“My brain fog has lifted”, “my three-month-long migraine is gone”, “I’m happier than I’ve ever been”—these are all responses I’ve heard when I have worked with a client on simple diet and lifestyle changes. Why is this? How much of your brain health is tied to your gut health? The short answer is: all of it.
Many people already know, at least subconsciously, that the brain sends signals to the gut. If you’ve never given this any thought, think about what happens when you start thinking about your favorite food—your mouth starts to water and your stomach starts to actually prepare for digestion, releasing digestive juices and enzymes. Or think about when you are stressed…maybe you have that presentation you are about to deliver, have some bad news you have to give to someone, or that impending deadline quickly approaching…how does that stress manifest in you? One of the many ways stress manifests itself is in the gut, in the form of butterflies in the stomach, digestive distress (constipation or more often, diarrhea), or appetite changes. The reason you feel stress or anxiety in the gut is because of the vagus nerve, a nerve that runs all throughout the digestive tract. It makes sense, then, that when our mood is affected, our gut is also affected.
But what many people may not realize is that our gut health directly affects our brain health as well. When our gut is unhealthy, for example when we have a leaky gut or bacterial overgrowth, it communicates that distress to the brain. Moreover, inflammation in the gut causes inflammation in the rest of the body…yes, even in the brain. See, that vagus nerve not only sends signals from the brain, it actually sends signals to the brain as well. In fact, most of the fibers in the vagus nerve run from the gut to the brain, not the other way around. There is a vicious cycle that starts to takes place: an inflamed gut sends distress signals to the brain, which then slows down the signals that the brain sends to the rest of the body, including the gut. In turn, because signals from the brain have slowed, digestion is compromised, the digestive juices and enzymes and stomach acid needed to break down food are reduced, contributing to a leaky gut, bacterial overgrowth in the intestines and inflammation. So what comes first: compromised gut health or compromised brain health? It really depends on the person. Diet, lifestyle and life circumstances all contribute to the overall state of our well-being. This is why at Metroplex Counseling and Wellness, we desire to treat our clients in a holistic manner, addressing the mind, body and soul. If we have a client who is eating an impeccable diet and exercising regularly but has unattended trauma from their past, the healthy lifestyle will only carry them so far. By the same token, if one is suffering from anxiety and depression but is living on the Standard American Diet, consisting of processed and chemically-laden foods, biblical counseling will play only a part in their healing.
The great news is that God designed us for health and healing. Changing the way we think about the body is the first step in achieving overall health. The Bible tells us in 1 Corinthians 12 that “God has placed each one of these parts in the body just like He wanted…there are many parts, but one body…if one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part gets glory, all the parts celebrate with it.”
To read in more detail about the gut-brain connection, you can read more here: