Trust Your Gut
There is a lot more to our body than we think. It is simple to grasp the basic functions of it, but do we really understand the detailed miracles it performs for us every moment of our waking lives?
It is easy to forget the intricate world that lies beneath the surface of our skin. So here is a little scoop of useful information for you to digest. It is going to get pretty meaty, so bear with me.
The cheapest and most accessible food culture of the 21st century consists of a diets full of sugar overloads, unhealthy fats, and excessive amounts of artificially manufactured chemicals. Although there looks to be a shift in health and food consciousness globally, the implications of eating potentially toxic foods, is catching up to us.
When we think of our health, we tend to single things out. For example, if your left shoulder is hurting, we tend to focus on the muscle that is hurting or seek out incidences that could have injured it, but it may well have been due to the positioning of your feet while you walk that affects your legs, then your hips, and is causing your shoulder to drop and ache. The same thing goes for the gut. You may not know it, but your gut plays a key role in the overall well-being of your physical and mental state.
Lets talk about the relationship with the gut and brain. Ever wonder why your tummy gets all gurgle-y before a date or why you feel nauseous before a big day? This has everything to do with the conversation that happens between the top and bottom half of your body. There is a neurotransmitter and hormone in your body that takes part in the stress response team. It is the corticotropin-releasing factor, also known as CRF. Every morning when we wake up, our bodies synthesise amounts of CRF to make a storehouse of the hormone that matches the amounts of stress and challenges we will face that day. Gastrointestinal cells as well as brain cells can take in CRF, so when stress is dictated in the body, the gut also reacts through nausea, vomiting, or diarrhoea in order to re-direct the energy needed to digest food into the brain to cope with the situation at hand.
This basically means that when you are stressed, your brain borrows energy from the gut to solve its issues. When the compliance of the gut is over used, the gut is strained to send irritating and negative signals to the brain in order to voice its needs to no longer be taken advantage of. Over time, if the process keeps continuing and your brain keeps taking energy away from your gut because you are stressed, the gut becomes weak and disgruntled, which results in feeling fatigued, easily stressed, and anxious. The gut affects the functions of the brain so much that scientists often refer to the gut as the ‘second brain’.
The link between the gut and the brain are at the forefront of the most recent scientific research. Studies have shown that the gut and the brain communicate through the vagus nerve, which is — a cranial nerve extending from the brain-stem to the abdomen via the heart, esophagus and lung — and is also known as the gut-brain axis. Ninety percent of the fibres in the vagus carry information from the gut to the brain. This communication is carried through molecules that are made by gut bacteria. The molecules then enter the blood stream and release both neuro-active compounds as well as hormones, which are then sent to the brain. An imbalance in beneficial gut bacteria or gut flora in the body has been linked to a number of psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety, and stress.
Studies have been done on mice to further the research of how the manipulation of gut bacteria can affect and produce behaviours related to depression and anxiety. A study was done in 2013 where scientists began to replace the gut bacteria of mice with opposite traits. For example, they replace the gut bacteria of anxious mice with the gut bacteria of sociable mice, and the results showed the anxious mice became more fearless and friendly. The same worked vice versa. Another experiment was done where scientists altered the gut bacteria of anxious and aggressive mice by changing their diet and feeding them probiotics, which resulted in the mice being calmer.
By the looks of these recent and ongoing studies, keeping your gut garden thriving will do a lot more for you then having healthy bowl movements. A healthy gut is a healthy mind and a healthy life over all, and it is important to remember how interrelated the two are. But how do you maintain a healthy gut?
Here are a few useful tips:
- The gut is a creature of habit, and it all starts with the little things like mealtimes, which should be approached without pressure and at an easy pace. The gut is extremely receptacle to stress, so it is important to create a stress-free zone when ever it is time to eat in order to give the digestive track the time and space it needs to do its job well. When stress is felt whist eating, nerves are activated that impede the digestive process, which leads us to extract less energy from our food, as well as prolong the digestive process. The gut doesn’t need more unnecessary strain, so it is important to treat your meal times like a ritual.
- Continually intake of fluids into your body will greatly befit the gut. When the body is not giving enough water, the gut reacts through extracting more fluid from the food it is ingesting, which makes our faeces a harder consistency. This is also very helpfully for travellers because the gut is easily affected by the change in routine and the dehydrated environment of aircraft.
- You are what you eat! The gut is a diverse ecosystem in itself, so having a diverse diet will help the gut thrive as well. Eating foods rich in beneficial bacteria is like feeding golden fertiliser to your gut flora. This is why fermented foods are so great! The process of fermentation helps grow and persevere the good bacteria already living in the food. Pickled vegetables, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, anything fermented, will greatly benefit the flora of your gut, giving extra vitamins for your gut bacteria to mingle with and happy signals to send to your brain through vagus mail.
For more information on the mysterious functions of the gut, read ‘GUT’ by Giulia Enders.
Time to trust your gut!