The Gut - Brain Connection and How Chiropractic Can Help Reduce Stress on your Nervous System
Have you ever used your intuition, or "gone with your gut", to make a decision? What does that saying even mean? It means that your body has a "second brain" that lives in your gut, called the enteric nervous system. The digestive system is 30 feet long and it has over 100 million nerve cells from beginning to end. When this becomes irritated by stress (or food), that can send signals back up the brain which can trigger mood changes. Not only do your bowels become irritated, you can also start to have anxiety, depression, brain fog, or just an off-feeling.
To understand how the gut-brain connection works in the body, we will need a quick lesson on nervous systems:
1. Autonomic nervous system - made up of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. This control the automatic functions of your body such as breathing, heartbeat, and digestion.
2. Sympathetic nervous system - your "fight or flight" response. When your body encounters stress this kicks up: your pupils dilate, your heart starts beating faster, blood flow increases to skeletal muscles. It also decreases digestion rate.
3. Parasympathetic nervous system - your "rest and digest" response. This is active when you are calm and relaxed. It increases stomach secretions which allows you to digest food properly, decreases heart rate, and increases sexual function.
4. Enteric nervous system - the main digestion controller. It is not a part of the autonomic nervous system, although it is automatic, because some of the nerves are independent from the spinal cord and brain. It does communicate with the brain via the autonomic nervous system.
So how does this effect the average person?
Everyone has stress. Work, family, life, a bear chasing you. Something creates the stress response in everyone, and it is important to note what causes you stress.
Physical and emotional stress, especially chronic, really starts to take a toll on our bodies. Your "fight or flight" response is always active, which doesn't allow for "rest and digest" to occur. You are always being chased by a metaphorical bear and your body does the bare minimum of digestion, which doesn't allow for proper absorption of nutrients. This makes you nutrient deficient, which can affect your brain function and clarity.
Chronic stress also affects your immune response. When you are stressed, your body handles this by repairing itself with inflammation. The inflammation response is what heals you, but the chronic inflammation leads to all types of problems. A big example is decreased immunity. You get sick! This can be physical illness (cold, flu, achy) or mentally sick (anxious, depressed). In other words, your body can only handle so much stress. Once your "stress bucket" is full, it will overflow and you won't feel good.
How can Chiropractic help?
Chiropractic adjustments can take you out of "fight or flight" and help your body enter "rest and digest" mode. It optimizes our body's function, including the digestion process. There are also specific corrections that can be done to reboot the gut-brain connection. Many Chiropractors are very knowledgable about what can be done to help heal your gut and any nutrition recommendations you may need.