Have you ever had a "gut-wrenching" experience? Do exams or work presentations make you "feel nauseous"? Have you ever felt "butterflies" in your stomach when eyes met? Or, just had this ‘gut feeling” ..... There are many studies that show that gut health effects brain health and our emotions can trigger painful symptoms within the gut.

This communication between the gut and the brain is called, gut-brain axis. Many scientists refer to it as Enteric Nervous System (ENS), our second brain. Millions of nerves and neurons run between the gut and the brain transmitting information from the brain to the gut and vice versa. The most important nerve is the vagus nerve. The gut and the brain also communicate through chemicals called neurotransmitters, which are produced both in the brain and the gut. Some of the more commonly known neurotransmitters are serotonin, the ”feel good” chemical, and GABA, which can reduce feelings of anxiety and depression.

Not surprisingly, in Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective, the main organs responsible for mood regulation are the Spleen, Heart and Liver. The Spleen is the first organ to receive and assimilate food; it then separates food into “pure qi” and “ impure qi”. Pure qi is converted into energy and ascends to the Lungs where it enters the blood, where as the impure qi is passed to the Stomach/Large Intestine before it is eliminated. If the Spleen is weak the impure qi enters the Lungs and creates turbid fluids (i.e. phlegm) and causes us to experience fatigue, fogginess and anxiety, among many other cognitive, gastrointestinal and immune related problems.

A strong spleen is the foundation to healthy digestion.

In western terms, the gut contains the microbiome, which is a collection of bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi that digest the food, absorb nutrients and produce a majority of neurotransmitters, which regulate emotional, cognitive, physiological and immune functions within our body. The imbalance in the microbiome is called dysbiosis. Dysbiosis leads to a condition called leaky gut, where the intestinal wall that protects unwanted food biproducts (impure qi) from getting into the blood stream has cracks and holes, which wreaks havoc on all the systems in our body.

A healthy microbiome is the foundation to healthy digestion.

With this in mind, two of the herbs in the Illuminate formula, Licorice Root and Chinese Dates, enter the Spleen and Stomach meridians and are powerful tonics for Spleen, supporting digestive and filtering functions as well as the integrity of the intestinal wall.

Licorice Root (not to be confused with candy Licorice, which have no health benefits) or in western medicine called DGL is a very effective remedy for heartburn, ulcers or gastritis and it also stimulates the digestive tract to produce mucus - secreting cells, which act as glue in repairing the holes (scientific name - tight junctions) in the intestinal wall, helping in the recovery of “leaky gut” condition. Chinese Dates are traditionally used in foods like porridge by people with weak digestion. It is interesting to note that Chinese Dates not only strengthen digestion but also promote calmness and emotional wellness, demonstrating again the gut-brain connection that has been observed and recorded over thousands of years back.