How our nervous system can impact our everyday health: Part two

How our nervous system can impact our everyday health: Part two

Author -  Good Health

How our neurotransmitters effect our emotional and physical.jpg

How our neurotransmitters effect our emotional and physical health

Cells throughout the body communicate via chemicals called neurotransmitters. When these chemical messengers are functioning optimally, they regulate biological processes such as our sleep, appetite, mood and emotions. Ideally, we need our neurotransmitters functioning optimally so that we can feel healthy and be energised. In times of stress, neurotransmitter function increases rapidly which eventually depletes our body’s stores of these chemicals. At the same time, stress increases free radical production, and raises our insulin and blood pressure, which damages our cells and their ability to communicate. Serotonin and dopamine are two neurotransmitters that suffer in times of stress. Serotonin is our happy neurotransmitter; it makes us feel calm, content and regulates our sleep. When serotonin levels are low we may feel anxious and irritable. Dopamine is an excitatory neurotransmitter which effects our memory, focus and effects the pleasure center of the brain. When dopamine is low, consumption of caffeine, sugar and alcohol increases, in an attempt to temporarily boost dopamine levels so that our body can function as normal.

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The gut: our second brain

Our body is constantly communicating with itself. Although our everyday habits effect this communication, most of the time we don’t even realise it is happening. Our brain, gut, and the residing bacteria also have a communication line. Messages can be sent from the brain to the gut, and the gut to the brain; which explains why when we feel stressed or anxious, we can feel unwell in our gut and why it is often referred to as our second brain. The way we eat has a huge impact on our everyday health. Food not only provides energy and nutrients that keeps us healthy, it can also be responsible for our mood the next day. Approximately 80% of the neurotransmitter serotonin is made in the gut. Therefore if our gut health is compromised, our serotonin production is too. The bacteria in our gut changes depending on the food that we eat and this can take place within as little as within 3-4 days, meaning that although a few days of eating poor quality food can completely change our gut health, eating nourishing foods also makes a huge difference.

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Stress, nutrients and nutrition 

In times of stress, we often make poor nutritional choices. We reach for stimulants such as caffeine, refined sugar and refined grains to increase our dopamine, cortisol or sugar levels. Not only does this cause our blood sugar to spike, it affects our body’s ability to store and absorb nutrients and increases the load placed on our detoxification pathways. When we are stressed, our body is in a compromised state of health. Stress increases the rate our body uses nutrients and the amount required for normal functioning. If we are not consuming enough vitamins and minerals (especially vitamin B, vitamin C, zinc and magnesium), our body does not have access to the nutrients it needs for repair. This not only means we take longer to recover, but puts further stress on the body creating a dangerous cycle. Furthermore, stress also influences whether or not we can actually digest our food. When we are stressed, our sympathetic nervous system is in control; meaning our blood is away from our digestive system and found in the larger muscles needed for ‘fight-or-flight’. Our body does not have the resources necessary to digest food or to access the nutrients within the food. Consequently, indigestion, bloating or a leaky gut may develop.

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When we pay attention to the foods we eat when we are stressed, and how stressed we are when we eat, we can learn to identify whether our eating habits are helpful or harmful. Are you mindful when you are eating? Or are you rushing through lunch with your mind on the next task? Remember that our body requires more nutrients when it is stressed and that stimulants such as caffeine and sugar can reduce the amount nutrients available. Dark green leafy vegetables, antioxidant rich blueberries, quality dark chocolate, nuts and seeds are filled with nutrients that can support the body when stressed. During times of chronic stress, consider a nutritional supplement or calming herbs such as lemon balm, ashwagandha and hops to help regulate the nervous system. And when energy levels are feeling low, make a smoothie, have some bliss balls or snack on nuts and seeds, and save the coffee for times that you can sit down and enjoy it.


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