We don't give our gut much thought unless its wreaking havoc on us. Perhaps this is due to
its escape from the same medical scrutiny that its fellow organs have received since the
inception of modern medicine. We forget how central this fascinating and multifaceted part
of our anatomy was to our ancestors, and as we are discovering more each day – it was
important to them for a good reason.
What exactly is the Gut and Microbiome?
The gut is composed of two sections – the small intestine and the large intestine (colon).
Outstanding in the fact that it is the only other part of the body that possesses its own separate nervous system - the gut is largely autonomous. You might not then be shocked to find that it's also home to trillions of various bacterial species! In fact, 30-35% of the microbiome held within your body is found tucked away here – helping you to digest and synergize whatever you feed it. When you eat, you're really eating for trillions – always agood excuse if you're accused of overindulging!
The main connection
It seems that many of our emotions are intrinsically connected with our gut; you may even
find yourself saying you have a "gut feeling" if you're feeling particularly deep emotion. This
feeling is substantiated when you take into consideration that the gut functions as a second
brain. Containing neurons, your gut is capable of almost simultaneously interacting with
your primary brain by means of the vagus nerve.
If you have been under a lot of stress or pressure lately, your gut might just be the culprit.
Perhaps you find yourself suffering from a mixture of these ailments:
Struggling to lose weight
These are all symptoms of pathological stress – your body's natural and evolutionary
reaction to long-term stressors. Unfortunately – these ailments tend to go hand-in-hand
with infections and diseases of the gut such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Chron’s disease.
Research is even being done as to how a defective gut microbiota can possibly lead to
Parkinson’s disease and eczema. Fortunately – we now understand the microbiota's effect
on and link to all of these ailments and how to treat them.
How it can be cured
A plethora of neurotransmitters such as GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid), Serotonin, and
dopamine are produced and distributed by the gut microbiome. They are chemical transmitters that function as mood regulators and work to stabilize emotions and lessen anxiety/depression. Research shows that not everyone's microbiota produces these crucial chemicals in equal amounts. In fact, there can be up to a 50% deviation in production. We can put this down to the make-up and variety of the microbiome which though – largelydecided by the genetics of a person – can be subsequently altered and ameliorated by lifestyle changes.
Adding prebiotic foods such as onion, garlic, artichoke, etc. is essential if you wish to
replenish your gut microbiome. Probiotic foods, on the other hand, such as Kimchi, Yoghurt
and Tempeh are useful for the upkeep in the diversity of your gut flora.
Though research on this topic is still in its preliminary stage – there is yet a clear and
prominent trend in the research completed – the more varied and healthy a diet, the more
varied and healthy the microbiome will be, thus leading to improved mental health.
Possible link to obesity and weight gain?
A particularly interesting facet of this study is its consequences for those trying to lose or
gain weight. With two-thirds of the world's population being overweight or obese, this viable theory is in urgent need of further trials. Evidence has shown that a person is at an increased risk of obesity if they have a small and unvaried gut microbiome. We now know that stress is also linked to a diminished gut flora. Does this mean that you're at a higher risk of obesity if you are stressed? Research shows that it is possible. You might even be thinking to yourself that one well-known symptom of stress is an increase in appetite otherwise known as the often practiced "comfort eating." Well, now you'll know what exactly is causing you to reach for that extra biscuit on a bad day – your sneaky gut bacteria! Specific gut bacteria are more prone to absorbing energy than others.
For example: Helicobacter pylori absorbs energy from carbohydrates at double the rate of its fellow gut bacteria. If there is an abundance of H. pylori present in someone's gut microbiome they will
benefit from a high-carb diet whereas a person with a relatively low quantity of H. pylori will
gain weight from on the same diet.
This suggests that if two twins of similar genetic makeup were to embark upon a new diet,
their gut biome built-up from previous different diets could possibly determine whether one
gains weight and the other loses weight.
This can be resolved by flushing your system followed by an increased intake in probiotics
and prebiotics. Another possible cure is the transfer and introduction of healthy gut flora
from one person to a person suffering from an insufficient microbiome.
If you feel like you need to make any changes to your gut microbiome, here’s some helpful steps to get you started!
Increase your fibre intake by adding high-fibre foods to your diet such as wholegrain products, fruits and vegetables (bonus if you leave the skins on!)
Add fermented foods to your diet such as sauerkraut and miso.
Try intermittent fasting to flush your system of harmful bacteria while allowing your gut microbiome to rest.
Avoid antibacterial substances such as sanitizing wipes or spray if possible.
Take some time in nature – research shows those who spend more time outdoors have better gut microbiome health.
Sleep well and exercise regularly.
Try to reduce your daily stress levels – mindfulness and meditation can be helpful to achieve this goal.
I hope this helped you to better understand the innerworkings of the gut and maybe even
encouraged you to take the necessary steps towards a healthier lifestyle. Thanks for reading
my blog and be sure to check back in for my future posts on health-related topics, coming to
a screen near you soon!