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The Gut-Brain Axis

by previlli

How Stress, Your Gut & Your Brain Are Related

One of the most exciting areas of new research is the gut-brain axis. Scientists have known for a long time that the brain sends messages to the gut. As the body’s central command center, the brain sends messages to all parts of the body. What’s new is the discovery that the gut talks back![1] The term “gut-brain axis” points out a two-way relationship between the GI system and the central nervous system (CNS).

This bidirectional system of gut-brain communication...

…ensures proper functioning and coordination of various gut activities. But it also permits the gut to exert profound effects on a range of brain activities. The vagus nerve — the primary information highway relaying data from the gut to the brain — can impact higher-level cognitive and behavioral processes, as well as emotions. It can even influence the perception of pain! [2,3,4]

This is your gut on stress

The existence of the gut-brain axis means that when you feel stress, it isn’t just a mental battle. The battle is also raging in your gut. Seems strange, but you’ve probably heard people describing how stress feels in their gut as “nervous stomach,” “butterflies,” or “tied in knots.” Somehow, we intuitively know that stress lives not just in our brains, but in our guts, too.

Why is your gut so sensitive to stress?

The short answer is because it’s connected to your brain, which generates your emotional responses. The long answer is, well, longer. Stay with us while we get a little technical.

The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) is the core pathway that coordinates your body’s response to stressors of all kinds — physical, emotional, social, and environmental. It’s a marriage of your central nervous system (featuring your brain) and your endocrine system (featuring your hormones.) Stress activates the HPA axis. This activation triggers a cascade of messenger molecules, starting with the secretion of the alarm neurotransmitters epinephrine and norepinephrine and ending with the release of the stress hormone cortisol. Epinephrine and norepinephrine cause the classic bodily changes of stress, such as increased heart rate and cold sweat. Cortisol keeps your body revved up and in a state of heightened vigilance. This means that stress is communicated in the body through both neurotransmitters and hormones. The brain then alters the activity and architecture of the gut in response — and not in a good way. [5,6]

Five ways the gut and brain can communicate: 1) neuroanatomical pathway of the gut-brain (vagus nerve), 2) neuroendocrine-HPA axis pathway, 3) gut immune system, 4) gut microbiota metabolism system, 5) intestinal mucosal barrier and blood-brain barrier. Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5040025/figure/F1/ 

The role of the vagus nerve in stress

The vagus nerve, which starts in your brain stem and goes down through your neck and thorax to your abdomen, helps regulate the HPA axis. It works to bring your body back into balance, causing your cortisol levels to drop and helping your physiology relax. Another important function of the vagus nerve is mediating anti-inflammatory messaging and coordinating anti-inflammatory activities. [7] Unfortunately, stress diminishes the ability of the vagus nerve to properly protect your gut.
Products like Previlli™ are designed to increase short chain fatty acid production by optimizing the lumen environment of the gut.

Five ways the gut and brain can communicate: 1) neuroanatomical pathway of the gut-brain (vagus nerve), 2) neuroendocrine-HPA axis pathway, 3) gut immune system, 4) gut microbiota metabolism system, 5) intestinal mucosal barrier and blood-brain barrier. Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5040025/figure/F1/ 

How stress can damage your core gut architecture

Stress can also cause dysfunction in your core gut architecture — the actual anatomy of your gut. For example, stress can:

The vagus nerve, which starts in your brain stem and goes down through your neck and thorax to your abdomen, helps regulate the HPA axis. It works to bring your body back into balance, causing your cortisol levels to drop and helping your physiology relax. Another important function of the vagus nerve is mediating anti-inflammatory messaging and coordinating anti-inflammatory activities. [7] Unfortunately, stress diminishes the ability of the vagus nerve to properly protect your gut.
Products like Previlli™ are designed to increase short chain fatty acid production by optimizing the lumen environment of the gut.
  • Increase intestinal permeability, reducing your gut barrier’s ability to protect you from germs and toxins in your food and environment.
  • Cause inflammation of the gut mucosa, that protective coating which lines the hollow organs comprising your gastrointestinal system.
  • Initiate unfavorable changes in the composition of your gut microbiota (known as dysbiosis), wherein the ratio of good to bad bacteria in your gut becomes imbalanced. 
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