“We humans have known since time immemorial something that science is only now discovering: our gut feeling is responsible in no small measure for how we feel. We are “scared shitless” or we can be “shitting ourselves” with fear. If we don’t manage to complete a job, we can’t get our “ass in gear.” We “swallow” our disappointment and need time to “digest” a defeat. A nasty comment leaves a “bad taste in our mouth.” When we fall in love, we get “butterflies in our stomach.” Our self is created in our head and our gut—no longer just in language, but increasingly also in the lab.” – Giulia Enders, Author of Gut
The Mind-Body Connection
Your mind and body work as one intricately interconnected unit. Their synchrony explains why your emotions might be messing with your gut. When feeling any strong emotion – sadness, nerves, excitement or anger – your brain sends a direct signal to your gut and this triggers the physical reaction that you feel throughout your body.
Thus, most of your physical symptoms are outward manifestations of your emotions. Your body is not just a vessel; it absorbs your thoughts, feelings and experiences and stores their specific energies amongst your body parts.
For thousands of years, Chinese medicine has recognized that emotions become absorbed and manifest as ailments in the body. Here on Practice Shraddha, Juyon Kim speaks about her observations as an acupuncturist. She explains that strong emotions get stored in your body and get trapped when left unaddressed. This trapped emotional energy will sit under the surface of your skin and appear like physical symptoms of bodily pain.
The solution is mind-body treatments – like yoga, meditation and acupuncture. These treatments tap into the emotional energy that’s stuck inside your body and enable its release. Whether it be through stretching, breathing or activating that stagnation in a meridian using acupuncture needles – these mind-body practices pinpoint and access that trapped energy so it can finally start moving and leaving your body. And it’s no coincidence, that with this great release of emotion, your physical symptoms fade away.
The Gut-Brain Axis
The gut is known as the “second brain” – this is because of our enteric nervous system, which consists of sheaths of neurons that lie in the walls of our gut. These sheaths make up the vagus nerve, running from the esophagus to the anus and spanning roughly nine meters in length.
Mind-body communication is carried out by the gut-brain axis – “a hormonal and biochemical-driven highway between the gastrointestinal tract and the brain”.
Your brain sends signals to your digestive tract by releasing chemicals that alter gut motility, nutrient absorption and the microbiome. And vice versa, your gut sends signals to your brain through use of hormones. Different hormones are released from your gut to directly communicate with your brain – adjusting your mood, hunger levels and sense of satiety.
Stress destroys your gut microbiome.
When you’re feeling stressed, your brain signals your gut to enter fight-or-flight mode. Being in this state of anxiety signals your gut to shift properties of your digestive system, which includes changing up your microbiome.
The accumulation of long-term stress overtime – perhaps caused by the persistent pandemic – can weaken your intestinal barrier dramatically. With this weakening, the bacteria living in your gut microbiome might begin to leak through the barrier and start to enter cells of your body. This increases your risk of contracting illnesses and alters the composition of your gut microbiome altogether.
It’s essential that we all take the time learn about our gut microbiome. Each of us has a unique, internal ecosystem in our gut, made up of more than 100 trillion bacterial cells. Researchers, psychologists and physicians are increasingly focusing on the symbiotic relationship between our gut health and how we feel. It turns out the balance of these “critters” in our gut creates major changes in how we experience our brain, mood and emotions.
The best thing we can do is eat the right foods to fuel the bacteria of our gut microbiome. These foods are probiotics and prebiotics:
Probiotics are live bacteria found in certain foods and supplements like yogurt and fermented foods (ex. sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, kefir). Fermented foods contain beneficial bacteria, that also thrive on eating prebiotics.
Prebiotics come from the type of carbohydrates (mostly fiber) that humans can’t digest. This prebiotic fiber – found in foods like oats, legumes, bananas, artichokes and onions – gets eaten by the beneficial bacteria in your gut.
Eating balanced amounts of probiotics and prebiotics is the key to keeping your gut microbiota healthy and your digestive system at high functioning.
On Practice Shraddha, holistic nutritionist Molly Cutler sheds further insight on the signs and symptoms of an unbalanced gut. Click here for a lesson where Molly lays out the basics of gut health and provides the essential tips and tricks that you need to know to nourish your gut microbiome effectively.
To dive deeper into managing your gut health, we recommend our special fermentation workshop lead by Moran Naor. As a health expert and chef, Moran guides us through the history and foundations of fermentation. In her class here, she leads a step-by-step tutorial on the process of fermenting your favourite vegetables. This class makes it easy and accessible for you to replicate the fermentation process in the comforts of your own kitchen at home.