• Nicole Ambrose, LCSW

“I’ve got a gut feeling” - Understanding Your Gut as Your Second Brain


Couple is enjoying healthy gut friendly dinner making together. Gut Feeling

We all have a brain in our head, that’s not the news I’m sure. And in the world of mental health treatment and therapy, that brain gets a lot of attention. But what if I told you that you have a second brain living in your gut and it’s communicating with your main brain ALL the time?? Our gut is sending us signals that we often overlook. Have you ever heard someone say that they have “butterflies” in their belly? Or maybe you’ve sensed that something is just not right and you begin to feel a pit in your stomach. These are examples of communication from what scientists refer to as the Enteric Nervous System (ENS).


The ENS is made up of nerve cells that live in the lining of your gastrointestinal tract and it’s the CEO of digestive processes (The brain-gut Connection, n.d.). It’s responsible for everything from swallowing to breaking down food and helping with nutrient absorption to elimination. As problems occur within the digestive process, the ENS will send signals to your Central Nervous System (CNS), aka your brain and spinal cord, that trigger changes in your mood. These two systems are on the phone with each other constantly, sharing information and initiating responses in the body. They have a bi-directional relationship. Here’s an example of what I mean:

  • First Brain (CNS) Perceives a Threat → Induces Stress Response → Affects Movement in the Body and Digestive System

  • Second Brain, AKA Your Gut (ENS) Experiences Pain or Dysfunction → Signals to the CNS → Triggers Mood Changes, Anxiety, Depression, etc.

(Publishing, 2012)


So, what’s the point? Why is it important to understand the role of gut health when considering your mental health? Well for starters, it gives us a new approach to the treatment of mental health disorders. We are able to zoom out and view our struggles from a whole-body perspective and target symptoms with interventions that have an effect on multiple systems within the body.


There are loads of research studies and articles that you can explore to learn more about this, but I’d like to highlight one of the most interesting finds I’ve come across. Researchers at Johns Hopkins Center for Neurogastroenterology have found that mind-body therapies and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) have been effective treatments for their patients with GI disorders (The Brain-Gut Connection, n.d.).


It’s intriguing to consider that these methods often used in mental health therapy have been successful in physical health treatment as well. In fact, neuropsychologists have also speculated that certain psychological and neurological disorders, like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, anxiety, and depression, are associated with fluctuations in gut health (McQuillan, 2018).


Do you see the connection?!? We can heal and restore our mental wellbeing by improving the health of our gut with nutrition and other holistic treatments, just as many have seen improvement in their digestive system with the use of cognitive and mind-body therapies.


If you’ve ever felt like you’re losing control over your mind and emotions, let me reassure you that there are solutions. As a therapist, I wholeheartedly believe in the essential role of one-on-one therapy as a component of the healing process, but what you do and how you live outside of a session is just as important.

Nicole Ambrose, Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Bayview Therapy

In my work with you, I will educate and empower you to take the reins and create change through action. I use an integrative approach to support you and your specific needs. Together we will find answers and implement strategies that allow you to live your best life.


For more information, visit my bio contact or call me at 954-391-5305 to schedule your complimentary consultation. Let’s get to work!


References:


The brain-gut connection. (n.d.). Retrieved April 01, 2021, from Hopkins Medicine.

McQuillan, S. (2018, November 18). The Gut Brain Connection: How gut health affects mental health. Retrieved April 04, 2021, from PSYCOM.

Publishing, H. (2012). The gut-brain connection. Retrieved April 04, 2021, from Harvard Health Publishing.



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