Your digestive wellness can be quite intricate and complex. Digestive wellness has a physical component, but also a neurological component along with diet and nutrition.
The players, neurochemicals, the food you eat, your immune cells (and the chemicals they produce), various microorganisms and others, must get along. Otherwise, you could end up with messages looping back and forth between your belly and your brain and you could find yourself battling anxiety, depression, or another mood disorder. And, physical symptoms such as, irritable bowel syndrome, (IBS), esophageal reflux disorders, or other gastrointestinal disorders, might show up as well.
So what is the Connection between the Belly and the Brain?
Has this ever happened to you? You have a huge project due at work within a short deadline…you need to make a life-altering decision and can’t get clear on a choice…or you find yourself wearing the hat of your children’s teacher despite all of the other responsibilities you have? The stress mounts continuously. You begin to notice that you have established a new habit of clutching your stomach due to the tension.
Your beautifully designed body has something called the gut-brain axis. The gut-brain axis is the interplay of signals between your gut, your brain, and the environment in your gut called the gut microbiome. The gut microbiome is home to microbes of various sorts (the positive bacteria and not so positive).
The signaling system between the brain and the gut communicates mainly via the vagus nerve. Chemical messengers, gut and brain hormones, and neurotransmitters interact in this same system, too.
Researchers have learned that with this gut-brain superhighway, what happens in the belly, can affect what is happening in the brain and vice versa.
What can happen when things go wrong?
Your gut and your brain produce serotonin, along with other areas in your body. Serotonin is a hormone that helps to keep your mood stabilized. It also assists with bowel movements, sleep, eating, digesting, bone health, sexual function, and blood clotting.
Scientists have established that individuals suffering from depression may also suffer from gastrointestinal distress such as low gut motility and constipation, as seen in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Low serotonin levels produced in the brain can contribute to depression. When the gut does not create adequate serotonin, this situation can lower the rate at which your gut contracts and moves food through your digestive system. This is called low gut motility. These circumstances also lead to constipation and the development of hard-to-pass stool.
If you have a gastrointestinal disorder, like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), these flare-ups and symptoms could be linked to the level of serotonin your body is producing in the gut. As mentioned earlier in this article, these two systems interact and affect one another.
What can you do if you have GI distress and want better digestive wellness
In my practice in both Evanston and Chicago, I work with patients in these circumstances using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). I am happy to walk with you through the behavioral and psychological care issues associated with IBS.
I also teach gut-directed relaxation techniques. Through guided mindfulness training, patients find that their stomach becomes more calm. They also find that they become more peaceful overall in dealing with their pain and distress. Along with these strategies, I offer hypnotherapy to reach the same goals of a more serene physical and mental state.
You may have restricted your social life due to worries which you have about the unpredictability of IBS flare-ups. You may also have lessened physical and/or sexual intimacy with your partner. You just don’t feel like yourself anymore with the bloating and constipation.
Once you can use CBT, relaxation techniques and hypnotherapy to manage stress, you will probably experience a better quality of life. You will also have more tools to use to cope with IBS. Lessening any depression or anxiety can likely decrease the painful GI distress you have.
New medical interventions might be something to discuss with your physician. In a 2019 study, researchers at Columbia University Medical Center introduced in mice a slow-release form of 5-HTP (the precursor to serotonin). They determined that neuron production of 5-HT links constipation with mood dysfunction.
The mice were able to use the 5 HTP to bring the levels of this amino acid back to normal in the gut. So, the normal production of serotonin resumed. Restoration to normal levels helped to renew movement in the gut and repaired the lining of the cells in the gut. While these studies were done in mice, they can help to inform new possibilities of treatment for IBS patients.
You may want to work with your physician for updates on the latest treatments for IBS.
Counseling can help heal physical and emotional pain
You don’t need to feel lonely in working through your depression, anxiety, or gastric distress. Reach out today. I would be happy to offer you a free 15 minute consultation to talk about how we can work together to increase your quality of life and decrease your pain. You can reach me at 773-983-8444. If you are looking for help with GI distress and stomach pain you can read more about how I can help by clicking here.
Catherine provides Anxiety Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Hypnotherapy, and Relationship Therapy for women in Evanston and Chicago IL. For the pet lovers out there, she also provides Pet-Assisted Therapy. Catherine helps women who feel isolated, anxious, and overwhelmed in their lives to find more happiness, satisfaction, and self-acceptance. She also helps women manage and think differently about chronic pain, fibromyalgia, IBS, and other forms of GI distress.