Increasing our Somatic awareness to the brain and gut connectionHeidi Hadley
In this week’s video of Total Somatics: ‘Mindful in May’ released on Monday 22nd May on the Total Somatics Facebook page (available on You Tube after May 2017) we considered applying mindfulness to our eating habits. In today’s blog we are going to delve deeper and increase our somatic awareness to just how important the brain and gut connection truly is.
Your gut is an amazing part of your body because it is known as ‘the second brain’ due to it possessing its own independent nervous system, with over 100 million neurones within the gut wall.
At birth our gut is pretty sterile and doesn’t possess a great variety of bacteria, it is only over time that the gut bacteria begins to colonise which is partly influenced by genetics and also our environment; the whole nature/nurture issue. But with an average adult, we hold approximately 100 trillion microbes in our gastrointestinal tract, these microbes are crucial for maintaining a good standard which contributes towards our health and well being.
Here is a list of just a few things our gut bacteria does on a daily basis, that we are unaware of and take for granted:
- Regulates digestion
- Regulates our metabolism
- Extracts and makes vitamins and nutrients from the foods we consume
- Plays a critical role in programing our immune system
- Acts as builders and maintenance workers to protect the gut wall from outside invaders.
- They act as bodyguards against foreign invaders or pathogens from taking over the gut flora and creating a unhealthy amount of harmful microbes. They are experts in chemistry because they produce agents to kill microbes which threaten the harmony and stability of the gut.
The gut and bacteria is so amazing but I really want to tell you about how the brain is involved with the digestive system. As you are reading this blog, I assume that you have an interest in your health and how we can really increase our somatic awareness. When we do this, we become mindful and start living a healthier life.
Mr Dewar, a lovely biology teacher at high school use to say to the class “you are what you eat.” He was so correct. We really are a product of what we consume, for the benefit or detriment of our health. Mr Dewar would have been referring to the fact that our gut bacteria produce hundreds of neurochemicals which the brain uses to regulate physiological processes, including our mental functions such as memory, mood and learning. Take for example our mood. Our mood is heavily influenced by the gut flora. The gut bacteria manufactures approximately 95% of the body’s supply of serotonin; the body’s happy hormone. So there is a direct line of communication between the brain and the gut. Emeran Mayer, a Gastroenterologist and director of the centre for Neurobiology of Stress, University of California, Los Angeles said “It’s almost unthinkable that the gut is not playing a critical role in mind states.” In recent years, lots of studies have been conducted and a term known as the ‘microbiome-gut-brain axis’ has been coined. Scientists have tested gut microbiome with mice and used certain breeds that have shy characteristics. On several occasions the scientists would administer a collection of bacteria and allowed them to colonise in the gut of mice. The results were amazing. The behaviour of the mice changed dramatically according to the level of gut bacteria. The mice became bold, brave and adventurous. A neurochemical produced in the hippocampus, known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) had elevated levels. This neurochemical is really important for increasing neural connections with memory and mood. Interestingly though, when they stopped the experiment, these poor little mice returned to being their shy, anxious and cautious selves. Their brain biochemistry had returned to it’s original state.
Due to this discovery, many experts have discovered a link between gut bacteria, anxiety and depression which can be associated with Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and irritable bowel syndrome. Yet again, these poor little mice were used! The scientists infected a parasite into the mice to create a chronic low level inflammation. The results revealed that the inflammation suppressed levels of BDNF which has previously soared when the mice were give good gut bacteria. The BDNF which is produced in the hippocampus, caused the little mice to behave in an anxious, agitated manner. But when they were given a 10 day course of good bacteria in the form of Bifidobacterium longum, their BDNF levels increased and their behaviour improved.
The influence our gut has on the brain is profound and increasing our awareness to this can help us if we are prone to anxiety. Becoming mindful of what we eat, how we eat, the environment we live in and the supplementation of probiotics can improve our physical and mental health. The good bacteria communicates with the brain via the vagus nerve. Another important factor to consider is that gut bacteria produce and respond to the same neurochemicals, such as melatonin, acetylcholine, dopamine, serotonin, GABA, norepinephrine; all of which play a massive role in regulating mood and mental function and faculties.
So my dear science teacher Mr Dewar was correct over 20 years ago when he said “you are what you eat.” When we know the effects that good or bad bacteria can have on our mental and physical health, we become mindful of what we are eating and drinking. We want to eat foods which are unprocessed and supportive of our gut health. Plus from my video this week, we want to become mindful of the setting we eat our meal, the speed at which we consume our food and our emotional health; which plays a huge role in how our colon moves the digested bolus or food mass through via peristalsis (explained in the Facebook video this week). The more relaxed we are at mealtimes, the greater level of energy and resources needed from the body to break down and absorb the nutrients in our food.
Make today the start of a whole new level of understanding or somatic awareness to mindful eating and education into our gut-brain connection.
Allow Mindfulness with Total Somatics to educate you on various areas of your life to increase your awareness to how your SOMA (mind and body) work to improve your health and well being.
Online courses are available at www.TotalSomatics.com