Butterflies in your stomach? Gut feelings? Absolutely! In fact, the second most complex nervous system in your body – second only to the brain – is the enteric nervous system. 90% of your serotonin, the neurotransmitter that we often target when treating depression, is made in your intestines.
The gastrointestinal tract, from the mouth to the anus, has a complex web of neurons that are capable of acting independently from the brain in our heads. Furthermore, the vagus nerve, which connects the brain in your skull to the brain in your gut, is made up primarily of fibers that travel from the intestines to the brain, rather than the other way around. This means that the gut is informing the brain rather than the brain telling the gut what to do. In fact, stimulation of the vagus nerve has been used to treat depression.
But this can work the other way around too. Some antidepressants can have an impact on your digestion. Recently, I had a patient get severe diarrhea after being treated with an antidepressant. One of the causes of irritable bowel syndrome is thought to be too much serotonin in the gastrointestinal tract. No wonder he got diarrhea. And diet, of course can have an impact on mood.
There are studies in animals that show that the microbiome can influence mood and appetite. The microbiome is the colony of bacteria that lives in the intestines. There are more bacteria in the intestinal tract than there are cells in your body. A study in Europe found that people with depression have different microbiomes than people without. And gut microbiota can impact a person’s metabolism, inflammation and tendency towards obesity.
In Chinese medicine, the digestive tract is the center of health.
So you see, diet can impact so much more that weight. It can improve your mood, reduce inflammation, and help your brain. No wonder there is so much talk about the miracle of different diets on your health!
By Jennifer Means, ND, LAc