‘Do you trust your gut?’
This simple phrase has a more profound connection to our biology than you might expect. When you’re asked ‘what does your gut say?’ the implication is to trust your instincts. However, science has deepened our understanding of just how much our gut has to do with our feelings.
You may feel queasy when you’re stressed or nervous, notice your appetite is affected by stress, feel ‘sick with worry’ and in moments of acute stress, you may notice that it feels like you need to vomit.
When these sensations occur, it is due to the powerful connection between our digestive system and our nervous system.
The human gastrointestinal tract is a truly fascinating piece of machinery. If you laid it out flat, our intestines have over 200m² of surface area folded up into a little parcel positioned neatly into our abdominal cavity. This huge surface area enables the efficient uptake of nutrients from the foods we consume.
Layered cleverly throughout our intestines is our enteric nervous system, made up of over 100 million neurons—which is more than we have in our spinal cord or peripheral nervous system! This intricate nervous system has been colloquially called ‘the second brain’ and is responsible for making 80-95% of the body’s serotonin—the body’s primary ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter.
So, when you consider how interconnected our nervous system is within the architecture of our digestive system, it is no wonder that the health of one will heavily influence the health of the other. For instance, real and perceived stress and pressure in our lives can lead to digestive disturbances like bloating, constipation or diarrhoea.
One of the most soothing digestive herbs, chamomile, has been used throughout history as a digestive relaxant in both adults and children. It’s also been used for inflammation throughout the digestive system and as a herb often employed to help with improving sleep due to its calming action. Similarly, the herb Lemon balm is both a digestive and nervous system tonic. Used throughout history for bloating, flatulence and cramping of the gut, but also as a herbal sedative for improving sleep or for soothing anxious feelings.