Updated: Sep 19, 2020
Thanks to much recent research, much understanding is now available about our gut and the vital role it plays in how our bodies work and our overall health.
Our gut accounts for most of our immune system and produces over two dozen hormones that hugely influence our appetite, our mood, our physical, emotional and mental health. You may be amazed to know that buried deep in the tissue of our intestines is a very thin layer of our brain. It’s called the enteric system and has the same number of neurons that you will find in the brain of a cat. These neurons communicate with the brain in your head via the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is very busy with lots of messages going both ways between your gut and your brain. There are over 100 million neurons in your gut – they are spread out in a thin mesh. This second brain is very much involved in our digestive system and gut pain. When we talk about having ‘gut feelings’ e.g. follow your gut, my gut instinct) we are actually reflecting the reality of how closely connected our guts and brains are.
There are between one to two kilos of microbes that live in our guts and make up the microbiome. Microbes produce hormones and neurotransmitters that reach our grains via our blood-stream. One of these hormones is dopamine, a well-known ‘feel-good hormone’. They also produce chemicals that control our mood like serotonin and GABA ( a neurotransmitter that acts in a similar way to the anti-anxiety drug, Valium).
Our microbiome protects our gut from dangerous invaders, they help regulate our body weight, they decide how much energy our bodies take from food. Our microbiome regulates our entire immune system. Our guts contain good and bad bacteria – when these bacteria are out of balance and we have an overactive immune system allergic diseases, such as asthma and eczema can arise, as can autoimmune diseases ranging from inflammatory bowel disease to type 1 diabetes – all primarily causes by an immune system that is out of balance and control.
The microbiome takes bits of food our body can’t digest and converts them into a wide range of hormones and chemicals. These can control our appetite, our mood and our general health. Changing your biome may reduce anxiety and depression.
As well as ‘good’ bacteria protecting our guts from attack by unfriendly bacteria, they also help reinforce your gut wall ensuring bad stuff doesn’t get out of your gut and leak into the rest of your body. If that happens you get ‘Leaky gut syndrome’ (intestinal hyper-permeability). Symptoms of leaky gut include bloating, pain, gas, fatigue, aching joints, inflammation, food sensitivities as well as some auto-immune diseases. It can be caused by a gut infection, use of
antibiotics and a poor diet. Possibly stress and anxiety play their part. The gut lining is made up of many cells tightly formed together. When these tight cells start to loosen bacteria and other toxins can leak out of your gut into your blood.
This is when health problems arise. A change in diet, along with taking supplements such as probiotics and prebiotics will encourage the growth of ‘good’ bacteria and promote healing.
- To nurture your gut cut right down on sugars, refined starchy carbohydrates, processed foods and sweeteners including sweetened soft drinks and juices. These are disastrous for gut bacteria and inflammation.
- Avoid trans and partially hydrogenated fats. These are largely found in spreads and some processed foods including biscuits and pastries.
- Giving your gut a rest from constantly having to digest food will allow the gut lining to regenerate and will encourage the growth of good bacteria.
- Chew food thoroughly as chewing for longer gives your gut more time to release ‘full up’ signals.
- Try to lower your stress levels – cultivating calm soothes the gut and reduces levels of stress hormones such as cortisol that upsets the balance of the biome.
- Try to improve your sleep.
- Stay hydrated.
- Eat fermented foods, such as Sauerkraut, kefir and kimchi.
If you feel you are having gut problems or think you may have ‘Leaky Gut’ seek the advice of a nutritionist/practitioner who has a good knowledge of gut health.