By: Sarah Braithwaite
The gut-brain connection is such a HUGE topic and recent scientific findings are coming through fast with exciting information on how important gut health really is. This blog simplifies a complex subject into some quick explanations and everyday tips to transition you into a place of better gut health management.
Besides digesting food and making gurgling sounds, the gut is spectacularly sophisticated and an integral part of our overall health. The term ‘gut-brain’ has been popping up in conversations a lot more frequently lately, and for good reason – science is finally catching up and able to explain just how phenomenally complex and important our gut is. If you are curious to understand and explore the role of the gut- brain relationship, how they communicate and how to optimize gut health, then this article is exactly what you need right now.
Quick dive into some science basics…
Brain cells are known as neurons and are not only limited to the brain but are actually found in our gut too (and our heart, but that’s for another blog post). Similar to our brain, our gut is also able to perceive, assimilate and process information, as well as store information. Who would have thought?
In case your memory is a little fuzzy from the school biology days, the gut does not simply equate to our stomach – it includes our mouth, oesophagus, small and large intestines, colon, liver, pancreas, and central nervous system.
The gut also contains sensory and motor cells and in essence functions like a mini brain. While our head brain is the mothership brain, the gut plays vital key roles in our communication with the brain, and affects our mood swings, immune system function and overall health. Serotonin, a very important mood stabilizer, is produced mainly in the gut (to read more see link to ‘mental health basics’ article), which means that our mood or mental state is definitely influenced by our gut.
Reflect on your own body here for a minute – when you are super stressed or anxious, do you find that you eat more, or eat less, feel constipated or have a knot in your stomach?
When you are excited, do you feel butterflies in your stomach?
When you receive negative news, do you get that ‘gut wrenching’ feeling quite literally?
And when you are hungry and a sushi advert pops up on TV, does your stomach grumble with delight to let you know that it wants that?
These are everyday examples of our conscious processing of gut-head communication. However, most communication is happening very unconsciously at lightning speed while you are none the wiser. The communication happens along a superhighways gut-brain axis known as the vagus nerve. Most of the traffic of communication travels from the gut up to the brain and not the other way around, which means that our brains are interpreting and reacting to the goings-on of our gut all day every day.
Immune function in the gut
Up to 80% of our immune cells are based in the gut, which means our immune system is coming into contact with our environment everyday based on the food we consume. Some foods are nutritional and healing for the gut, while others cause aggravation, inflammation, and discomfort.
The microbiome located in the gut is the total ecology of microorganisms and if this balance of bacteria is too infested with bad bacteria, we create an imbalance. In fact, these bacterial colonies are so clever that they cause confusion during the gut-brain communication line, and even cause us to crave unhealthy foods that feed the bad bacteria. Serotonin, which I mentioned earlier, is an especially important mood stabilizing neurotransmitter, is produced mainly in the gut and interestingly only a small amount is produced in our brain.
A happy gut equals a happier mood state.
Optimizing gut health
Reading and understanding all the latest information on gut health means nothing unless you actually make changes to your lifestyle and prioritize gut health. After all, our immune system is based in the gut, and our gut influences our mental and mood states.
Besides diet, other factors such as exercise, stress and emotional management, toxicity, and medications can also impact our gut health and mental health. A good quality probiotic can have enormous benefits of gut health by boosting the ‘good bacteria’ and stress can have very negative impacts on gut health. Regular exercise, mindful activities, and consumption of organic fresh produce has been scientifically validated to improve the microbiome and gut health. A healthy gut means a healthy well-functioning immune system and with winter upon us and a global pandemic in our midst, has there ever been a better time to make these changes?
Tips to optimize gut health:
- Invest in a good quality probiotic.
- Include probiotic rich foods such as kombucha, sauerkraut, or organic natural yoghurt.
- Switch to organic fresh produce that contain healthy microbes and minerals from the soil and are free of pesticides and chemicals.
- Manage stress responsibly through exercise, journaling, mindfulness, life coaching or therapy.
- Exercise regularly.
- Remove unhealthy foods containing high sugar levels, chemicals, or processed ingredients.
- Be conscious of medications and use wisely (especially antibiotics).
- Be conscious of toxicity in your environment (heavy metals in pots/pans, personal care products, and home cleaning products).
If you are interested in some delicious and gut-loving recipes, check out WellBe’s recipe page here.