Thanksgiving. A simple holiday that asks for no more than a meal with family and friends, to celebrate the harvest and the abundance that it brings. A time for reflection, it inspires us to give thanks for all that we have.
During this holiday we often speak a lot about gratitude and being grateful for the things we have. Gratitude, however, goes beyond the compare and contrast of our lives versus those less fortunate. It is the ability to appreciate what we have fully; to look at our lives through a lense of positivity, and realize how much good there is in it.
Practicing gratitude beyond the Thanksgiving table has been shown to have many positive benefits for our health and well-being, including the ability to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. With such profound impacts on our mood, we wondered could practicing gratitude impact our gut health as well?
Understanding The Gut-Brain Connection
Your gut, aka your ‘second brain’, is lined with 100 million nerve endings that are known as your enteric nervous system.1 While your second brain doesn’t seem capable of the thoughts your ‘main brain’ has, the two are in constant communication with each other.
For years researchers thought that your mental health (i.e., stress levels, anxiety, and depression) were causing the symptoms of gastrointestinal troubles, like IBS, constipation, diarrhea, bloating, and stomach pain. It turns out this communication isn’t a one-way street.1
Our two brains talk to each other. The communication goes both ways.
Our gut is very sensitive to our emotions. On a basic level, we know that the thought of food might make us hungry, or that giving a big presentation might give us butterflies. But a troubled gut can also send signals back to our brain impacting our overall mood and mental well-being.
Our body has built-in features to keep us safe from harm’s way. For example, if you were walking down the street and a bear jumped into your path, your body would instantly go into ‘fight or flight’ mode. Your heart would beat faster, your pupils would dilate, and cortisol and adrenaline (two of your stress hormones) would flood your system, spiking your blood sugar and making your muscles work harder so you could get away faster.2
On a cellular level, we release inflammatory cytokines, chemical messengers that signal our body’s immune response to get ready to heal if an attack does occur.2
But what if there isn’t a bear? What if the stress is more like your never-ending ‘things to do list’ and never goes away? When the stress becomes chronic, the signals don’t stop firing. It can put us in a state of chronic inflammation which is believed to be at the root of many chronic and degenerative illnesses.3
But what about the gut? Where does it come into play?
The answer is our microbiome. Our microbiome is made up trillions of bacteria that interact with our immune system in the gut. Two of the ‘bad’ species C. Difficile and H. Pylori, have been shown cause the release of inflammatory cytokines, stress hormones, and a systemic stress response.2
Our ‘good’ bacteria, on the other hand, have been shown to have the opposite effect; turning down our stress response, and helping to keep the number of our ‘bad’ bacteria low.2
Gratitude & Our Health
A daily gratitude practice may see new age, but it has shown to have many positive benefits on our health.
Naturally, we are hardwired to see the negative, or as our ancient ancestors would put it, our threats and dangers. It was what aided in our survival as a species. But in today’s world, where so many of us live such fortunate lives (and rarely encounter a hungry woolly mammoth), learning to appreciate the good, goes a long way in reducing negative emotions.
In fact practicing gratitude daily has been shown to alter the neural pathways in our brain, improve sleep, and reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. One study looking at young adults who kept a daily gratitude journal showed increased levels of determination, attention, enthusiasm, and energy.4
When you start seeing the good you have in your life, it helps to crowd out the stress and negative emotions.
Healthy Outlook. Healthy Gut. Healthy Outlook
As our brain and second brain are in constant communication with each other, it seems the best approach is to take care of both.
As we learn more about the microbiome, and the role it has on our immune response, mood, and mental well-being, fostering an environment where our ‘good’ bacteria can thrive is imperative.
Eat a whole food diet, high in colourful fruits and veggies, supplement with a research-proven probiotic, and take measures to reduce stress in your life, whether that’s practicing gratitude or some other form of stress relief like exercise, meditation, or just having fun with loved ones.
For those suffering from more serious mental health, or digestive issues, working with a medical professional who can provide a combination of traditional therapies with mind-body techniques has been shown to be an effective intervention.
If you have any questions about the gut-brain connection or have a health topic you would like us to cover we would love to hear from you. Let us know in comments below! For more healthy inspirations, join our community. Click here to find the closest point of sale. Contact us or find us on Facebook and Instagram.