Have you ever felt that knot in your stomach before speaking in front of a full auditorium? Or had butterflies before something exciting happened? These emotions are reminders of the physiological connection between your brain and your gut. However, this link is more complex that we previously thought. While it’s common to believe that anxiety or depression is the cause of an upset stomach, researchers are now publishing findings that suggest the opposite — your gut may be worsening your depression.
The ‘Gut-Brain’ Connection
The inner turmoil happening in your stomach is related to the “gut-brain” connection, which is responsible for those nervous butterflies or feelings of anxiety. The enteric nervous system, also known as the “little brain,” is two thin layers along your gastrointestinal tract, and is in charge of all things digestion. It produces enzymes, absorbs or eliminates nutrients, and helps with swallowing. This lining, which contains more than 100 million nerve cells, communicates directly with your brain, and may actually be responsible for major emotional shifts.
New research being conducted at the Johns Hopkins Center for Neurogastroenterology shows that instead of emotions influencing our gut, it’s actually the gut influencing our emotions. According to Dr. Jay Pasricha’s research, “Irritation in the gastrointestinal system may send signals to the central nervous system that trigger mood changes,” and these changes may be the reason behind a higher percentage of patients with IBS reporting increased anxiety or worsened depression. With at least 30 percent of Americans developing some form IBS, this finding could be crucial to understanding and treating disorders such as depression. Treatments used for depression could potentially be used to remedy IBS and vice versa.
Foods to avoid
Avoiding foods that trigger IBS symptoms could have the benefit of decreasing your anxiety. Try to avoid foods and drinks containing alcohol, caffeine, or fructose. Large meals of fried fatty foods do your stomach no favors either. Stay away from broccoli, cabbage, or Brussels sprouts, which are notorious for causing gas. Try to stick to a modest amount of fiber, supplementing your dishes with brown rice, whole wheat breads, and dried fruits.