You have probably heard the expression, “Trust your gut.” At one time or another, we have all had the experience of not trusting and having things go south. What explains this phenomena? Part of it can be understood through vagus nerve which connects the gut lining to the brain. The Enteric Nervous System (ENS) lives in the gut and is made up of about 100 million nerves. The ENS holds an ocean of neurotransmitters, hormones, electrical impulses and nerves. The way these two communicate can determine ones level of anxiety, learning, memory, appetite, satiety, mood and emotion. All of which can have a huge impact on lasting drug and alcohol recovery.
A huge part of what determines the communication between the brain and gut is the microbe. The microbe is good bacteria, fungus, and protists that live in your gut. The total size of them is 2 to 6 pounds (that’s 2 times the size of the human brain.) These microbes help us survive by absorbing nutrients and boosting our immune system.
Unfortunately, when the body is under stress it releases inflammatory cytokines in the gut. These chemical messengers bring a certain part of our immune system into high alert. When this happens the brain reacts to stress like an infection and, in turn, kills some of the good bacteria in the body. If the stress is persistent then a chronic infection develops. In fact, current research has shown depression as an inflammatory disorder mediated by poor gut health. Animal studies have shown that manipulating gut bacteria can produce behaviors related to anxiety and depression.
Now imagine a day in the life of a recovering addict: They are frustrated with a co-worker, running late to a therapy appointment and didn’t eat lunch, all of these circumstances are stressful and creating inflammation in their body. If they don’t cope with these situations in healthy ways, the brain is going to process these experiences as emergencies. Over time, these emergencies create chronic levels of inflammation which then leads to chronic disease; depressive disorder, high blood pressure, autoimmune diseases, ulcerative colitis and multiple sclerosis.
Thankfully there are solutions:
- Diet – A diet rich in whole foods, vegetables, and fruits help cultivate a healthy gut environment. The elimination of processed foods also keeps inflammation at bay.
- Supplements – Taking probiotics, specifically strands of good bacteria like bifidobacterium and lactobacillus. These keep pathogenic bacteria low. When good bacteria is in place it interacts with hormone levels, helping turn off cortisol and adrenaline which can cause long-term harm to the body.
- Relaxation – Emotions play a huge role in gut health. Ones ability to calmly attend to the stresses of life creates a peaceful body. Meditation, breath work and simply making time to relax can do a world of good for ones overall well-being, and in turn give them more confidence in “trusting their gut.”