Health and Wellness

Gut & brain – a romance for the ages

By Clementine Beale | Published the 26th Mar 2019

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If you paid any attention to your high school science teacher – no judgment if you didn’t – you’ll probably remember them talking about the central nervous system. (Y’know, the one that’s made up of your brain and spinal cord?) What you might not realise is that you’ve got an enteric nervous system, and it’s doing some equally mind-blowing work in your gastrointestinal tract.

Did anyone ever tell you to go with your gut? They might be on to something. Your stomach and intestines have more nerve cells between them than the entire spinal cord. On top of that, a whopping 95 per cent of your body’s serotonin (that kickass chemical that makes you feel on top of the world) is found in your digestive system, not your brain. Take that, grey matter!

We usually think of our brain as the organ that’s in charge, but your gut actually sends far more information to your brain than your brain sends to your gut. Example? Well, you know how you get those butterflies in your stomach whenever you’re about to make a presentation at work and you have to counteract it by imagining everyone in their underwear, especially that new dude from accounts with the great hair? (Again, no judgment).

That's your gut being affected by your emotions! It's the same deal when you’re feeling angry or stressed – chances are you’ve got an upset stomach to boot. And just in case you’re thinking this relationship’s starting to look a little one-sided, you should know that the flip side’s true. Problems in your belly can negatively impact your mental health and lead to issues like anxiety and depression (and ain’t nobody got time for that).

So how do you keep your gut in tip-top shape and ensure a happier, healthier you? The good news is that you can start small. In summer, even something as simple as adding lemon to your water before meals can help your gut by stimulating pancreatic enzymes. Another gut godsend is papaya, which helps your body digest food more easily.

There’s also the weird and wonderful world of probiotics. Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ll probably have heard of Kombucha. What you might not know is that it’s just one of a huge number of probiotic food and drink products at your disposal. Fermented vegetables like kimchi and sauerkraut, as well as kefir and coconut kefir, do wonders for your gut! For even more info, read Wild Fermentation, by Sandor Katz. It lists pretty much every possible fermented food you can imagine and gives you tips on how to make it yourself.

Most importantly? Chillax! Yeah, you heard me. Calm the farm, because stress minimisation is SUPER important when it comes to maintaining good gut health. So, take some time out for yo’ sweet self this weekend with activities like yoga, tai chi, walking and meditation. Your gut will thank you for it!