I Have A Gut Feeling…

October 09, 2020


Did you know that your state of mind can affect your digestion? There is a huge connection between what is in our minds and how our digestive system responds. The gut-brain connection has been studied intensively in the last twenty years and it has opened new ways to help us feel better. The integrative health care services we offer at IHI, are at the forefront of health care because they offer a way to look at this connection from many angles. How does this work? How can this benefit you?

We know now that our moods are connected to our metabolism. When we feel intense emotions, the brain sends messages to the gut that can get it going or get it out of whack. If you want quick proof of this connection, just think about a tasty food, and suddenly you will notice that your intestinal juices are flowing? Maybe you are salivating? There is an instant and powerful connection!

The digestive system (or “gut”) has a complex neuronal network. Part of the system is connected to the brain and central nervous system. The Vagus nerve system is part of this connection. Another component is the “enteric” neuronal system that lines the intestinal walls. Psychological changes have a direct effect on gut physiology through these pathways, and can cause digestive havoc or help regulate it.

Dr. Steven Porges has been studying the Vagus nerve system (or Polyvagal system), its impact on wellbeing and its connection with trauma. His research is used widely to help people who get stuck in stress modes. For example, when you feel “butterflies in your stomach”, your digestive system is sending the brain messages in response to the nervous system’s state of alert, which is highly influenced by the brain as well.

When we feel depressed, the body responds to the low moods and low energy by modifying the way it fulfills vegetative needs (eating and sleeping). Some individuals with depression change the food they want to eat, for example, and start consuming more carbs. Others feel less appetite. Others sleep less, or more. Mood states have other direct impacts on our gut, too.

Mindset also affects weight gain. People who eat mindfully have 20% less weight concerns than those who don’t. Anxiety states, and fear, interrupt the digestive process and coopt blood flow to send to other areas of the body.  This is similar to what happens under stress, and why managing stress is so important.

The physiological effects of moods can range from impact on swallowing, enzymes release (like when we imagine tasting a food) and how the digestive system processes foods. Mindset also affects the muscular components of the gut.

Changes in stress levels can affect how muscles in the gut move. Peristaltic movement (that pushes food along) and contractions are affected. Stress can also increase inflammation and symptoms of gastrointestinal disorders (IBS, IBD, GERD).

Uncomfortable symptoms like heartburn, bloating, pain, indigestion, acid reflux, diarrhea can also increase. It affects constipation, too.

The mind-gut connection also goes in the other direction. It affects how the gut alters the nervous system and the brain. When someone’s digestion is not going well, information from the enteric neuronal system triggers emotional changes.

Studies show that a higher-than-average percentage of people with digestive problems develop depression and anxiety. Recent studies have linked gut biome populations to different mood states, so make sure you eat in a way that keep this balanced! The fact that it is a two-way street can be good news.

For many people, psychotherapy and counselling can help improve your mood, which in turn can affect digestive conditions. This is why when people work on reducing stress and anxiety in my office, they start eating better and sleeping well.

For those with chronic conditions, working with a psychotherapist or counsellor can help them cope with the symptoms and suffer less distress. Psychotherapy and counselling can help minimize the psychological effects of stress and, as a result, on the body.

Aside from reducing distress, being in an integrative clinic allows us to communicate with the other health providers to provide all-around care, when the patient desires. This way we can harness stress management techniques such as naturopathic tests and hormonal support, exercise, mindfulness, sleep management, massage, acupuncture, and diet, to help you live in the best way you can.

If you believe that your digestive health may be negatively impacted by your mental health, it’s important that you speak with me, or any one of the other knowledgeable and empathic psychotherapists and counsellors at IHI. We all offer you free no-obligation “meet and greet” sessions called Discovery sessions.

These are great for meeting us and give you a chance to ask questions and start the road to an optimal state of mind. I invite you to take-action: a Discovery call can get you the information you need and start you on the way of feeling better. Make your appointment now. Let’s talk about we can help you feel better!

Ariel Blau has a formidable passion for helping his clients energize a joyful, loving and creative life. He has more than 30 years of experience helping people bloom. His formal education includes a Master’s degree in Social Work from New York University, a Master’s in Fine Arts from Brandeis University, and a great number of workshops, certificates and seminars. He has been studying mindfulness and how to bring compassion into the world for more than 15 years. His passion for helping others is matched by his enormous drive for continuous learning. Ariel completed his professional clinical training at Yale New Haven Psychiatric Hospital and served as  Lead Clinician at the Jewish Family Service of Greater New Haven.

Book an appointment with Ariel here.

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