IMAGINE THIS: YOU ARE FACING A CRISIS OR UNDERGOING A CRITICAL situation. You approach a family member or call up a friend to share and seek advice. They listen to you and recommend you to go with your “gut feelings.”
Here you are seeking peace of mind and you are told to feel your gut.
Is there any connection between your gut and brain?
If you’re not familiar with the word, “gut” is also known as the gastrointestinal system or tract, digestive system, or digestive tract.
Again, look back in your life and answer this:
Have you ever had a “gut-wrenching” experience?
Have you ever felt “butterflies” in your stomach feeling before a big presentation.?
Have you ever felt the nervousness in your stomach in anticipation of a tough final exam?
Have you ever felt stomach upset without any physical cause?
Again, the question arises- do the gut and brain somehow connected?
The answer to both the above common scenarios is: yes, they are connected! But how?
How your gut somehow seems to know your dreams and desires, your likes and dislikes, your good and bad experiences? Let’s understand it!
The gut-brain connection is not a joke. In fact, the brain not only has a direct effect on the stomach but is also intimately connected to the entire gastrointestinal (GI) system. Interestingly, the connection is not one way but two ways.
A troubled gut can send signals to the brain and the troubled brain can send signals back to the gut. Thus, your stomach problems can be the reason or the product of stress, tension, and depression. Yes, your GI system is quite sensitive to feelings and emotions like sadness, anger, anxiety or grief and can easily trigger symptoms in your gut.
This complex communication and connection system between your brain and gut is called the gut-brain axis. Apart from the communication it also controls movement through the gut, floe of digestive juices to help in digestion and also assists in maintaining blood flow.
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The Information Network.
Your brain is the CEO and chief coordinator that tells your body how to behave. There are almost 86 billion neurons in the small human brain.
What is a neuron?
Well, a neuron is a nerve cell that is the fundamental building block of the nervous system which is a complex network of nerves and cells that carry information to and from the brain and spinal cord to various parts of the body.
Although the neurons in a number of ways are similar to other cells in the body, there is one major difference between neurons and other body cells. Neurons are unique in their ability to transmit and communicate information in both chemical and electrical forms throughout the body.
The gut also has a nervous system called the enteric nervous system (ENS). The ENS has some 200 to 500 million neurons in the gastrointestinal tract from the esophagus to the rectum which acts as a communicator.
This communication intelligence in our gut is called the “Second brain” which like your big brain is incapable to think but actively communicates back and forth with your main and big brain.
Some examples of two-way communication.
Whenever a person feels danger or experiences stress, a known response phenomenon of CNS is triggered called “fight or flight.” One of the after-effects is the ENS slowing down or stopping digestion so that the available body’s energy gets diverted to face the situation causing threat or stress.
The familiar fear of public speaking also leads to either slowing down or speeding up of the digestive system and thus can cause stomach pain, diarrhea, and more. Other emotional events can also lead to either feeling of nervousness or excitement which can cause the very common and familiar symptom: the so-called “butterflies in your stomach” feeling.
Have you also observed that many times the very thought of eating can release the digestive juices in the stomach even before the food gets ready?
Thus, the second brain, in communication with the main brain in our head, plays a major role in both physiological and psychological health. They are also connected both physically and biochemically in different ways.
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Mood and Gut Connection.
Recent neurobiological studies into this gut-brain connection have revealed that this axis not only ensures the proper maintenance of the gastrointestinal system and digestion but also has multiple effects on motivation, intuitive cognitive functions intuitive decision making, and even mood control.
There is enough scientific evidence proving how gut health is linked to mood. Recent research has shown that our gut produces almost 90% of our serotonin.
Do you know which hormone is responsible for your mood and feelings?
Yes! it is serotonin: the key hormone that impacts our feelings stabilizes our mood, improves our sleep, modulates pain perception, and makes us feel happy. It also helps in the function of eating, digestion, and sleeping.
Understand if the brain has too little serotonin, it can lead to depression. When your serotonin levels are normal, you feel more relaxed, focused, emotionally stable, and happy.
Numerous studies have proven that below normal levels of serotonin can lead to depression, tension, anxiety, OCD, and even suicidal behavior.
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Since, a healthy gut can improve brain chemistry, boost mood, strengthen immunity, impact behavior, and can ultimately lead to happiness in life, the question is how to fix your poor gut health.
