. However, if the brain is not functioning optimally there will always be a limit to what can be accomplished in this way. Take fiber, for example. Fiber powders such as psyllium husk are common treatments for digestive disorders, helping to push food through the
30 feet of tubing of the digestive tract. In order to move food through all of those twists and turns there need to be contractions of the muscles that surround the digestive tract. These muscular contractions are automatically controlled by the brain, similar to your
heartbeat and breath. If there is a lack of stimulation by the brain, there will be a lack of motion in the gut, and the food will not move smoothly through the tube. In that case, fiber will not be enough. In some severe cases, the fiber will combine with the undigested food and create an even bigger blockage in the gut, eventually leading to
fecal stones (yes, they are as bad as they sound).
How can I support my brain?
There are many simple ways to support brain function and improve both brain and gut function.
1.) Physical exercise: this is one of the simplest and most effective ways to stimulate the brain and promote gut motility. Something as simple as a daily 30-minute walk can make an enormous difference in the digestive health of a previously sedentary individual. The greatest stimulation will come from exercises that require you to learn new skills and/or challenge your sense of balance and coordination.
2.) Stress relief practices: meditation is a common treatment for digestive complaints, most likely through the mechanism of brain stimulation. Something as simple as sitting quietly and focusing on your breath can help reduce stress and improve brain function.
3.) Chiropractic adjustments: adjustments and other forms of bodywork are powerful brain stimulants and are often helpful in increasing gut motility.
4.) Nutritional support: there are many excellent nutritional approaches to supporting brain function. Avoiding inflammatory foods and supplementing with fish oil are two ways to protect the brain from degeneration. Talk to your chiropractor about nutritional support that will maximize brain and gut function.