Here at Sage Recovery, we know that recovery can be very complex. Each person’s recovery journey looks different and has unique challenges and milestones. Despite this, there is something that we believe is very important for everyone’s recovery process: Healthy gut and brain health. Before we explain the ways gut and brain health are critical in the healing journey, we first need to explore how the two are connected.
It may not be common knowledge that the gut and brain are inevitably connected. However, there are many examples of this connection in everyday life – some we may not even recognize. For example, in an article published by Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences, researchers explain, “A ‘gut feeling’ or the sensation of ‘butterflies’ in the stomach are common illustrations of how a response in the brain is felt in the gut.”
Nevertheless, our gut and brain are interconnected. They often interact with each other and can influence how the other feels. Our gut health is dependent upon multiple factors, including our mother’s health during pregnancy and birth. While the food that we eat can impact our gut health, there’s more to it than that. In an article from the NIH News In Health, researchers explain, “How your body’s built, your family and genetic history, how you manage stress, and what you eat can all affect your gut.”
According to an article in Neurotherapeutics, “The brain and the gut are engaged in continuous bidirectional communication. Such communication may be important in mediating physiological effects ranging from GI function to the brain and behavior, bringing about the perception of nausea, satiety, and pain.”
Furthermore, the article explains, “Bidirectional gut–brain communication may begin as sensory information from the GI tract, and is consequently transformed into neural, hormonal, and immunological signals. These signals can independently or cooperatively relay information to the central nervous system (CNS).”
Additionally, in the aforementioned article published by Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences, researchers explain there are strong correlations between gut health and mental health complications. They describe, “Recent studies suggest that gut hormones are involved in the physiological processes that lead to disorders such as anxiety and depression—with indications that mood disorders and obesity often co-exist.”
While there are multiple ways our gut and brain communicate with each other, there is one clear physical connection that allows for the transmission of information. Again, the publication by Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences describes the vagus nerve as the physical connection between the brain and the gut.
Referencing the vagus nerve, the article explains, “The tenth cranial nerve that extends from the brain to the abdomen is responsible for regulating internal organ functions such as digestion, heart rate and respiratory rate.” Continuing on, it details, “…the vagus nerve carries motor signals between the brain and organs, including the intestinal cells, which are also subject to the influence of the gut microbiota. The brain is, in this way, able to ‘sense’ the environment in the gut.”
When the brain senses stress or potential danger, it sends signals to the rest of the body to activate the fight-or-flight response. This response releases adrenaline and cortisol, which keeps the body going long enough to get through the event. As a result, it can wreak havoc on the nervous and digestive systems. An example of this is often seen when people get extremely nervous or upset and suddenly become nauseated or vomit. Here, the gut is having a physiological response to the brain’s signals while the brain is responding to the gut’s signals of intense dread or emotion.
Nutrition greatly affects our overall health. Therefore, it’s extremely important to nourish our bodies as healthily as possible. This is especially true while adjusting to any new life changes, such as recovery. The recovery journey can be a lot for our bodies to process, especially after extended substance use. Proper nutrition is a good way to begin rebuilding a healthy gut and, therefore, a healthier brain.
As MedlinePlus details, “Good nutrition will help you feel better physically but could also improve your mood and decrease anxiety and stress. Also, not having enough of certain nutrients may contribute to some mental illnesses. For example, there may be a link between low levels of vitamin B12 and depression.”
In addition, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) explains, “Research shows that altering bacteria in the gut through specific diets may help to treat stress-related and neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism and hyperactivity.”
It is important to note that any diet changes should be discussed with your care team. Since nutrition can greatly impact overall health, it is vital to discuss any significant lifestyle changes with your doctor. What works for one person may not be safe for someone else. Please keep your overall health and safety in mind as you make any changes to your nutrition plan.
Here at Sage Recovery, we understand the important roles that gut and brain health play in recovery. We want our patients to be as healthy as possible, which is why we incorporate holistic therapeutic techniques that empower our patients to support their own gut and brain health. We do this by offering:
Recovery can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. Here at Sage Recovery, we understand the courage and work it takes to want to heal from the hard things you’ve been through. Let us help. Our Master’s-level clinicians are empathetic, compassionate, and experts in their fields. Each one is trained to provide trauma-informed care, so you can ensure that you’ll be treated with dignity and respect as you heal. We believe there are multiple pathways to healing and, as a result, we offer customized treatment plans so you can be empowered to find the treatment that works best for you. When you’re ready to begin your healing journey, reach out to us at (512) 306-1394.