Look at the following scenarios
- Butterflies in our stomach
- Tightness in our body
- A sinking sensation in the pit of our stomach
- Sweaty palms
When do we face these feelings? Probably when we face a situation that is not familiar to us or when we make difficult decisions. After making those decisions, do us think ‘Okay! We trusted our gut feeling.’
Have we ever wondered that sometimes when we make difficult decisions or are faced with sudden trouble, we are asked to trust our ‘gut’ feeling?
When we feel anxious, fearful, or confident that something is wrong, we might experience stomach twinges, pain, or nausea. That is where the name “gut feeling” comes from.
But why? Our thinking caps are part of our brain and our gut forms the part of our digestive system.
Let us delve deeper into the gut-brain story to find out the origin of this term.
How does the brain function?
Our brain contains many neurons (called nerve cells), which are messengers who tell your body how to behave. According to studies, there are approximately 100 billion neurons in our brain alone. Wow, isn’t that a large number?
Those billions of brain cells communicate bypassing chemical messages at the synapse, the small gap between cells, in a process called neurotransmission. Those chemical messages are unique molecules called neurotransmitters.
When does our gut come into the picture?
We were wondering if we have heard this term before? Well, talking about neurons, our gut also contains a lot of neurons (roughly 500 million) connected to our brain through the nerves in the nervous system. Apart from the nerves, our gut and brain are also connected through neurotransmitters—the neurotransmitters produced in the brain control feelings and emotions.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that contributes to feelings of happiness. Dopamine, another neurotransmitter, is often called the “pleasure chemical” because it is released when mammals receive a reward in response to their behavior; that reward could be food, drugs, or sex.
We are now coming back to our story.
Apart from the brain, our gut cells and the trillions of microbes living there also produce many neurotransmitters. In addition to serotonin, which is majorly produced in the gut, producing a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is also the job of your gut microbes. What does GABA do? It helps control feelings of fear and anxiety. Probably, now it is clear why we experience uneasiness under challenging situations.
Cooperation between the gut and brain
Now that we are enlightened about the gut-brain axis, we would explain why we love the pleasant feeling of a full stomach or get upset when hungry. A gut that does not feel good might subtly affect our mood and a healthy, well-nourished gut can discreetly improve our sense of wellbeing.
How do we help our gut-brain axis?
A healthy diet. There are some foods that one can consume which are beneficial for the gut-brain axis.
- Omega 3 fats: Make flaxseed, soybean, and canola oils a part of our diet.
- Fermented foods: Probiotic Yogurt, Cheese, Kombucha and Kimchi
- High-fiber foods: Whole grains, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables
- Polyphenol rich foods: Cocoa, green tea, olive oil and coffee
- Tryptophan-rich foods: Eggs and cheese
Now that the ‘gut’ feeling originates, it is time to trust your ‘gut feeling’ of sharing this information with everyone.