The topic of Gut Health is often discussed in the media, various books have been published on the subject and there is on-going scientific research on how our ‘Gut Health’ can be linked to our overall good health (and on the flip side; many diseases).
Could it be that optimal health, mood and our ability to fight disease resides in our gut? In fact our gut is often referred to as our ‘second brain’.
But which foods and lifestyle practices promotes optimal gut health? Terminology such as the ‘Microbiome’ or Micriobiota may be unfamiliar to you, but they simply refer to the community of internal ‘bugs’ or good bacteria in your digestive system, and more specifically in the large intestine. Our digestive tracts are populated by symbiotic bacteria that regulate, affects and assists with every single body function we have.
In more detail, our microbes are responsible for:
- Converting sugars to short chain fatty acids for energy.
- Crowding out pathogens (bad bacteria).
- Digesting food
- Helping your body absorb nutrients such as calcium and iron
- Keep your Ph. balanced
- Maintaining the integrity of the gut lining
- Metabolising drugs
- Modulating genes
- Neutralising cancer-causing compounds
- Producing digestive enzymes
- Synthesizes B-complex vitamins
- Synthesizes fat-soluble vitamins
- Synthesizes hormones
- Training the immune system to distinguish friend from foe
Below I dive a little more deeply into how our immunity, risk of inflammation, mood and weight management can be influenced by our gut health:
In modern society where cancer, digestive- and auto-immune disease is rife, science is discovering the connection between gut health and a strong or weak immune system. Our microbes are in charge of the correct gene expression, which means our microbes can switch gene expression on, or off, as well as having the ability to crowd out the bad guys, making our gut health an essential component in a strong immune system that wages war against disease, not against our own bodies
Researcher’s findings suggest that 70 per cent of the immune system lives in the gut and gut bacteria assist your immune system’s T cells to develop—teaching them the difference between a foreign substance and the body’s own tissues. This is an extremely important process that determines how and what your immune system responds to, and the success of this critical process is determined, in part, by the health of your gut. When there’s a mistake in the process, for instance; if there is an overgrowth of bad bacteria, it can lead your body’s immune system to begin waging war on your own cells, the hallmark of autoimmune disorders.
Inflammation & Leaky Gut Syndrome:
In addition to regulating our immune responses, on-going research also suggests that our microbes regulate which particles pass through the intestinal lining into the rest of your body. Healthy digestive tracts are designed with small gates that allow digested foods to pass while keeping out larger food particles and other antigens (foreign particles that cause immune reactions). However in a leaky gut, the gates in the intestinal lining have become damaged by a western diet rich in refined- and gluten-rich foods, once the gut’s lining has been compromised with these perforations, it allows large food particles and unwanted substances to enter the rest of the body. Once inside, they are rightly treated as foreign invaders and cause immune reactions that trigger inflammation, and in turn inflammation triggers disease.
With its roles in training your immune system and acting as a gatekeeper to the rest of your body, the gut is arguably the centre of your health. For those with arthritis and other autoimmune conditions whose symptoms are exacerbated or created by poor gut health, healing the gut can help reverse their conditions. For everyone else, healing the gut makes developing an autoimmune condition, food sensitivity, and/or inflammation less likely.
We have always known that there is a communication pathway from our gut to the brain, but what science has discovered recently is that messages from the gut to brain doesn’t simply just say “feed me”, messages from the gut also tell our brain which foods to choose, in other words by restoring your gut health, your cravings can be controlled and changed from unhealthy- to healthy foods, promote feelings of satiety and extract fewer calories from food.
On-going studies indicate there could be a link between intestinal dysfunction, depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter; it is responsible for regulating mood, appetite, and sleep. The right amount of serotonin in the brain produces a relaxed and positive outlook. As it turns out, approximately 90% of the serotonin in the body is located in the gut. Can we treat depression, anxiety, and behavioral problems by normalizing the bacteria in the bowels? Perhaps by addressing gut health one can also move from chronic low mood to chronic good mood.