Ever heard of the phrase “I just had this gut feeling?” Well, believe it or not, there is actually a lot of scientific merit to support this long-used phrase. Our brain-gut axis, also referred to as our HPA axis, is a newer term in the medical field that reveals a direct connection between what we consume and the hormones our bodies produce in response. This includes foods, prescription and over the counter medications, as well as other toxins and pollutants from the environment.
Our digestive tract takes this information and sends signals throughout our body in response….which can be…good or bad depending on the culprit. If toxins are in the gut, the brain responds in an inflammatory matter. Hello anxiety or depression. BUT, the same is true for when we put GOOD foods and nutrients into our bodies. Studies have found that over 90% of our serotonin (the happy hormone) is produced in the gut! So if you are struggling with depression or anxiety, troubles in your belly may be the underlying issue.
The key player in this gut-brain connection is the vagus nerve, which has multiple functions in sending the information from the gut to the brain. The information that comes in from the gut bacteria (from the parasites, viruses, yeast) sends chemicals up through the vagus nerve to the brain. The cool part? Your vagus nerve controls your parasympathetic nervous system AKA your rest and digest responses (which, I’m obsessed with if you want to take a look at my previous blogs). The long and short of the vagus nerve how-tos? If you find yourself having stomach issues best practices are the 4 R’s:
- Remove stressors- including allergens, bacteria/yeast, parasites and toxins,
- Replace- healing nutrients in the form of supplementation or whole foods, digestive enzymes, vitamins, minerals and amino acids
- Reinoculate- help beneficial gut bacteria flourish by increasing probiotic foods or supplements. Increase high fiber foods for prebiotics needed to stimulate growth of good bacteria in your gut lining such as artichoke, garlic, leeks, onion, chicory, tofu and other soy products.
- Repair- the gut lining with key nutrients needed for healing.
I myself have struggled with “leaky gut” as it is called. It turns out that those who have experienced a form of traumatic brain injury (my brother hit me in the head with a baseball bat as a kid) are more susceptible to a leakage in the blood-brain barrier and much more affected by what is going into our gut. Food allergens can be a major trigger, this includes foods you are sensitive too, but may not have showed up as a full blown allergy on testing. Symptoms of food allergies include:
- Colitis- IBS, gas, bloating, stomach pain
- asthma/breathing difficulties
- Rheumatoid Arthritis/Joint pain
- Chronic pain
- Edema and fluid retention
- Ear infections
- Anxiety and Depression
Typical food allergy testing such as pin pricks do not actually pick up on the delayed food sensitivities that actually account for 95% of food allergens in people. These can occur 1 hour and up to 3 days following exposure to an allergen. Our bodies are very smart, and usually are aware of the triggers and interactions that are not serving us. I took a food sensitivity test from usfoodintolerance.org and the results came back with many of the foods I had never liked or eaten even as a young child. There were many others that I did continue to eat when I was younger and throughout college, and experienced many unpleasant symptoms throughout the years.
This experience is what made me dive deeper into gut health and the power of foods as medicine. I trialed different foods and diets for a time, but eventually found most conventional dietary methods and restrictions were not serving me. I yearned for more knowledge to help myself and others as I became certified through the Food Matters Institute.
Know that you are not alone, and so many people are living with gut issues that no one is talking about! Take the power into your own hands but getting your food sensitivities tested to heal your gut, improve your energy, and get your skin and life back!
And for an extra “oomph”, feel free to book a yoga session with me to further support your vagus nerve. My LYT yoga practice trained me to teach others to tap into this rest and digest brain control center in a way that other forms of exercise cannot.
To your gut and overall health!
Your Physical Therapist,
Dr. Sarah Kingsley PT, DPT, RYT
This information is generalized and intended for educational purposes only. Due to potential individual contraindications, please see your primary care provider before implementing any strategies in these posts.