The brain and the gut are vastly interconnected; they are in constant communication via nerves,
hormones, and chemicals. In fact, the gut is referred to as the “second brain,” as it has it’s own
neural system composed of over 100 million nerves!
Knowing this, it isn’t hard to believe that our mental and emotional states can affect the health
and function of our gut. Research has shown that stress can influence the motility of the
gastrointestinal tract, affecting frequency of bowel movements, and lending to abdominal pain,
inflammation, gas, and other undesirable symptoms. High levels of our stress hormone, cortisol,
have also been shown to disrupt our gut microflora by decreasing the good guys (probiotics)
while allowing bad bacteria to flourish. This disruption of balance not only impacts digestion, but
can heighten the inflammatory response in the entire body, stressing the immune system, and
contributing to disease. In addition, stress can lend to a “leaky gut” by altering the physical
structure of the gut lining, increasing it’s permeability to bad bacteria, toxins, and undigested
So what can we do?
Luckily, we can attack stress-related gut issues from both ends. We can work on our gut health
by eating lots of whole, fibrous foods, and incorporating fermented foods and probiotics into our
diets. We can also work to reduce stress levels by getting plenty of sleep, exercising, and
practicing yoga! Yoga practices including deep breathing, mindfulness, and meditation have
been shown to calm the mind and body; including the GI tract. One study showed that IBS and
IBD sufferers who practiced yoga and meditation for two months experienced a marked
decrease in symptoms. Patient blood samples showed changes in the expression of genes
responsible for inflammation; indicating that meditation can alter our gene expression for the
better! Other studies have further demonstrated that meditation can change the brain’s structure
and activity, helping us to improve our mental capacity and our well-being.
To put it all together; a healthy gut and healthy mind go hand in hand! Our mental activities have
a great influence on the function of our gut, which in turn affects our entire well-being.
Eat well, breathe, and do yoga, and a healthy gut will be soon to follow.