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Digestion Matters

The brain and the gastrointestinal (GI) tract are intimately connected and communicate constantly. Imbalances that have their origins in the GI tract can dramatically affect brain function and can cause or contribute to depression, anxiety, and inattention. The good news is that you can improve GI health with fairly simple strategies. 

Watch the Natural Digestion video to learn more.

 

The Gut-Brain Connection

The brain and the gastrointestinal (GI) tract are intimately connected and communicate constantly. Imbalances that have their origins in the GI tract can dramatically affect brain function and can cause or contribute to depression, anxiety, and inattention.

Studies over the past decade have established that, aside from the brain, the GI tract has more nerve cells than any other organ or system in the body. For this reason, the GI tract is sometimes called the “second brain.” Almost all of the neurotransmitters that are made in the brain are also manufactured in the GI tract, including 90% of the body's seratonin and 50% of its dopamine! The GI tract also houses approximately 70% of the immune system cells in the body. Additionally, our gut is home to billions of bacteria (and other organisms) that are designed to live in harmony with us. This internal world of organisms is called the "microbiome." Our gut bacteria help us make vitamins, regulate our immune system, and digest food properly. Knowing all this, it's easy to see why gut health is critical to mental health as well as overall health.

Common GI tract health issues that can impact mental health include:

  • Leaky Gut Syndrome: A breakdown of the normal, healthy cell barrier/lining of the GI tract.
  • Dysbiosis: A condition where the ratio of unhelpful (pathogenic) bacteria in the GI to helpful (probiotic) bacteria is out of balance.
  • Food Allergies/Sensitivities: Conditions where foods and food additives cause immune system dysregulation, which can result in inflammation in the body and brain.
  • Micronutrient Deficiencies: When low quality/diversity of foods and/or other systemic illnesses and malabsorption issues lead to low levels of key vitamins and minerals necessary for normal brain function and neurotransmitter production.

The NMH digestive health checklist. Download and review our simple digestive health checklist below to evaluate your digestive health and habits. (The best way to respond to the checklist is to print it, but if a printer is not available, you can record your answers on a separate sheet of paper.) If your checklist responses indicate healthy digestion, congratulations! You're already doing something incredibly valuable for your mental (and physical!) health. You can still review the Digestion resources here if you like, or move on to Foundations or Sleep categories or one of the Pathways to Resilience mini-courses.

If the checklist does show some areas for improvement, this Digestion section is for you. It includes resources for nourishment, movement, and sensory awakening practices specifically designed to help you build healthy habits and heal your digestive system.

Important note: Be sure to talk with your doctor if you have significant GI symptoms such as abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, reduced appetite, weight loss, diarrhea, or constipation.

Ready to dive in? After watching the video at the top of this page and reviewing the digestive health checklist, head over to the Digestion: Nourish section.

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