by Glen Depke, Traditional Naturopath
Most individuals that have a gut/brain connection issue would not recognize the symptoms that tie into this disruptive imbalance. Typical symptoms of a gut/brain connection imbalance are listed below.
- Difficulty digesting your food
- Constipation or irregular bowel movements
- Increased bloating or gas
- Distended stomach after eating
- Challenges breaking down protein, fat or starches
- Stomach discomfort after eating meals
To understand this connection, let’s first look at a simple fact. 90% of your brain function is based on automatic function, while 10% is based on your motor system in which you have voluntary control. The 90% autonomic function does not involve any voluntary control. This 90% autonomic function travels from the brain, to the brainstem and eventually to the vagus nerve. This vagus nerve, which can be defined as the “wandering nerve” communicates with the enteric nervous system of your digestive system.
If the output through this pathway is insufficient this can lead to a host of digestive and other issues. This can include but not limited to:
- Poor motility or movement of your food through the digestive system
- Lose of bowel or bladder control
- Low stomach acid
- Poor pancreatic enzyme production
- Insufficient release of bile from the gall bladder to break down fat
- Leaky gut
- Chronic yeast issues
- Chronic pathogen infections
- Inflamed gut
- Food sensitivities
- Insufficient blood flow to the intestines, hindering function and regeneration
While all that is mentioned above is an issue in itself, leaky gut can lead to many other challenges. First let’s define leaky gut as the development of intestinal permeability. When healthy, the lining of your small intestines form a barrier know as “tight junctions” which form an impermeable barrier to protect your blood stream from the contents of your gut. These tight junctions should allow low molecular weight particles into your blood, such as properly digested macro-nutrients, micro-nutrients, enzymes, co-enzymes and such. When this barrier is “leaky” this will allow larger molecules into your blood stream such as poorly digested proteins, bacteria, fungus and other pathogens. This will eventually lead to malabsorption, inflammation, brain challenges and chronic disease states.
Poor brain health, brain trauma or brain degeneration often plays a role in the development in leaky gut. Leaky gut creates inflammation, which in turn leads to further progression and worsening of leaky gut. This is a viscous cycle that so many enter and seemingly cannot escape.
This is one of the reasons that I offer “The PAIN of Inflammation” program to my clients and followers of Depke Wellness.
Also understand that leaky gut can also lead to an autoimmune condition that attacks the brain. This is because the chronic inflammation excites the immune system into a constant state of high alert. This often leaves our immune system confused in recognizing actually intruders and our own bodies tissue. This can actually leave the brain and many other areas of the body open to this constant attack.
While we can see here that poor function of this pathway from the brain, brain stem, vagus nerve into the enteric system can have a major impact on your gut health, it is also essential to recognize that this is a two way street. Poor gut health has been shown to also lead to recognized brain issues such as depression, mood disorders, schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease, brain fog and memory loss, just to name a few.
Many that are reading this today, will likely recognize that a gut/brain connection issue is likely a problem. Let’s take some simple steps to reestablish your vagus nerve activity to assist this connection. Just like you muscles, your neurons need constant stimulation for optimal health. Without activity they will simply lose function. Remember, we mentioned earlier that 90% of your brain’s output goes through the brainstem, into the vagus nerve and eventually into the nervous system within the gut.
Here are some simple exercises that you can use to stimulate the function of your vagus nerve.
- Gargle with water several times per day. This will activate the muscles in the back of the throat, activating the vagus nerve and stimulate your gut. Three times per day, drink a glass of water, while gargling each sip long enough for this to seem to be a challenge. The longer you gargle, the better the stimulation.
- Singing loudly can also stimulate the vagus nerve, so when you are driving in your car or taking your shower, let it rip. Sing out your favorite songs and enjoy improved gut/brain health.
- You can also stimulate your gag reflex by using tongue blades. Simply place the tongue blade on the back of your tongue and push down to activate this reflex. The gag reflex is like push-ups for your vagus nerve. Just like push-ups to build your chest and triceps, you have to create some consistency here to make a difference, so do this several times per week.
To get deeper into the inflammatory response of the gut/brain connection challenges, I will be reviewing “The PAIN of Inflammation” program for you shortly. This will involve addressing the underlying causes of infection as well as the feedback loops that continue to cycle inflammation as shared with leaky gut in this article above.
In the end, recognize that your gut and brain functions as one system and not two different systems. Focusing your attention this gut/brain system can change your life!
If you have any questions or comments on this article, feel free to post below for us to respond personally.