Trouble in Paradise? How your Gut Health could be Influencing your Relationship Health.
Why do we hate someone’s guts, rather than their heart or brain or some other part of their anatomy?
For that matter, why do we “trust our gut?”
Maybe because, on some level, we have always known what science has only recently discovered—that our gut is capable of:
>> Changing our emotions and altering our mood
>> Interfering with our ability to deal with stress
>> Sending messages directly to the brain via the vagus nerve
>> Producing neurotransmitters and hormones, which affect our brain
>> Producing compounds that can turn our genes on and off
>> Causing a leaky gut
>> Contributing to a leaky blood-brain barrier
How does all of this happen? There is a system or network in our body called the gut/brain axis. It encompasses our brain, endocrine system, immune system, enteric nervous system, and our gut bacteria. The disruption of this network is the main cause of inflammation and disease. And—get this—the gut/brain network can influence our emotions, which as we know can affect our relationships, either for good or ill.
One of the key chemicals in the gut/brain axis is serotonin, a powerful neurotransmitter that regulates mood. Most anti-depressant drugs are designed to alter serotonin levels in the brain. Our gut produces 90 percent of our body’s serotonin, which then enters the bloodstream and influences our heart rate, blood clotting, cell growth, immune system, and other functions.
Clearly, our gut and brain are designed to interact with each other, but does this explain how the gut influences our relationships?
According to Ayurveda, there are three main principles, or doshas, present in all of us, but they appear in varying degrees. Our individual nature is said to be a product of whichever of those three principles is personally dominant for us.
The first principle is called Vata. It controls the nervous system, but surprisingly, Vata is said to be located in the colon. How can something in our colon control our nervous system? Thanks to recent research, we now understand that the colon contains most of our gut bacteria—which communicate with our brain.
What are the main characteristics of a Vata person? They tend to be very sensitive, both emotionally and physically, especially when it comes to digestion. When Vatas are in good balance, they can be extremely creative and enthusiastic, and their digestion is relatively normal (although they do better eating several small meals throughout the day rather than three larger ones). When Vatas get out of balance, however, they may have a tendency toward nervousness, and their digestive system becomes irregular, resulting in constipation and sometimes gas.
The second principle is Pitta. Its main function is digestion, and its primary location is in the stomach. Pitta people work hard, play hard, and can eat voraciously. When they are in good balance, they are energetic and purposeful, and can digest almost anything. When out of balance, they easily become irritable, even angry, and are prone to indigestion and heartburn.
The third principle is Kapha, which controls the structure and growth of the physiology. The primary location of Kapha is in the chest and lungs. Kaphas are usually quite stable emotionally and physiologically. They have a strong but slow digestive system, and these guys love food, although they can miss a meal without discomfort. When they are in balance, they tend to be easy going, friendly, and supportive. When out of balance, Kaphas can be surprisingly stubborn. They may also be withdrawn and depressed, and may overeat and gain weight.
Where is the scientific evidence to verify all this? Published research papers show specific genetic and physiological differences between these three types or natures.
What happens when your partner or loved one has a completely different Ayurvedic nature from your own?
Let’s say that a sensitive, artistic Vata enters into a relationship with an athletic Pitta. This could be really good or really bad. The Vata partner, for example, might frequently be cold and need to turn up the heat, while the Pitta partner might usually be hot and want to open the window or turn up the A/C. (Some differences are not complementary and must be negotiated.) When it comes to passion though, the pairing of a Vata with a Pitta can be nearly ideal. Vata is associated with the wind element and inevitably fans the fire element that dominates Pitta. But if the more delicate Vata becomes tired, that partner will fall out of balance, and his or her sensitive emotions might be easily crushed by the Pitta’s more powerful nature. And, if the Pitta person doesn’t eat on time, all bets are off for the couple’s immediate happiness.
I know from experience that if my husband isn’t enjoying his lunch by 12:30 (at the latest) he will turn into The Grouch. And he knows that if my life become too disorganized, both my focus and emotions will become deranged and if Momma ain’t happy…well, you know.
When we understand the three main types and what it means for them to be balanced, it becomes easier to predict and manage imbalances. The differences between the three types hold true for any age. And at any age, the key to a good relationship is to maintain balance.
How do you know whether you are a Vata, Pitta, or Kapha, or some combination of the three? It is ideal to have a personal consultation with a trained Ayurvedic expert, but a quicker way (like right now) is to take one of the many online Ayurvedic or dosha quizzes, like this one that reveals the state of your individual gut, and gives you four pages of specific recommendations about key aspects of your physical, mental, and emotional nature. You will also learn how to get along better with your partner and others, based on their unique composition!
Here are a few tips for each dosha to maintain a healthy balance:
>> Keep rested and on a good routine
>> Stay warm and out of the wind
>> Sip hot water throughout the day, and use grounding spices such as coriander, fennel, and cumin
>> Always eat on time
>> Keep cool and don’t stay in the sun too long
>> Avoid hot spices
>> Stay active
>> Don’t overeat
>> Allow extra time do everything
Good relationships with friends, lovers, or family members take time and a commitment to know both yourself and your partner thoroughly. The more we can tune in to other people’s emotions, personalities, and physiologies, the greater our odds are for effective communication, mutual appreciation, and love. The old expression, “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach,” isn’t as silly as it sounds. Understanding your own and your partner’s gut/brain nature can be astonishingly helpful, especially when you learn how to stay in balance.
There are a number of factors that can damage our gut—past and present stresses, antibiotics, bad habits, the wrong diet or lifestyle. Healing our gut creates a positive difference in almost every aspect of our lives. Through the lifestyle changes mentioned above and the addition of certain probiotics to our diets, we can correct imbalances and cultivate more harmonious relationships with our own bodies and with our loved ones.
Everyone wants to have loving lasting relationships, but we might not always be able to trust our heart or brain. But we can always trust our gut.
Wallace, Robert Keith and Samantha Wallace. Gut Crisis: How Diet, Probiotics, and Friendly Bacteria Help You Lose Weight and Heal Your Body and Mind. Dharma Publications, 2017.
Author: Robert & Samantha Wallace
Editor: Callie Rushton
Copy Editor: Emily Bartran