The Gut: Your Body’s 2nd Brain
We often assume that the brain is the only organ sending control messages to the body, but recent research suggests that your gut may have just as much to say when it comes to the overall health and wellness of your entire body.
Gut health is a topic that has gained increasing momentum in the health and wellness community over the last decade because we now know that gut health may start in, but ultimately extends far beyond, the gastrointestinal tract.
At the core of gut health is the “gut microbiome” which is the ecosystem of microorganisms living in the small and large intestines. Author Simon Cheng refers to the microbiome as “a ‘bacteria Thunderdome’, in which good and bad bacteria are in there, battling it out.” When in balance, these microorganisms keep the body regulated and healthy. However, when the pathogenic bacteria (the bad guys) outweigh the probiotic bacteria (the good guys), this leads to an environment in which the body can no longer process food properly to extract the necessary nutrition for all of its many functions. In short, Cheng explains that without a healthy microbiome, “a healthy diet will not nourish you if you don’t have sufficient good bacteria.”
To explain the far reaching impact that gut health has on the body at large, Ty Bollinger writes about the effects of an unbalanced microbiome and the many disorders and illnesses that were previously thought to have very little, if any, link to gut health: depression, allergies, autism, weight gain, and compromised immunity. This is because these microorganisms are responsible for much more than just digesting food. They are responsible for regulating hormones, protecting your immune system, balancing your mood, producing vitamins, and ridding the body of toxins. Furthermore, because most of these disorders are not typically associated with gut health, the root cause may be overlooked or treated by pharmaceuticals when the real remedy may be food itself.
One of the newest areas of research is how gut health plays a role in mood and behavior. Simon Cheng explains that serotonin, “an anti-depressant neurotransmitter” is not made by the brain but “is in fact mostly produced by the gut.” In this sense, your gut has an important role when it comes to emotion and the way that external messages are processed, hence the expression “gut feeling.” But, if your gut does not have a healthy and balanced microbiome, then your body’s interpretation of outside stimuli may be incorrect.
The good news is that improving your gut health is rather simple. Think of it as increasing the good guys and limiting the bad guys. First, increase the good guys by adding a probiotic supplement to your diet and consuming prebiotic foods with your meals. Some delicious options for prebiotic foods are beans, broccoli, yams, sauerkraut and potatoes. Second, limit the bad guys by eliminating toxins in your food as well as your environment. Toxins include, but are not limited to, soaps, lotions, medication, processed foods, some animal proteins, refined sugars, and even the air we breathe. These items feed the bad bacteria living in your intestines and perpetuate poor health. While these changes to your routine don’t seem like much, they will impact your longevity and overall quality of life in big ways!