Chelsey was a lovely 27 years old lady who had suffered years of acid reflux when she came into my office 3 years ago. Her biggest trigger was going to meetings at her corporate job. She would take Pepcid or Nexium before each workday. She carried TUMS with her to each of her meetings and ate them like candies.
Can stress alone cause this severe acid reflux?
You bet. A lot of my patients underestimate the power of stress on their bodies and its role in developing chronic gut illness. To understand how gut and brain affect each other, we need to first learn about the framework.
There are two main routes that the gut and brain communicate to each other.
One is through the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is massive, and it is the fastest and most important route for communication throughout the body. Not only is it connected to the entire GI Tract but also the diaphragm, lung, heart, airway, mouth, throat and external ear. It receives information from these organs and sends commands from the brain back to tell them how to behave.
Before I became a naturopathic doctor, I thought skin is the largest sensory organ of the body, but the inner surface area of the GI Tract is even more impressive.
The vagus nerve constantly analyzes millions of signals along the GI Tract.
How do we like the taste of this food? Is that piece of broccoli properly broken down? Let’s fight those toxins released from those bag bugs! The body needs to run to a meeting, so maybe we should stop digestion for a moment to re-direct energy…etc.
The signals our brain sends to our GI tract to help us adapt to stress can be useful in the short-term, but when our brains have adapted to that stress, it can cause bigger issues.
The other route of communication is through the circulatory system, our blood.
Did you know that 95% of the serotonin we produce is manufactured in the gut? Did you know that the foods you eat not only feed you but also the ecosystem created by the bacteria and yeasts living inside of you?
The bacteria and yeast ferment those foods and create many different products (metabolites). These neurotransmitters and metabolites can pass through the GI wall into our blood and be carried to all parts of body. They each have different effect on the body.
That is why nurturing the ecosystem in your gut is very important.
Because of this amazingly intrinsic network between the brain and the gut, we see quite commonly that the gut symptoms and emotional symptoms feed on each other.
When we treat the microbiome in the gut, we can often see improvement in anxiety, depression, brain fog and energy along with improvements to the gut.
Unfortunately, for some people, their nervous system has been conditioned for so long that we need to retrain the nervous system to fully address their gut symptoms. I will talk about how to retrain the nervous systems in details in my future blogs.
If you have questions about your gut health, you can schedule a complimentary 10 min consultation with me.
Dr. Sherry Su
Naturopathic Doctor San Jose