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Have you ever experienced butterflies in your stomach or abdominal pain when you’re stressed? The answer is likely, yes, and it’s a direct result of the communication between our gut and our brain. But how do they connect? And what impact can it have on your health and wellbeing? Let’s find out!

How do your gut and brain communicate?

Your gut — or digestive tract — is more complex than you think. Besides having many parts — the mouth, throat, esophagus, stomach, small and large intestines, rectum, and anus — it’s also home to our enteric nervous system (ENS). This is often referred to as our “second brain.”1 Our second brain communicates with the brain in our skull and can impact not only our physical health, but our mental health, too. In fact, the gut contains 90% of our body’s serotonin receptors. These receptors influence many of our biological and neurological processes like mood and appetite.

Physically, your gut and brain are connected by the vagus nerve. This is one of 12 cranial nerves in the body that control anything from movement of muscles and glands to things like taste and smell. Some cranial nerves control one or the other, sensory or movement. The vagus nerve controls both, with one of its main functions being to send information from your gut to your brain. This pathway is called the gut-brain axis and it is how hormones and other neurotransmitters send messages chemically.3

How can this affect my health and wellbeing?

While your second brain won’t help you write your next great best-seller, it will control things like your digestion. In fact, according to Jay Pasricha, MD, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Neurogastroenterology, its main role is digestion, “from swallowing to the release of enzymes that break down food to the control of blood flow that helps with nutrient absorption to elimination.” It does this through the gut microbiome, a collection of bacteria, fungi, and viruses that live in your intestinal tract.

Like most things, bacteria can be good or bad. While your good bacteria work to control the bad bacteria, sometimes they can become imbalanced. This can happen when we’re stressed, sick, overweight, or maintaining a poor-quality diet. When our gut is imbalanced and inflamed for an extended period, it can put you at risk for certain physical and mental disorders, like:3

  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBS)
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Diabetes
  • Asthma
  • Obesity

How can I maintain a healthy gut and improve my mood?

Besides adequate sleep and limiting your stress, one of the best ways to support a healthy gut is to maintain a good quality diet. This includes:2

  1. Eating whole foods. Limit packaged and processed foods that contain a lot of additives and preservatives, this includes added sugars. Doing so will keep them out of your gut where they can wreak havoc on good bacteria.
  2. Eating the right foods. Make sure you’re mixing in lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and including fiber- and probiotic-rich foods into your diet. Your gut will also appreciate fermented foods, like sauerkraut and kimchi.
  3. Eating a balance of foods. Eating the same thing over and over isn’t fun. And your gut agrees. It’s good to eat a balanced diet with a protein source, carbohydrates like whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats. For protein, seafood, poultry, and beans are best, but it’s OK to mix in red meat on occasion, too.

Just remember it’s always best to check with your doctor before making diet changes if you have a diagnosed health condition. 

What resources are available to help me?

If you’re looking to improve your gut health and your mood, start with your nutrition. Check out this on-demand gut-health video for more information about the importance of your gut. Or download this gut-health handout to learn more.

You can also check out these extra resources to help you on your journey.

meQuilibrium*: This digital mental well-being program is available to fully insured Florida Blue and all Florida Blue Medicare Advantage plan members at no extra cost. It consists of self-guided and personalized programs and activities that can help you manage your diet and your mood. Here’s how to log in and sign up: 

  • Log in to your member portal at 
  • Select Find & Get Care
  • Select Mental Well-Being from the dropdown menu
  • Scroll to Available Programs
  • Select meQuilibrium

Or, if you don’t have a Florida Blue plan, visit 

Florida Blue Centers: Stop by or call any one of our local Florida Blue Centers and speak directly to a care nurse or community specialist. They can help answer questions or connect you to resources in your community. Our centers also offer webinars and classes on a variety of health topics, including nutrition, to the public at no cost. Visit your local center or call 1-877-352-5830 to speak to a care nurse. Learn more at

BlueForMe**: Florida Blue members eligible for our care programs can reach out to their care manager for additional information on stress management. And now, with the BlueForMe app, they can do it through their smart devices.

Feeding Florida: If someone you know needs food, you can find mobile pantries and food banks with fresh food near them. Just visit to find a food bank near you. 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: For healthy eating tips, links to local nutrition programs, food assistance programs, and more, check out the CDC’s Nutrition page

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Get tips for eating right on a budget, healthy recipes, eating as a family and more here





1Johns Hopkins Medicine: The Brain-Gut Connection

2Harvard Health Publishing: Gut feelings: How good affects your mood

3WebMD: What to Know about the Gut Brain Link

*meQuilibrium is an independent company contracted by Florida Blue to provide health and wellness services and resources to members. This benefit is available to Florida Blue members age 18 and older.  Eligibility is limited to members with an individual or family plan, an individual or family ACA plan and members with coverage from their fully insured group employer health plan.

**Florida Blue has entered into an arrangement with Wellframe to provide members with care decision support services, information, and other services. All decisions that require or pertain to independent professional medical/clinical judgement or training, or the need for medical services, are solely the member’s responsibility and the responsibility of their physicians and other health care providers. Wellframe is an independent company that provides online services to Florida Blue members through the BlueforMe app

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