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The Gut-Mind Connection

Article by Josh Reed

Photo by Christoher Campbell, Unsplash

In a new series of Wellness articles, we are excited to share the incredible knowledge of TDC resident nutritionist Josh Reed from Reed Nutrition. Specialising in digestive health, food intolerance, IBS, the low FODMAPS diet, plant-based nutrition, as well as motivation and fitness, Josh takes on a holistic-nutrition-fitness-mind-body approach to wellness.

We are fortunate to have Josh consult with us to customise a wellness menu for our 2022 Byron Retreat. Guests will be treated to deliciously healthy meals with a focus on local, seasonal and nutritious ingredients. Find out more about the 2022 Byron Retreat here.

In our first article, Josh explains the important connection between our Gastro Intestinal Tract (GIT) and our mind, with particular reference to the influence it has on our emotional state.

Image Frank Flores

Your GIT contains millions of nerves that branch from your gut, all the way up to your brain. Further to this, your gut produces neurotransmitters that send signals along that gut-brain highway, as well as containing buckets of bacteria that do all sorts of things that impact on your brain.

We call all this “The Gut-Mind Connection”. And remarkably, it has been linked to alterations in mood, anxiety, depression, memory, food cravings, eating behaviours and ultimately life choices.

The Body’s 2nd Brain

Dubbed the body’s second brain, the gut contains over 500 million neurons and plays a crucial role in both GI health and many other body functions, including those in the mind. Interestingly, gut neurons and neurotransmitters are similar to those produced in the brain, delivering many of the same functions.

When you eat food… your gut nerves are stimulated, triggering digestive muscles to contract and move food along. This is called GI motility. At the same time neurotransmitters released from the gut send messages back and forth to the brain, in turn regulating appetite, feelings of fullness, as well as GI motility.

The Gut Microbiota

The human gut contains up to 3kg of bacteria and collectively they outnumber your body cells by 10 to 1. There are literally trillions of them, with hundreds of different species. Fortunately, most live in harmony with you, providing benefits such as assisting digestion and strengthening our immune function. Conversely, some species, or lack of, have been linked to undesirable effects like food cravings, mental health issues and even obesity.

Photo by Kamesh

Digest This…

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brains pleasure centre, as well as affects your appetite and emotions. Notably, about 50% of dopamine is produced in the gut, and evidence shows that gut bacteria can produce additionally large amounts of it.

Serotonin, another crucial neurotransmitter that regulates mood, sleep, appetite, food digestion and GI motility, is also definitively tied to the gut, with virtually all of it (~90%) being made in the gut.

Research shows that a deficiency in serotonin is associated with depression and in relation, commonly used anti-depressant medications often result in side effects in the gut. Recent research has also found that certain gut bacteria produce factors that can block or mimic the actions of serotonin, and as a result, influence mood, appetite and digestion.

This may be the reason 50% to 90% of people with IBS also suffer mental health conditions. It might also be the reason behind your food cravings and increased appetite, as evidence shows that both of these can be reduced via modifying your gut bacteria diversity.

Photo Markus Spizke

Numerous studies continue to show that diets high in meats and processed foods (typical

Western diets) result in increased gut inflammation as well as significantly disrupt the health of the gut microbiota. Typically, these types of diets are also low in plant foods... those that are high in fibre and contain an abundance of anti-inflammatory nutrients. Further to this, typical Western diets often contain a very limited variety of foods, impacting on nutrient adequacy.

Ultimately, the above factors affect the richness and diversity of health promoting gut bacteria species. And this in turn influences the health of your gut.

And so… there you have it. Your gut and mind are undoubtedly connected.

Those nervous stomach butterflies actually make a lot of sense. Fortunately, you can improve your mental health via improving your gut health.

Medical Disclaimer

The ideas, opinions and concepts expressed in this blog article are intended to be used for informational purposes only. The author is not rendering medical advice of any kind, nor is this article intended to replace competent and licensed professional medical advice from a Medical Practitioner to a patient/client or diagnose, prescribe or treat any condition, disease, illness or injury.

Readers should seek professional medical advice before acting on any suggestions/information made in this article. Readers should not delay or disregard professional medical advice because of something they may have read in this guidebook. The author of this article disclaims any and all responsibility to any person or entity for any liability, loss or damage caused or alleged to be caused directly or indirectly as a result of the use, application or interpretation of the material in this article.

Photo by Darius Bashar, Unsplash

This article was written by Josh Reed, Nutritionist Reed Nutrition.

We work closely with Josh Reed to develop our wellness menu for our 2022 Byron Retreat.

Find out more about The Design Coach: who we are and what we stand for.

To find out more about Josh Reed, you can visit his website at

Stay well, and believe in you!

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