Scientists have only recently discovered the real role of the gut in keeping us healthy and happy, but I believe we always knew. After all, the so-called ‘gut feeling’ can be extremely powerful and there are situations when it drives some of our most important decisions.
But it’s not just about intuition; the gut (or the microbiota) has a heavy word to say in terms of general health. Recent studies proved that there is a strong connection between the cells that make the immune and the gut microbiome. As a direct result, when the gut isn’t happy, your body’s defensive system is weakened, which can lead to all sorts of complications.
According to Hippocrates, “all disease begins in the gut”. While no one really paid attention to the father of modern medicine, today’s scientists already consider the gut microbiota as a second brain of the human body. This is because there are over 100 million nerve cells lining the entire Gastro-Intestinal (GI) tract. These cells are in charge with digestion, but they’re also on a direct communication line with the brain, sending signals about the overall health of the gut.
Also known as the Enteric Nervous System (or the ENS) these cells are also responsible for your general mood and well-being. They influence the mineral and vitamin absorption levels, toxin elimination, and even have a powerful effect on your mental health.
Scientists don’t have a clear understanding of how this system works, but people with bowel disorders (such as Celiac disease or leaky gut) seem to be more likely to develop depression and anxiety. It’s also believed that certain circulatory problems can be connected to an unhealthy gut.
According to research, when the gut is inflamed or irritated, the ENS sends signals to the Central Nervous System, which can end up in mood changes. Furthermore, these signals may also have a saying in the alteration of certain cognitive functions such as memory or thinking (it is believed Parkinson’s disease is influenced by the gut).
Finally, a recent study found that 90% of the serotonin in the body is produced by the digestive tract and not by the brain. In conclusion, a massive part of our serotonin production is influenced by the presence or absence of certain bacteria in the digestive tract.
A healthy gut also supports a healthy figure, keeps the skin well-nourished, and the hair strong and shiny. The diet has a strong influence on how we look in general, but the GI tract is the one that decides where the vitamins and minerals go.
If the GI tract isn’t happy or doesn’t support the right type of bacteria, your weight loss progress will slow down and the skin will have a frail, ashy aspect. Of course, there are other causes of abnormal weight gain and difficulty in keeping a healthy figure, but studies shown that the lack of certain bacteria can be detrimental.
Colon Cancer & Cancer Treatment
Groundbreaking studies show there is a connection between the biodiversity in the gut and how the body reacts to cancer treatments. For instance, one study was focused on showing how the gut bacteria can influence the reaction to immunotherapy drugs for tumor shrinking. The results show that a gut with plenty of good bacteria will support the treatment and further healing a lot better than a gut where the biodiversity is lacking.
Finally, there are studies that show people with colon cancer also have high levels of disease-causing bacteria in the gut. In comparison to a healthy person, the gut microbiota is completely different (it is not clear yet what this means).
Besides the conditions discussed above, the gut microbiome was found guilty in other health problems such as type 2 diabetes and heart diseases. This happens because the bacteria residing in the gut are the ones to decide the number of calories and the type of nutrients drawn from the food you eat. If there is an imbalance in the gut flora, your body may be turning fiber into fatty acids, which can lead to fat deposits in the liver (usually resulting in type 2 diabetes, obesity, and heart diseases).
What to Do
As you can see, the gut microbiota is getting more and more important every day. So, to make sure you will continue to stay healthy and happy, you should pay a lot more attention to the type of food that goes into your GI tract.
For instance, the diet of the average American person is not a good choice. Filled with sugary and fatty foods, highly processed and deep-fried, this diet is damaging to the gut. While it’s true that the damage doesn’t happen instantly, such a diet can lead to serious health complications in time.
Specialists recommend avoiding processed foods for as much as possible and replacing them with whole foods. Also, fermented foods (sauerkraut, pickles, kimichi) and probiotics like Miso are the best to keep the gut happy.
Overall, it is important to analyse our lifestyle and understand the damages we produce to our own general well-being. If so many things depend on a healthy gut, isn’t it worth it to at least try to protect it?
The Good Gut
Stewart is a health expert and content manager at TheGoodGut. Believer in a spread of actual and factual information.