Unlocking the Gut-Brain Connection: How Your Emotions Affect Your Digestion

Unlocking the Gut-Brain Connection: How Your Emotions Affect Your Digestion

Have you ever had a ‘gut-wrenching’ experience? Do certain situations make you feel nauseous? Have you ever felt ‘butterflies’ in your stomach? We use these expressions for a reason. Our gut is incredibly sensitive to emotions: anger, anxiety, sadness, happiness – all these feelings (and others) can trigger symptoms in the gut, and vice versa.

The Gut’s Emotional Radar

Have you ever thought about lemons and noticed your mouth watering? That’s your brain and gut talking! The very thought of eating can release the stomach’s digestive juices before food even hits your mouth. This connection works both ways. An anxious gut can send distress signals to the brain just as an anxious mind can stir up trouble in the gut.

“All disease begins in the gut.” Modern research backs this up, showing a direct link between gut health, nutrient deficiencies, and a range of inflammatory/immune disorders and diseases. The mind-gut connection is real and vital for a healthy mind. Conditions like these often show changes in gut microbiota compared to a healthy gut:

- Autoimmune diseases: Coeliac disease, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), and more.
- Metabolic syndrome: Including type 2 diabetes.
- Mental health: Anxiety, depression, OCD, schizophrenia.
- Obesity
- Allergies: Eczema, asthma, hay fever, food allergies.
- Hormonal imbalances

Gut Feelings: More Than Just a Saying

The brain and the gut share much in common, especially in how nerve cells communicate. Hormones, the immune system, and the nervous system balance this communication. People with digestive issues like coeliac disease, Crohn’s disease, and IBS often also suffer from anxiety, depression, and mood disorders. Studies show that between 44% and 84% of people with IBS experience some level of anxiety or depression. A recent study found that 94% of people with mood disorders like major depression and anxiety also have IBS. 

The Enteric Nervous System: Your Second Brain

Our gut houses its own nervous system, known as the ‘enteric nervous system’ or ‘the second brain,’ which contains over 100 million neurons. These neurons communicate with the body to process food, absorb nutrients, and eliminate waste, using peptides and neurotransmitters just like the brain. Fun fact: 95% of the body’s serotonin, a key mood-regulating neurotransmitter, is found in the bowels!

 Serotonin and the Gut

Serotonin affects several gut functions, including:
- Motility: How fast food moves through the digestive system.
- Fluid Secretion: Amount of mucus secreted in the intestines.
- Sensitivity: How the intestines feel sensations like pain and fullness.

People with IBS often have imbalanced serotonin levels. Those with constipation may have lower-than-normal serotonin levels, while those with diarrhea tend to have too much. An imbalanced gut can alter serotonin production, contributing to depression and anxiety. Fix the gut, and mood often improves!

The Gut-Brain Disease Connection

There’s a strong link between gut health and mood disorders. For instance, many people with coeliac disease receive a late diagnosis because their symptoms are more neurological than gastrointestinal. This suggests that conditions like coeliac disease significantly impact neurotransmitter balance.


Your gut health is more important than you might think. It’s not just about digestion; it’s about how you feel, both physically and mentally. So, take care of your gut, and your whole body will thank you!

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**Disclaimer: This article is for general information purposes only and the opinion of the writer, is not a substitute for personalised professional medical advice. You should always seek specialist advice from a medical professional before making any decisions about your health (including about the treatment and management of any condition).