The digestive symptoms of IBS are well known and treatment focuses on relieving these digestive disorders, but many IBS sufferers report symptoms unrelated to digestive disorders, such as headache, fatigue, lethargy, anxiety, and depression. These symptoms are considered to be psychological and supervised by the brain. Turns out they are controlled by the brain, the one in our intestines. And what is the key that unlocks these emotions? Gut bacteria. Current research establishes a connection between these behavioral symptoms, the microbes in the intestines, and the nerve cells embedded in the intestinal lining.   Gut bacteria   are necessary for digestion, helping to break down food products into a usable source of energy, but research is demonstrating the complexity of these tiny organisms and how they influence multiple organs, including our immune system, vascular system, and even our brain. This emerging field of knowledge is not only fascinating but validates the emotional components that are associated with IBS. So exactly how does this second brain work?

First of all, there is a complex communication system involving the intestines, the nerves within the intestinal lining, the gut microbiome, and the brain. The intestines are equipped with their own nervous system called the enteric nervous system and there is busy neurological highway with messages running in both directions between the intestines and the brain. This is your vagus nerve and it carries extensive signals from the intestines to the brain and from the brain to the intestines.   So the gut and the brain are in constant communication with each other, and we know this because we experience it on a daily basis. If you are stressed because of an upcoming presentation you may develop an upset stomach with diarrhea. If you have a noisy, upset stomach at work, you will feel some stress and anxiety. This is a concept that has always been accepted, but now we know it to be a scientific fact, and clinical studies prove it. Not only that, but the critical component in this research in the gut brain communication is gut bacteria.  Current scientific studies have confirmed that gut bacteria influence our moods and our emotions. The reverse is also true. Our emotions influence our gut bacteria.    

The little bugs within our intestines, our microbiome, communicate with our hormones, and our immune cells, which are abundant in our intestinal tract.  One of the major hormones produced in the gut is serotonin, the happy hormone. Serotonin influences our mood and social behavior in addition to regulating digestion. In fact, ninety percent of serotonin is produced in our gut. Altered levels of serotonin have been linked to IBS which can account for the anxiety and depression reported by some IBS sufferers. 

Obviously, the ongoing conversation between the gut and the brain is certainly not limited to implications for IBS. It affects every organ in the body, but for those of us who suffer with a multitude of GI symptoms, migraine headaches, fatigue, and other manifestation associated with this perplexing disorder, the discovery of this microbiome communication is astounding. It validates those of us who suffer with IBS. We have always known that it had something to do with our diet.

So when we eat to maintain gut health we are also feeding our brain.  The two are inseparable, but that is true of every organ in our body. One impacts the other. They work together like a well-orchestrated symphony.  If there is disease in one area of the body, it will affect another part of the body.  Treating symptoms for one disorder without identifying the underlying cause does not bring healing, it only creates a new set of symptoms.  That is why holistic healing is foundational to health, and boosting our immunity by feeding the gut is the first step. Eat wisely.

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