By Dr. Kavita Kongara
Q: How does our digestive health impact our mental health?
A: The strong relationship between the mind and digestive system is both a physical and a chemical one that involves two-way communication.
Our digestive system contains millions of neurons in its lining giving it the nickname “second brain.” Like the brain in our heads, it sends and receives impulses, records experiences, and responds to emotions. At the same time, it is managing the elaborate process of moving food through our system and nourishing our bodies.
As many have experienced, stress or neurological disorders can interrupt the natural rhythm of digestion causing symptoms of nausea, constipation, diarrhea, or bloating. In turn, irritations originating in the digestive tract may trigger mood changes.
New research is finding a growing percentage of people who are diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and functional bowel problems also may develop anxiety or depression over time or there might be an overlap between these conditions.
In addition, there has been a lot of attention on how the health of our “gut microbiome” – or the bacteria and other microbes that live in our digestive tract – impacts our mental health. According to the American Psychological Association, the bacteria in our gut produce neurochemicals that our brains use for functions like learning, memory, and overall mood regulation.
Finding and treating the root cause of any digestive symptom – whether physical, chemical, or nutritional – can positively impact our overall health.
Dr. Kongara is a board-certified gastroenterologist with Atlanta Gastroenterology Associates who specializes in motility and functional GI disorders.
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