Various scientific studies in the past decade have shown links between your gut health and your immune system, physical and mental health, mood, autoimmune diseases, endocrine disorders, and even cancers. Your gut is home to a vast colony of trillions of bacteria, yeasts, fungi, and viruses.
In fact, there are around 40 trillion bacteria and microbial cells in your body which is more than the human cells- 30 trillion. Yes, your body is host to weird and crawling bacteria and viruses.
Nothing to worry about as majority of them are there to keep you alive and healthy. And since the majority of these microorganisms are present in the gut, collectively, they are known as “Gut Microbiome” or “Gut Flora.”
Studies have shown that an individual has about some 300 to 500 different species of bacteria in their digestive tract. Due to their tiny size and weight, these organisms make up only about 1 to 3 percent of your body weight, but this in no way disproves their power and potential. They have a major and strong influence on your immune system, weight, mood, appetite, and metabolism.
So now you know that your gut is not just a place for digesting food.
A healthy gut microbiome is nothing but a proper balance of gut microorganisms.
So how can you improve your gut health, increase the numbers of good bacteria in your gut and offer your microbiome a healthy boost?
In this article, we list some of the best and science-based ways you can do to restore and improve your gut health.
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- Diet Decoded.
Have you heard the saying, “you are what you eat?” According to Ayurveda, the food you eat is the most powerful medicine. In fact, there is a shloka in Ayurveda that says “food is medicine when consumed properly.” All good health starts with diet, so let me also start with diet.
The food you eat provides the vital nutrients and amino acids that support and strengthen the communication between your brain and your gut. The wrong foods- such as processed, junk foods with added sugar and chemicals lead to the growth of bad bacterial overgrowth and thus can harm your brain.
The right foods, on the other hand, help to maintain a healthy colony of good bacteria. Overall, the food you eat plays a vital role in good brain and gut health.
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Add Probiotics to your Meals.
Probiotics are live good bacteria’s that positively impact gut health. Fermented Foods are a natural source of probiotics and are gut-friendly. Fermented means the food has undergone the fermentation process, in which the sugars they contain are broken down by yeast or bacteria. Many fermented foods are a rich source of good bacteria lactobacilli, which has proven to benefit your health.
In fact, Psychobiotics is a term used in scientific research to investigate the effects of live good bacteria (probiotics) on mental health.
One of the items that top the Probiotic list is yogurt- but of course before you start to indulge more make sure it is sugar-free yogurt. Various research has shown that yogurt consumption not only improves good bacteria but also decreases lactose intolerance symptoms. In fact, in India yogurt has always found a special place in the local diet as a means to soothe digestive systems.
As far as Indian cuisine is concerned a lot of fermented foods in the form of Idlis, dosas, appams, pickles, and others have always existed for ages.
Also, there are some other great fermented food options like Kimchi, Kefir, Kombucha, sauerkraut, miso, and tempeh which have become pretty common.
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Consume Prebiotic Foods.
Add Prebiotic food to your meals. While probiotics are live good bacteria, prebiotics are foods that promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in your gut. They are complex non-digestible carbohydrates on which certain species of live good bacteria (probiotics) use as a fuel. Sounds confusing, but you need both probiotics and prebiotics for optimum gut health.
Studies have shown that certain prebiotics has also been shown to reduce cholesterol levels, insulin, and triglyceride, which are beneficial for the prevention of various lifestyle diseases. Many vegetables, fruits, and whole grains contain natural prebiotics. They are mostly found in plant-based foods.
Probiotics and Prebiotics are your gut’s best friends.
But if you intend to go for a probiotic or prebiotic supplement, please consult your healthcare provider to ensure the maximum benefit and no harm.
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Increase your Fiber Intake.
Seasonal Fruits and vegetables are the best sources of natural fiber that promote good and healthy bacteria in your gut. Many of them especially the leafy green ones, are high in bacteria that your body can’t digest naturally but are easily consumed by certain bacteria in your gut by breaking them down and using them to spur their growth.
It is a scientifically known fact that people who follow a diet rich in fruits and vegetables are less likely to grow disease-causing bacteria. Some great examples of high fiber fruits and vegetables that are good for your gut include- Bananas, apples, berries, green peas, broccoli, spinach, artichokes, chickpeas, beans, and many more.
Thankfully, unlike Western countries, vegetables have always had a special place in our Indian diets. No meal is complete without green leafy.
Reduce your Intake of Sugar and Sweeteners.
