How Your Mood Is Influenced By Your Gut – Via The Enteric Nervous System

How Your Mood Is Influenced By Your Gut – Via The Enteric Nervous System

It’s mental health month at NatMed, and we’re all busy helping patients presenting with the now all too common symptoms of anxiety, depression, stress, poor sleep and gut complaints, particularly bloating, abdominal pains, constipation, and diarrhoea.

You might be one of my patients that has struggled and perhaps is still struggling with some or all of these symptoms, so this blog post is going to explore the impact that the Enteric Nervous System (ENS) might be having on your symptoms.

The ENS is a collection of neural networks embedded within the GI tract, literally weaving through the muscle layers of the gut wall – enabling it to communicate back and forth with the brain.

This is a communication pathway that can often be overlooked when we’re troubleshooting intervention strategies to address gut dysfunction, especially since inflammation and tissue injury to the gut barrier system will transmit signals through the embedded neural networks of the ENS.

This link between the gut and the brain is also why people with gut issues very often have anxiety and depression, as well as memory and mood issues. The gut, via the ENS, is communicating a sense of dis-ease to the brain, which in turn is communicating stress signals to the gut – resulting in further gut issues, such as constipation, diarrhoea, pain and nausea. It can become a vicious cycle, that we need to break in order to resolve both gut and mood disorders.

It is well known that stress and inflammation can cause dysregulation of the ENS, and it does this mainly by increasing the leakiness or permeability of the gut mucosa, allowing bacteria and bacterial metabolites to leaky through the gut and interact with the immune system, predominantly macrophages and mast cells. Mast cells release histamine, so chronic activation of mast cells can also lead to histamine intolerance (headaches, nasal congestion, hives, fatigue, nausea…anyone?).

Remember that around 70% of the immune system is located in the gut, and the interaction between the gastrointestinal immune system and the ENS can be affected by the numerous insults that can be inflicted upon the GI tract – especially in the context of dysbiosis.

So now we know that stress and inflammation can rewire the enteric nervous system causing numerous symptoms, ranging from bloating, constipation, food sensitivities, pain, and general gut dysfunction. The question remains: What can we do about it?

The most efficient and useful tool for identifying gut dysfunction is doing a stool analysis. I am a huge proponent of doing Complete Microbiome Mapping with my patients, and during the time I’ve been doing these, I have found that correcting gut dysfunction is much easier, and swifter than relying on educated guesswork. Really, there is no obvious way to know exactly what’s going on inside the gut unless we can get a sample snapshot – and that is achieved through a stool analysis.

In the vast majority of these stool analyses, there is raised faecal zonulin. Zonulin is a marker for leaky gut, and the higher this marker, the leakier the gut. So, this is an obvious area of intervention. In order to reduce zonulin, it is essential to eliminate gluten from the diet, and support the gut barrier function – improving its integrity with therapeutics such as glutamine, which as well as resisting dysbiosis, also supports the regeneration of intestinal cells and supports the immune system. I also often find zinc to be hugely beneficial, since it increases the production of the brush border enzymes that work so hard to digest and absorb all the nutrients coming from food.

Ultimately, helping to restore gut function has a huge impact on the functioning of the enteric nervous system, which is why, in many cases, my patients see improvements in their mental health when we are concentrating on fixing their gut health.

Call 9339 1999 or book a free scoping session online if you want more information or would like to learn about microbiome testing. So if you are looking for a good Naturopath in Perth, with a focus on testing and delivering high-quality care to patients, get in touch.