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The essential neurotransmitters that are made in your gut

It’s often said that the gut is our second brain, and this isn’t just a metaphor. The enteric nervous system, located in our gastrointestinal tract, is a complex system of about 100 million nerves that communicate directly with the brain. This remarkable connection is largely mediated through neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers typically associated with the brain. You might be surprised to learn that a significant amount of these neurotransmitters is actually produced in the gut, cementing exactly how important it is to have a well-functioning digestive system. Let’s dive deeper into the roles and impacts of these gut-derived neurotransmitters.

Serotonin: the mood regulator

Often dubbed the “happiness hormone,” serotonin plays a crucial role in helping to regulate mood and contentment. Intriguingly, up to 95% of the body’s serotonin is produced in the gastrointestinal tract. The cells lining the gut’s walls manufacture serotonin in response to signals of food intake which is then used to regulate intestinal movements. But serotonin’s influence goes beyond digestion; it impacts emotions, mood, and even sleep. This substantial production in the gut highlights the direct influence your gut health has on your mental and emotional wellbeing.

Dopamine: the reward and pleasure neurotransmitter

Dopamine is another neurotransmitter that’s traditionally linked with the brain’s pleasure, motivation and reward centres. It motivates us to seek out experiences like food and social interactions. While most of the body’s dopamine is produced in the brain, a smaller yet significant amount is produced in the gut. This dopamine can influence local intestinal movements and function but also communicates back to the brain, affecting our overall sense of wellbeing and motivation.

GABA: calming the nervous system

Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is primarily known for its calming effects on the nervous system, helping to reduce feelings of anxiety and stress. The gut is also a site for GABA production, where it plays a role in modulating gut activity and its flow of contents. It’s fascinating to consider how the calming effects of GABA might not just influence our brain but also our gut activity, possibly providing a feedback mechanism that affects our overall calmness and stress levels.

The implications of gut-produced neurotransmitters

The fact that our gut manufactures these critical neurotransmitters opens up new avenues for understanding and treating a variety of states and disorders, from depression and anxiety to irritable bowel syndrome and Parkinson’s disease. It also underscores the importance of gut health, not just for digestive wellness but for maintaining mental and emotional health.

What we eat literally becomes part of us, playing a pivotal role in supporting the production of these neurotransmitters as well as countless other factors that contribute to how we look and feel each day. A way of eating rich in whole real foods fermented foods, fibre, and essential nutrients can help cultivate an environment where these neurotransmitters can thrive and supportively influence both gut and brain health.

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