The Link Between Nervous System Regulation and Gut Health


The Link Between Nervous System Regulation and Gut Health

Have you ever heard the saying, "Trust your gut?" This may seem like a simple cliché, but there is a scientific reason why we feel certain sensations in our gut, and it's all connected to the nervous system. In this blog, we'll explore the link between nervous system regulation and gut health, and how we can take steps to improve both, so we can feel more calm, grounded, and capable of handling the daily stressors of life.

What is the Nervous System?

In simple terms, the nervous system is the body's communication network, made up of over 7 TRILLION nerves! It sends messages between the brain, spinal cord, and all other parts of the body. 

One branch of the nervous system is called the autonomic nervous system. This system is a network of nerves that handle unconscious tasks like heartbeat, breathing, body temperature, metabolism and digestion, and detection of safety and danger (both internally and externally).

Often for people with trauma and PTSD, the autonomic nervous system gets overly sensitive to detecting danger and becomes stuck in "fight or flight" mode. People with trauma and PTSD are also more likely to have chronic digestion issues like IBS and SIBO, and you'll see why in a bit!

What is the vagus nerve?

The vagus nerve controls the autonomic nervous system. It starts at the base of your brain and goes all the way down to your abdomen with branches that touch almost every major organ, such as your lungs, your heart, kidneys, spleen, and digestive tract. 

The vagus nerve is responsible for lowering heart rate and breathing after fight or flight, increasing alertness and energy, stimulating the digestive tract (so food can pass through), and has an anti-inflammatory role (to prevent or improve stress-related symptoms).

The link between the nervous system and gut health

If you’ve ever felt that “gut instinct” or felt “butterflies in your stomach” when nervous, you’re likely getting signals from your second brain. Scientists have referred to this second brain as the enteric nervous system (ENS), which has more than 100 million nerve cells lining your gastrointestinal tract from esophagus to rectum. 

It’s the vagus nerve that connects the enteric nervous system to the central nervous system, allowing the brain and gut to communicate. So…what happens in the vagus nerve..does not stay in the vagus nerve.😉

This relationship between the nervous system and the gut is often called the gut-brain axis.

The gut microbiome also produces about 95% of our body’s neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, dopamine, melatonin, and oxytocin, which are all involved with physiological functions like digestion and sleep, as well as emotional functions, like helping us feel happy or relaxed.

That’s why when our gut health is impacted by nervous system dysregulation and vice versa, we can experience everything from brain fog and anxiety and depression.

How a dysregulated nervous system negatively affects digestion

If you’re in a stressful situation, you may notice that your digestion becomes impacted. You may lose your appetite, or overeat, feel nauseous, or have loose stools. Here’s why:

  • A dysregulated nervous system creates an uptick in stress hormones, including cortisol
  • Chronic high levels of cortisol increases inflammation in the digestive tract
  • Constant high levels of cortisol stimulate immune cells that produce proinflammatory substances

This creates damage in the mucosal lining of the gut, making it less able to keep food particles/toxins inside the gut and protect itself from damage by toxins. This is commonly referred to as leaky gut. 

This creates a negative feedback loop: the dysregulated nervous system impacts gut health and causes symptoms, the symptoms create more nervous system dysregulation, around and around.

Other symptoms of nervous system dysregulation you may notice

A dysregulated nervous system can look like:

  • Chronic fatigue, heaviness
  • Brain fog
  • Digestive issues (constipation, diarrhea, bloating, acid reflux, etc.)
  • Anxiety
  • Depression, suicidal thoughts
  • Insomnia
  • Racing thoughts
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Shortness of breath, shallow breathing
  • Emotional numbness, disassociation
  • Difficulty communicating or concentrating
  • Autoimmune disease and other chronic illness

So, how do we get out of the negative feedback loop and improve our gut health to then improve our nervous system health?

Techniques to Improve Gut Health and Support a Healthy Nervous System:

  • Eat a nutrient-dense, whole foods diet
  • Focus especially on omega-3 fatty acids from oily fish, walnuts, and flaxseeds
  • Incorporate fermented foods like miso and kombucha
  • Reduce or eliminate alcohol
  • Reduce stress with relaxation techniques
  • Get regular exercise
  • Set regular bedtime and wake times and get 6-8 hours of quality sleep
  • Spend time out in nature
  • Spend time with friends and family/community
  • Get at least 15 min of direct sunlight exposure per day

One simple step you can take to improve gut health TODAY:

As our Chief Medical Officer Dr. Raghu Appasani, a Psychiatrist and Neuroscientist puts it, “It can be challenging to keep up with all these healthy habits. We can’t change the fact that we live in a stressful world, there are bills to pay and mouths to feed, and never enough time to do it all.

But you CAN incorporate this simple step into your daily morning routine to give your gut health a huge boost, and get your nervous system into a more regulated state, so you can feel more calm, resilient, and ready for what life throws at you.”

Our Gut-Brain Connect Bundle was formulated by a team of psychiatrists, neuroscientists, and nutritionists to provide you with a convenient, easy way to improve your gut health and mental clarity.

Gut-Brain Connect includes:

  • Mood Biotics: 6 strains of research-backed prebiotics and probiotics proven to boost gut health & serotonin production, reduce stress and improve mood
  • Mood Omegas: Omega-3 essential fatty acids DHA and EPA to support brain fog and cognition

Incorporating these supplements into your daily morning routine ensures that even if you can’t eat the most perfect diet, or get out in nature, or exercise today, your gut and nervous system health will still be supported.