The saying, “Listen to your gut,” is not just a figure of speech. It has a valid biological significance.
A healthy gut microbiome does not only translate to a healthy digestive system – the proper digestion of food and proper absorption and assimilation of nutrients. Scientists refer to the gut as the body’s “second brain”; it has its own nervous system – the enteric nervous system – producing the same chemicals as the brain and containing an estimated 100 million neurons. It also plays a huge role in immune function; it produces antibodies and protects the body against inflammation, toxins, harmful microbes, allergens, and numerous diseases.
Good, intestinal health is determined by the right balance of the diverse, healthy bacteria – the microbiome – that call our gut their home. And a healthy gut means overall good health. When healthy gut bacteria are aplenty and in harmony, we feel it with our high and consistent energy levels; our strength and agility; our body’s incredible resistance to diseases; even our regular bowel movement; and our overall feeling of wellness – of both body and mind.
So when gut health is compromised, our body’s ability to effectively digest food and absorb and assimilate nutrients is not the only thing we should worry about; bloating, constipation, heartburn, and other digestive problems are not the only problems that develop. Our risk for acne, allergies, infections, inflammation, headaches, arthritis, depression, chronic fatigue, mood disorders, autoimmune diseases, and even cancer also increases.
The Gut-Brain Connection
Only in recent years has western medicine, or evidence-based medicine, discovered the science behind what scientists now call the gut-brain axis, “the biochemical signaling taking place between the gastrointestinal tract and the nervous system, often involving intestinal microbiota, which have been shown to play an important role in healthy brain function.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gut–brain_axis)
In an article on Prevention.com, it is stated that studies have revealed how the gut-brain axis “is a two-way street” and that “The gut isn’t just sending progress reports on the mechanics of digestion. Gut bacteria are directly affecting how we think and feel.” (http://www.prevention.com/weight-loss/diets/how-boost-gut-bacteria)
Numerous studies support the brain-gut connection, and research on the role of the gut microbiome in the development, prevention, and treatment of many diseases – including those that are not related to the digestive system – has exploded in the past few years. Of particular interest to scientists is how gut microbiota impact neurological conditions, such as depression, anxiety, chronic pain, migraine, autism, and neurodegenerative disorders. Scientists are also looking into the positive impacts of gut microbiome to mental health, such as improving cognitive functions and overall mindset.
Gut Health and Immune Function
Keeping a healthy number of good bacteria thriving in our gut benefits us in more ways than just breaking down food and separating the nutrients and shuttling them to the different cells of the body. In fact, 60-70 percent of our immune system is found in the gut. The gut’s defense mechanism works in a variety of ways.
One of the mechanisms involves healthy gut bacteria protecting the body against bad bacteria. It’s all in the numbers – our body must maintain a certain percentage of healthy bacteria, between 80 and 85 percent, in order to fight off invading bad bacteria.
Gut microbes are also responsible for keeping the cells of the gastrointestinal wall strong, which is important because the wall acts as a barrier that prevents harmful substances from entering the bloodstream.
Improve Gut Health to Improve Brain Health and Immune Function
The healthy balance of the gut microbiome can be easily thrown off by unhealthy foods, especially sugary, starchy, processed, and refined foods; toxins in the environment; the use of antacids, antibiotics, and other medications; overuse of personal sanitizing products, such as antibacterial soaps or hand sanitizers, and harsh cleaning chemicals; illness; and stress from lack of sleep, overexertion, and the like, among others. When this happens, chronic health issues are sure to follow.
Fortunately, boosting gut microbiome – both in numbers and variety – can be easily achieved by making simple dietary changes. Get started now and you can improve your gut health and brain health in as little as 24 hours.
Feed your gut bacteria; introduce more healthy bacteria; and avoid foods and products that deplete microbiome numbers. Talk to a primary care physician near you to learn more about how to improve your microbiome health.