Our intestines and our state of mind

Most people are aware of the fact that intestinal bacteria play a key role in our health. What is less well-known, however, is the connection between the intestines and the brain, which is called the gut-brain axis. Like a busy highway, it carries a constant, lively exchange of information.

Each of us is colonized by an estimated 100 trillion intestinal bacteria, which means that the microorganisms clearly outnumber our body cells by a good margin.

This microbiome, i.e. the totality of all bacteria and microorganisms, is indispensable for the digestion of ingested food and effectively supports the immune system, as 70% of all our immune cells are located in the small and large intestines.

In addition to these vital tasks, there is also a close connection between our mood and the production of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin – an incredibly exciting field of research, now studied worldwide.

Incidentally, this shows that phrases like “listening to your gut” or “making decisions based on a gut feeling” are quite valid.

The gut-brain axis

The exchange of information between your brain and your intestines is taking place mainly via two pathways: the spinal cord and the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve runs from the brain stem to the digestive organs and is also called the parasympathetic nerve.

The parasympathetic part of the autonomic nervous system is active during relaxation. It supports the digestion as well as the immune system and a multitude of regeneration and repair processes in the body. Besides the central nervous system, which includes the brain and spinal cord, there exists the ‘enteric nervous system’, the nervous system of the intestines, which innervates the intestinal walls and is in constant exchange with the intestinal bacteria.

In addition to this neural communication, there are many other ways in which information is exchanged between the gut and the brain, such as via hormones and neurotransmitters, some of which are produced by the gut microorganisms themselves and act as messenger substances.

The part of the microbiome which communicates with the central nervous system is now also referred to as the psychobiome.

Microbiome and hormones belong together

Researchers worldwide now agree that gut bacteria provide important building blocks for neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric acid) and serotonin, all of which play a major role in mood and mental health.

Dopamine, referred to colloquially as a happiness hormone, increases drive and motivation. It is released during activities that are fun, such as listening to good music, going shopping, but also when looking on your cell phone and using social media. This ‘dopamine kick’ is the reason why we need to take a quick look at our smartphones more and more often; sales psychology uses it methodically for its own purposes.

GABA, on the other hand, has a calming, anxiety-relieving, analgesic and sleep-promoting effect. Serious deficiencies can exacerbate depression, irritable bowel syndrome, epilepsy, schizophrenia and chronic pain, for example.

Serotonin, like dopamine, is often called a happiness hormone, and 95% of it is produced in the intestine. It provides a feeling of well-being and is an important neurotransmitter in creative processes. Interestingly, the effectiveness of GABA is reduced in the case of a significant serotonin deficiency, which can cause chronic sleep disorders and other problems.

The intestinal bacteria can produce GABA and the serotonin precursor L-tryptophan. But if the intestinal environment is disturbed, for example after frequent administration of antibiotics or prolonged use of antacids, not only digestive disorders and accumulation of toxins can occur, but also neurotransmitter deficiencies, which have a direct influence on mental well-being. Several studies have already shown that the intestinal flora is altered in a specific way in people with mental disorders and that there is a correlation between the deficiency of certain types of bacteria and the severity of depression.

Chronic stress also upsets the intestines

Given the close connection between the intestines and the brain, it is not surprising that psychological stress has an impact on the digestive system. During periods of stress, many people complain of loss of appetite, food cravings or digestive disorders such as constipation and diarrhea.

The reason is an increased hormone release of adrenaline and cortisol, which impair digestive performance. Actually, these hormones are meant for acute situations, to save our lives and set the body up for flight and defense. Nowadays, however, these are no longer isolated situations, but often a persistent, chronic stress that makes the body think it is in a constant fight for survival. In such phases, digestion, regeneration and cell repair are put on the back burner and only the most necessary things are carried out, such as faster breathing or increased blood flow to the muscles.

If this condition persists, the microbiome will change as well. This leads to a so-called dysbiosis with a higher probability of intestinal diseases, but also psychological discomfort. In this context, there is also the increasingly common phenomenon of ‘leaky gut’, which describes an overly permeable intestine as a symbol for the lack of separation from the environment and is associated with an increased toxin load on the organism.

Ancient knowledge

That, which research studies are now slowly rediscovering, has always been known in Ayurveda. Digestion, the individual metabolic fire and the regular elimination of toxins are all key issues, which have the highest priority in prevention and also in any therapy.

To relieve and protect the intestines, Ayurveda recommends the following measures on a daily basis:

  • In the morning on an empty stomach, drink a glass of lukewarm water with 1-2 teaspoons of unheated honey and the juice of half a lemon. This balances the intestinal flora, reduces flatulence and constipation.
  • Use a bowel-soothing decoction to gently detoxify and also stimulate digestive power during the day: Briskly boil 1l of water with 1 Tbsp. of a mixture of cumin, coriander and fennel seeds for 15 minutes, fill it into a thermos flask and drink it in small sips throughout the day.
  • Observe your hunger point and satiety point; avoid snacks in between meals.
  • Before meals, make yourself one of these appetizers:

– a teaspoon of Astha Churna, a few drops of fresh lemon juice, honey

– a slice of ginger, a few drops of fresh lemon juice, honey

– a slice of ginger, a few drops of fresh lemon juice, a pinch of rock salt.

  • Chew well while eating, adding saliva to make the food mushy before swallowing it. Eat in peace. Take small sips of hot water with the food.
  • Rest after the meal according to your predominant Dosha:

– Vata: Sleep for half an hour, lying on your left side;

– Pitta: Rest lying down for 15-30 minutes;

– Kapha: Rest for 10-15 minutes in a sitting position.

  • Before going to bed, take 1-2 tablets of MA 505 (‘Triphala plus’). This detoxifies the intestines and all tissues during the night.
  • Every other evening, drink 1 tsp. of ground flaxseed and psyllium husks stirred in warm water. This cleanses the intestine and improves intestinal flora.

Overall, the ideal is to have meals at fixed times in synchrony with your individual times of hunger and satiety. Try to avoid snacking in between meals, so that the intestine has enough time to really break down the previous meal. The best indicator for determining this is your own feeling of hunger.

Food should be easily digestible, especially in the evening. Therefore, the main meal can be at noon, when the digestive fire is strongest, so that small ‘sins’ are least likely to have an adverse effect. When you do overeat, you can simply skip the next meal and drink plenty of hot water instead.

A weekly relief day or also interval fasting can be a very helpful and health-promoting way to eliminate toxins and excess Kapha Dosha and to give the intestines a well-deserved break.

Naturally, aside from what and how we eat, how well we can cope with the challenges of our time strongly depends on a healthy lifestyle and systematic stress management.

If symptoms continue, more in-depth microbiome diagnostics should be performed, especially if the symptoms have persisted for a long time even with various treatments.

Often, dysbiosis is underestimated and treated incorrectly, leading to chronic complaints and increasing suffering for those affected – this doesn’t have to be the case! Ayurveda and modern medicine together offer good modalities for rebalancing the intestinal flora and lightening the mood.

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© Maharishi Ayurveda Health Center Bad Ems

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