green smoothie with text is your gut making you sick?

There has been lots of talk recently about what has become known as gut health. The Johns Hopkins Medical Center website, one of the most well-respected hospitals and medical schools in the United States, states that there is a good reason for this. Hidden within the walls of your digestive system is a system that is sometimes known as your second brain and this “brain in your gut” is changing the way that we look at the link between mood, digestion, health and even the way that you think.

Does Disease Begin with Gut Health?

NO. Not all diseases start in the gut. For an example, it doesn’t apply to the genetic or inherited diseases. But, there is evidence that lots of chronic metabolic diseases do. They begin in the gut. We can prevent these diseases by following some easy steps.

Step 1: Know What Second Brain and Why Does It Matter

This “little brain” is called the enteric nervous system or ENS and it comprises 2 thin layers of over 100 million nerve cells that line your Gastro-intestinal tract from your esophagus to your rectum. The role of the ENS is to control digestion, from swallowing to releasing the enzymes that help break food down, to the control of blood flow, which aids with both nutrient absorption and elimination. The ENS communicates with our brain to coordinate these functions.

The symptoms of an unhealthy gut can manifest themselves in other parts of your body. It’s your body trying to tell you that something is wrong or out of balance. Studies have found that increasing your gut-health can lead to improvements in:

  • Immune function – 80% of our immune system is located in our guts
  • Brain function
  • Symptoms of anger, sadness, and depression
  • Obesity
  • Toxin levels in the body
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Allergies
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

What Results? How Is This Even Possible?

The ENS may sense things that our cerebral brain can’t. Evidence has been found that when the GI tract is irritated it sends signals to the central nervous system, which can trigger our mood and ultimately affect it. When you consider that between 30%-40% of the population has bowel problems of some kind and that a higher percentage of these individuals develop depression and/or anxiety it’s easy to see how there could be a connection.

Our bodies are filled with bacteria – good and bad. There are more bacteria in a human body than there are cells and there are an estimated 100 trillion microorganisms living in our bowels alone. The key here is to have more good than bad bacteria in your gut – the fancy name for the good microorganisms is probiotics.

Probiotics help us do things like:

  • Digest food
  • Absorb nutrients
  • Break down medications
  • Kill some of the bad bacteria that lead to infection

Step 2: Get More Probiotics

There are quite a few ways to get probiotics, but one of the easiest is to take a supplement. There are many different strains and doses, your best best is to pick one with multiple strains and that is shelf-stable with a minimum of 5 billion units. There are also quite a few foods that are naturally high in probiotics. Unfortunately, many of them are not widely available or popular in North America. These foods include: 

  • Unpasteurized Cheese – Gouda, Cheddar, Provolone, and Gruyere are some examples
  • Buttermilk
  • Kefir
  • Miso
  • Sauerkraut
  • Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Yogurt – be sure and read the labels on the different yogurts and buy the ones with the fewest ingredients. Milk and cultures are what you want to see! Avoid yogurts with added sugar, corn syrup, and gelatin.

Getting more probiotics into your system is one of the best ways that you can improve your gut-health.

More Probiotics, What Else?

Stress Less. Laugh More. Stress, especially long-term stress, not only affects our gut bacteria, but it also affects the productions of hormones and neurochemicals that communicate with our brain. When it is long-term stress these chemicals and hormones can change permanently (unless you specifically work to change them back). Long-term stress may also lead to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), stomach ulcers, IBD, IBS, and potentially food allergies.

Laughter really is the best medicine. It helps to reduce stress and floods your body with the happy hormones and chemicals that make the good overtake the bad. There was even a study conducted (you can read more about it by clicking the link) where researchers studied healthy people as well as those with atopic dermatitis – a disease that is often associated with imbalances in gut bacteria. The researchers had the participants watch funny movies daily for one week. In only one week, the patients’ gut flora had changed and resembled the healthy participants.

Step 3: Play in The Dirt!

This is true both literally and figuratively. Gardening is good for you because it gets you outside, gives you exercise, and putting your hands in soil introduces your body to the microorganisms that are found on the plants and in the ground. In a more figurative way, stop killing all the bacteria. Manufacturers have recently stopped putting anti-bacterial agents in things because humans are killing all the bacteria, the good and the bad. And what is happening? The bad bacteria are getting stronger and the good bacteria are dying. Drs are now recommending good old soap and water to clean hands and surfaces, to allow the delicate balance of good and bad bacteria to remain. 

It may well be that a large part of maintaining good health is maintaining good gut-health. There are many ways that you can do this, including exercise, and learning to listen to your body; however, some of the easiest changes that you can make are to:

  • Get plenty of probiotics – through supplements and food
  • Laugh
  • Manage your stress better
  • Stop sanitizing everything!