Our gut is referred to as the second brain for several reasons, one of which being that the brain and the gut are interconnected, therefore affecting the other in many ways. It’s amazing to see the advancement in science as we come to better understand the gut in regards to digestion, mood, both our mental and physical state and role it has in certain diseases.
I’m so happy the gut is finally in the spotlight for all the good it does for our bodies on a daily basis. Seriously, it actually brings me joy to talk about the gut. #GUTHEALTH
So let’s get started.
The gut is responsible for a massive amount of bodily processes. Interestingly enough, it contains a similar number of nerve cells as the spinal cord and has more neurons embedded in its walls than in the brain. THIS is partly where it gets its nickname. The neurotransmitters are in charge of transmitting signals throughout the body and include chemicals such as serotonin, dopamine, glutamate and norepinephrine. Approximately 90% of the serotonin in the body is found in the gut and helps to regulate mood, GI motility, appetite and sleep. When levels of serotonin are slightly off, it can result in constipation or diarrhea. Similar to serotonin imbalance, the gut is influenced by all kinds of things.
Our bodies house both good and bad bacteria that make up an internal community, otherwise known as the microbiome. It’s extremely important to keep the gut’s beneficial bacteria at a favorable level due to its critical role in the immune system. In fact, nearly 70% of the immune system lies within the gut, which is aimed at eliminating foreign invaders. Supplying our bodies with the necessary foods for optimal function can help keep our immune system strong, increasing its ability to fight off toxins. The gut is also a major player in the digestive system as it allows suitable nutrients to come in and harmful toxins to be flushed out. Through this process, the gut increases the absorption of vitamins and minerals, and boosts vitamin production.
Antibiotics factor into gut health as well. While on antibiotics, the immune system takes a hit because not only is the harmful bacteria eliminated from the body, the good bacteria is wiped out too. This is why you hear people recommending probiotics during a course of antibiotics, to help replenish the good bacteria that was lost. This raises risk for infections, allergies and diseases. Dangerous bacteria can also become resistant to antibiotics, making certain infections harder to fight. Considering the regularity of antibiotic consumption in the U.S., it’s no wonder that more and more are developing sicknesses, allergies and disease (“Human Microbiome,” 2016). Of course, antibiotics do serve a purpose when they are truly needed.
According to one study:
Gut bacteria presents a lower capacity to produce proteins, as well as deficiencies in key activities, during and after the antibiotic treatment. The gut microbiota also shows less capacity to absorb iron, digest certain foods and produce essential molecules. Therefore, antibiotic treatment may ‘presumptively’ negatively affect the overall metabolic status of the colonic space (Pérez-Cobas et al., 2013).
The majority of antibiotic consumption isn’t through pharmaceuticals either. Today, antibiotics are routinely fed to livestock, poultry, and fish on industrial farms to promote faster growth and to compensate for the unsanitary conditions. According to the FDA, 80% of all antibiotics used in the United States are fed to farm animals (Foundation). This means that if you’re consuming conventional meat, fish and dairy, you are more likely consuming antibiotics as well. This is why choosing organic, wild-caught and pasture-raised is so important for our health during this day and age.
An imbalance in bacteria may cause an inflammatory response in the body, leading to food particles entering the bloodstream and causing food sensitivities in the gastrointestinal tract. Several chronic and degenerative diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), irritable bowel disease (IBD) and rheumatoid arthritis have been linked to an under flourished gut.
Everything from the foods we eat, the amount of sleep we get, the stress in our lives, and the bacteria we come in contact with has a huge impact on our microbiota.
Our bodies were created to eat high-fiber, nutrient-dense foods. The average American diet however, is lacking in these standards as it consists of highly processed, trans fat-rich and sugar-laden foods.
Tips To Keep Your Gut Healthy
In order to build up your gut with the beneficial bacteria it needs to thrive, consider these tips:
- Eat more probiotic-rich foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, kefir, or miso. Look for “active cultures” or “contains live cultures” on the product label. (Especially take probiotics while taking a course of antibiotics! Antibiotics do a great job clearing out both good and bad bacteria in the gut)
- Try my Gut Healthy Smoothie
- Eat less processed food and more whole foods
- Choose wild-caught fish, pasture-raised eggs, grass-fed/pasture-raised meats
- Avoid artificial sugars at all costs as they are shown to disrupt intestinal flora and may contribute to obesity. Reduce added sugars as well—stick to natural sweeteners like cinnamon, honey, maple syrup and dates
- Eat more fiber! Aim to consume 25-30g fiber per day
- Incorporate more omega-3 fatty acids into your diet to balance out the widely consumed omega-6 fatty acids that can lead to inflammation. Try these healthy fats like grass-fed butter, coconut oil, olive oil, avocado, wild caught seafood, flaxseed oil
Foundation, G. C. Antibiotics. Retrieved December 23, 2016, from http://www.sustainabletable.org/257/antibiotics
Human Microbiome: How It Works + a Diet for Gut Health. (2016, January 7). Retrieved from https://draxe.com/microbiome/
Pérez-Cobas, A. E., Gosalbes, M. J., Friedrichs, A., Knecht, H., Artacho, A., Eismann, K., Moya, A. (2013). Gut microbiota disturbance during antibiotic therapy: a multi-omic approach. Gut, 62(11), 1591–1601. https://doi.org/10.1136/gutjnl-2012-303184