We have talked a lot about what to include in our diet, but let’s now talk about something that needs to be excluded from our diets. The top pick in this lot is sugar and artificial sweeteners.
Processed and canned foods, junk foods, soft drinks, and restaurant foods contain high levels of sugar to enhance flavours. The so-called Western diet which is super high in sugar and fat is a disaster recipe for your stomach health.
In a 2015 study on animals, the researchers found that the standard Western diet has a negative effect on the gut microbiome, which in turn negatively influences the brain. Sugars like glucose and fructose not only cause dysbiosis, an imbalance of gut microbes, but also increase health risks like diabetes, heart conditions, and obesity.
- Move and Shake your Body.
Do you know the law of reciprocity? No!
But your body knows!
Your body’s microorganisms have a feeling that since they work quite hard to keep the body healthy, then they expect the body to work hard too! I mean to say- physical exercise.
It’s a universally known fact that regular exercising leads to good heart health and overall health. In a 2014 study, experts found that athletes had a large variety of gut microbiome than nonathletes. In short, physically active people have a healthy and diverse gut microbiome. So, to improve your gut health, you, therefore, need to start exercising.
Health experts and The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that a person should perform at least 150 minutes of physical activity or exercise per week. But, always remember to do it all in moderation. Even just walking for 15 to 30 minutes could really impact your gut health.
- Smoking Thrills but Kills.
To date, we all know that smoking negatively affects the health of the heart, lungs and increases the risk of cancer. But, do you know a 2018 review of various research published over a 16-year period observed that smoking even changes the intestinal flora by increasing harmful microorganisms and decreasing the beneficial ones. These effects are believed to increase the risk of getting stomach ulcers and bleeding, which can directly reduce the health of your gut. So, smoking is also injuries to your gut health. So, quit smoking if you want to reset and improve your gut microbiome.
- Water-The Elixir of Life.
Drinking plenty of water is a very simple but effective way to promote a healthy gut. Staying hydrated has been shown not only to increase the volume of good bacteria but also have a beneficial effect on the mucosal lining of the intestines. So, don’t shy away from your water bottle and reach out to help your gut stay in tip-top condition.
- Eat- slow and steady.
Gut health is all about digestion. So, chewing your food well and eating your meals slowly is a great way to promote full digestion and also to ensure that all the necessary nutrients your body needs from the food are absorbed. Thus, eating slowly and thoroughly may reduce digestive discomfort and will help maintain a healthy gut.
Eat slow and steady to win the gut race.
- Be-Aware of Antibiotics.
If probiotics and prebiotics are your gut’s best friend, then Antibiotics are your gut’s worst enemy.
Agreed, it might be necessary to take antibiotics to fight bacterial infections sometimes when your doctor prescribes them, but overuse is a significant problem leading to Antibiotic resistance.
Why do Antibiotics work? Because they wipe out any and all bacteria, which makes them good for infections, but quite bad for your gut. But in the process, it destroys even good microbes as it doesn’t have any mind of its own and thus cannot recognize the difference between good and bad bacteria.
Various research has proved beyond doubt that Antibiotics weaken immunity and damages gut microbiota. And it has been observed that it can take weeks or months to recover from the effects. So, don’t take them unless you have no other option.
- Get Your Dose of Shut-Eye.
Sleep is the basic foundation of a healthy life. Not getting enough (quantity) and sufficient (quality) sleep can be hazardous for your gut health.
In a 2014 scientific study on animals, researchers found that irregular sleep habits or poor-quality sleep had a negative impact on gut health, which again may increase the risk of inflammatory conditions.
As experts suggest, try to get at least 7-8 hours of uninterrupted shut-eye per night. Just remember how you refreshed and reenergized you feel when you get a good night’s sleep. This replenishment itself improves gut activities and health. Lack of sleep can lead to stress, which could negatively impact your gut health.
So, if you are thinking of rejuvenating your gut health, you know it’s time to get some more sleep.
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The Bottom Line.
In short, never underestimate the importance of gut health, because maintaining a healthy gut contributes to better immunity and health. It is a beautiful and generous host to trillions of organisms, the majority of them work quite hard to keep you fit and fine.
Your lifestyle has a serious impact on the gracious host. Simple lifestyle and dietary changes can lead to better Gut-Brain connections.
Remember, your choices determine your destiny. So, choose well.
Eat, Sleep and be Gut Healthy