More and more we are learning the importance of maintaining a healthy digestive environment in order to enjoy a healthy life. Science continues to discover increasing connections between healthy digestion and a sound mind, so much so that the gut is now being referred to as the “second brain”.
It turns out that many of the hormones that we think of as being manufactured in our brain – the one in our skulls – actually emanate from our guts.
For example, melatonin, the hormone that promotes restful sleep – little is actually produced in the pineal gland; most originates in the small intestine.
GABA, a calming neurotransmitter useful for anxiety and other mood disorders, is produced in the gut.
Serotonin, the biochemical that signals feelings of happiness, is produced both in the brain and in the gut from 5-hydroxy tryptophan (5-HTP), an amino acid linked directly to the gut bacteria Bifidobacterium infantis.
The most recent research even suggests connections between brain disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease and the health of the digestive system.
The term we hear a lot of these days to refer to the bacterial environment of our bodies is the human microbiome, which refers to the community of microbes that live in and on our bodies that we now recognize as playing a big role in human health.
Lab rats, which have been altered to have no gut bacteria – essentially a germ-free environment – show acute signs of anxiety, high-stress levels, chronic overall inflammation, and lowered BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) levels. People with low levels of BDNF, a brain-growth hormone, have an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
The above symptoms can easily be reversed by consuming an anti-inflammatory diet and introducing healthy bacteria into the gut through a diet rich in two common probiotics: Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum.
To that, I would add regular stress-reducing activities, such as reflexology, meditation, and spending time in nature. Nothing reduces stress and calms my entire body like these three.
When offering reflexology to my clients with digestive complaints, high-stress levels, and mood disorders, I like to focus my sessions on reflex points to the digestive organs (but, of course!), the vagus nerve, solar plexus, diaphragm, and CNS. That typically guarantees deep relaxation and a calm belly!