There is a connection between our emotional states and our digestion. That is why, when faced with stress, nerves or anxiety, it is common to have intestinal discomfort and alterations.
The functions of our digestive system go beyond digesting food and optimizing its nutrients. In recent years, a field of research has opened up that addresses the relationship between emotions and our digestion, and studies the way in which we can somatize our moods through the digestive system.
To understand this, we must remember, explains Dr. Juan Arenas, head of the Digestive System Service at Policlínica Gipuzkoa, that the intestine contains an ecosystem that acts as the main barrier against numerous infections and external pathogens that can endanger our health. It is the intestinal microbiota, which “collaborates in the activation of the immune system to protect the organism from infections, keep the inflammatory response under control, and produce substances that have a positive impact on the brain -such as serotonin-, providing emotional stability“.
There is, therefore, a direct connection between the brain and the digestive system, which would explain, points out Dr. Fran Zozaya, from the Digestive System and Digestive Endoscopy Unit of Policlínica Gipuzkoa, “why moods such as anxiety, nervousness, stress, nervousness or stress, are so important, nervousness or stress, as well as changes in sleep habits or in our routines, can affect the digestive system, causing symptoms such as alterations in the intestinal rhythm (diarrhea or constipation), bloating or abdominal discomfort“.
The intestine is the only organ in the body that has the ability to function independently and, in turn, maintain a direct connection with the brain, sending information in a bidirectional way: “The digestive system collects information about the state of the organism and then sends it to the brain to link it with emotions, such as mood, stress or nerves. This is why it is considered the second brain,” continues the expert.
An example that can bring us closer to this concept, explains the specialist: “Who has not had worse episodes when it comes to going to the bathroom or various intestinal problems on days of greater stress or anxiety, on days when our mood is worse? It has been proven that, before the arrival of an event that is very important for us and that generates anxiety, certain gastrointestinal symptoms may appear or worsen“.
In addition, Dr. Arenas emphasizes that digestive problems related to stress are increasingly being seen in consultations: “This could be explained by the innervation of the digestive system: it receives many nerve endings that are connected to the brain and, therefore, in stressful situations, the intestine also becomes alert“.
The power of endoscopy
On the other hand, when it comes to diagnosing digestive problems, specialists point out that great strides have been made in the field of endoscopy with the incorporation of new techniques that are less invasive and safer for patients, and largely thanks to the help of artificial intelligence (AI).
“Endoscopy is the most reliable tool for detecting our digestive tract,” explains Dr. Arenas. With them, today we can not only diagnose digestive pathologies, but we can also remove polyps or lesions that should not be there, treat hemorrhages, dilate narrow diseased areas, or take biopsies of intra-abdominal organs. Thanks to them, we can reach places we would not be able to reach otherwise”.
The specialist points out that endoscopies are used to examine the inside of the digestive system, and when we talk about these explorations in the upper digestive tract (esophagus, stomach, duodenum) we are referring to gastroscopies; while if the lower digestive tract is studied, these endoscopies are referred to as colonoscopies, about which he emphasizes that the greatest innovation has taken place thanks to AI, with which it is now easier to detect, for example, “polyps that can indicate a situation prior to digestive cancer”.
Ultimately, and when it comes to preventing digestive problems, the Policlínica Gipuzkoa expert maintains that a healthy lifestyle is paramount, not only by maintaining a healthy and balanced diet, based on the Mediterranean pattern, but also through regular exercise or avoiding being overweight. “All this will make our digestive system and our intestinal microbiota in order and improve.“