It's Not All in Your Head!
If you’ve ever had a “gut feeling” or “butterflies in your stomach,” you’re receiving these signals from a surprising source: your enteric nervous system (ENS). This is made up of around 100 million nerve cells that are located in the wall of the gastrointestinal tract stretching from the esophagus to the rectum. Increasing amounts of information about this “second brain” is creating big changes in medicine’s understanding of the links between food, digestion, mood, and even your thought processes.
The Link between Mood Disorders and Gut Issues
The communication between your “main brain” and the ENS is a two-way street. Not only does the brain send signals to the gut, but the reverse is also true. Therefore, a person’s stomach or intestinal problems can be the cause OR the product of anxiety, stress, or depression. The ENS can trigger emotional disturbances in people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Yes, these associations have been made in the past, but only recently are studies showing that the bowel problems may actually be the cause of the emotional shifts instead of the emotions causing the bowel problems. So it’s NOT “all in your head” after all! These new findings appear to explain why a high percentage of people with IBS, SIBO, and other functional bowel problems also have emotional issues such as depression and anxiety. There is also data to suggest that the brains of some people with functional GI disorders perceive pain differently because their brains are hyper-responsive to pain signals from the gut. Stress can augment this sensitivity to an even higher degree.
Holistic Treatment Opportunities
In the past, medical treatments for GI disorders have been focused on managing the gut-related symptoms. However these new findings add support to what we’ve practiced at Legacy Health all along—the whole-person approach of Functional Medicine which treats all aspects of health: soul, mind, and body. This is not the proverbial “put a bandaid on a gaping wound” management of GI problems. It is, instead, a search for the root cause of the imbalances that are leading to disruption of the normal production and function of neurotransmitters in the GI tract. New data that impact clinical practice are being published almost every week and we work hard to stay abreast of these latest studies so that we can keep our treatment methods on the cutting edge.