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Q: What is the mind-gut connection and why is it so important to good health?

A: It’s a unique communication network between our brain and digestive tract that influences our state of well-being. In essence, our emotions—how we think and feel— impact our gut health and performance. Think about a marathon runner nervous to start a race who urgently needs to run to the bathroom. The opposite is also true. Digestive function can change our mood. A delicious meal can create a sense of happiness and joy, whereas excessive eating can make us feel gassy, bloated, sluggish and irritable.

The quality and quantity of the foods we eat play a big role in the mind-gut connection. A diet that emphasizes fresh fruits and vegetables combined with smaller portions of healthy proteins and fats is preferred. Try to avoid processed foods and foods containing excessive sugar. Hydration is key for intestinal motility. A general goal should be 64-80 ounces daily of non-caffeinated, non-alcoholic fluids.

Probiotics also play an important role. Probiotics are “good” bacteria that help maintain and restore the natural pH balance of our gut. They are found in certain fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, sourdough
bread, sauerkraut and kimchi. Alternatively, probiotic supplements can be purchased over the counter.

Stress-reducing activities such as walking, yoga, meditation and listening to music can also enhance our well-being and digestion. If we create peace within, our bodies can perform their best!

By Elizabeth R. Raskin, M.D.