Updated: Apr 25
It’s hard to imagine, but there is a 2-way communication between intestinal microbiota and the central nervous system. This is known as the gut-brain axis. Terms such as “butterflies in your stomach” and “a gut-wrenching experience” have come about due to the connection between our gastrointestinal tract and our emotions - feelings that trigger symptoms in the gut.
It appears that the microbiota in the gut play a major part of brain development processes and functions. They affect the brain via the nervous system, the immune system, the endocrine system and the metabolic system.
Gut microbiota become mature after a person is only one year old and remain in the body throughout life. They are referred to as the "living organ" or the "forgotten organ". Imbalance of microbiota in the gut can lead to inflammatory bowel disease, cancer, metabolic syndrome, obesity, diabetes and allergic reactions. It can also lead to nerve disorders such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, autism and multiple sclerosis.
Interaction between the gut and the brain is made via the vagus nerve and the autonomic nervous system. There is another method of interaction between the gut and the brain, and that is between the gut’s enteric nervous system, the vagus nerve and the autonomic nervous system in the spinal cord.
This interaction can go both ways. You will notice that when you think of eating, your body releases saliva and stomach juices The signals that go up the vagal nerve from the gut may induce anti-inflammatory responses which help to prevent infections.
There are many vital neural influences in the human body which originate in the gut by the gut microbiota, and these influence the whole body – including the brain. This means, therefore, that it can have major therapeutic potential in many conditions. Some gut bacteria synthesize dopamine & serotonin (helpful to treat depression), and butyric acid & short-chain fatty acids (helpful to treat irritable bowel syndrome).
Understanding that the gut and brain interact, you can see how you can feel nauseated or get butterflies when you are nervous. This shows that stress (or other psychological factors) can affect movement and contractions of the gastrointestinal tract, make inflammation worse, or may even make you more susceptible to infection.
Knowing all of the above, it is in our best interests to keep our gut microbiota as happy as possible! In turn, our gut microbiota will keep us as happy as possible! Eat whole foods, keep away from processed foods, don’t overeat and move your body (exercise) daily.