Your Gut is Telling You The Truth
Ever had that gut feeling that something is wrong? Ever hated some else’s guts? There’s a reason our guts or gastrointestinal systems are so often used in these phrases.
I mean, you don’t really hate someone else’s guts or intestines, do you? Nope. That would actually be physiologically impossible as we cannot see someone else’s guts.
Many of these idioms have been in circulation for centuries. They communicated the connect we humans naturally sense between our feelings and our digestive tracts. Now, scientists have proven that there is a real biological connection between the gut and the brain and it’s worth understanding so we know the reasons behind the way we react to certain situations.
The gut is home to the enteric nervous system. Separate from the central nervous system, the ENS is made up of two thin layers with more than 100 million nerve cells in them — more than the spinal cord. These cells line the gastrointestinal tract, controlling blood flow and secretions to help the GI tract digest food. They also help us “feel” what’s happening inside the gut, since this second brain is behind the mechanics of food digestion.
The Gut and Our Mood
Given how closely the gut and brain interact, it becomes easier to understand why you might feel nauseated before giving a presentation, or feel intestinal pain during times of stress.
The enteric nervous system, gut, gut microbiome, and brain disharmony play an essential role in the development of neurological/behavioral disorders like autism, ADHD, and various mood disorders. Antibiotics, environmental, infectious agents like vaccines, and other forms of neonatal stress create gut dysbiosis (imbalance in gut bacteria) and vagus nerve dysfunction. These two factors set the stage for neurological/behavioral disorders by stimulating an already hyperactive immune system and sympathetic nervous system that causes children to be extremely impulsive and in a state of persistent hyper-arousal. If these children are then fed a highly refined diet that keeps their blood sugar levels high, their symptoms will continue to get worse.
You may have actually experienced a small taste of what it’s like to have ADHD or autism the last time you ate processed foods filled with toxins. When you eat highly refined, toxin laden foods, your body must fire up its immune system and sympathetic nervous system to protect you from the threat. This will cause blood flow to be directed away from your prefrontal cortex while your blood sugar rises. When your blood sugar is high, it creates plaque build up in the brain and impairs blood vessel function, which reduces your cognitive abilities. Combine that with the lack of activity in your prefrontal cortex, and you will feel impulsive and anxious and make illogical decisions.
How our gut affects our sleep
Our mental health is closely linked to the quality and timing of our sleep. Now evidence suggests that the gut microbiota can influence sleep quality and sleep-wake cycles (our circadian rhythm).
A study this year examined patients with CFS. The researchers found that higher levels of the “bad” clostridium bacteria were associated with an increased likelihood of sleep problems and fatigue, but this was specific to females only. This suggests that an unbalanced gut may precipitate or perpetuate sleep problems.
How to improve gut health
1. Limit Your Consumption of FOD MAPs
FOD MAPs is an acronym that stands for:
Fermentable – meaning they are only broken down through fermentation
Oligosaccharides – made up of individual sugars joined together in a chain
Disaccharides – a double sugar molecule
Monosaccharides – a single sugar molecule
And Polyols – sugar alcohols
These are short-chain carbohydrates that tend to be poorly digested by those with digestive issues like IBS. This is because when the FOD MAPs make their way through the digestive tract, they draw water into the large intestine from surrounding areas, which leads to bloating. Simultaneously, the bacteria in the large intestine starts digesting the FOD MAPs and producing gas which builds up along with the water. The intestines expand, the message is sent to the brain, and it responds with more pain, discomfort, and stress.
Eating a low FOD MAP diet has showed promising effects in treating people with IBS and may transfer to others with a comprised digestive system. It is commonly suggested to limit the consumption of FOD MAPs for 3-8 weeks to help balance the gut microbiome, heal the gut, and reduce symptoms. After that time, it is best to slowly re-introduce high FOD MAP foods into your diet to see which ones are safe to eat and which ones cause the most issues for you.
2. Eat plenty of prebiotic-rich foods
In order to promote and maximize a healthy gut, you should eat prebiotic-rich foods. Don’t worry -- you don't have to figure out own your own which foods are rich in prebiotics. Here’s a quick list of prebiotic foods you can begin incorporating them into your diet:
Jicama (yacon), Jerusalem artichoke, and chicory root all contain inulin, a form of prebiotic fiber.
Dandelion greens are leafy green vegetables that are made up of 25% prebiotic fiber.
Allium vegetables such as garlic, onion, leeks, chives, and scallions are great choices. Add them to food raw for the best source of prebiotics.
Whole-grain and sprouted-grain breads
Wheat germ, whole wheat berries
Apple cider vinegar (organic)
3. Avoid GMO
GMO stands for “Genetically Modified Organism.” To put it simply it’s not a product of Mother Nature. Rather, it’s a product of science that’s created to “enhance” the food we eat. By adding GMOs to produce, we get brighter berries, hardier crops, and seedless fruits. Although GMOs have been deemed safe by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) in the US, over 60 countries around the world have outright banned or strictly regulated the production and sale of GMO products.
4. Avoid Sugar
Too much fructose causes an inflammatory effect on the gut lining. Fructose has detrimental effects on the gut lining and leads to chronic illnesses like: leaky gut, sibo and crohn’s disease. Many people don’t realise how their diet can EITHER MAKE OR BREAK OUR GUT HEALTH. The gut microbiome impacts how the body functions over time. Reducing sugar will help your gut stay healthy, in turn, helping to keep your whole body performing at and feeling it’s best.
5. Avoid Hormones and Antibiotics in Meat.
Conventional meats contain hormones, antibiotics, and other drugs that aren’t healthy for our bodies. The higher up the food chain, the more harmful substances they have in their body. That’s because their food contains these substances too. Every year in the US, tens of millions of pounds of antibiotics are used in animal feed. In fact, as much as 70 percent of all antibiotics sold in America are fed to chickens, cattle, and hogs. Additionally, animals may also be given growth hormones to artificially increase the amount of meat and milk the cattle produces.
The most empowering aspect to the gut-brain connection is the understanding that many of our daily lifestyle choices play a role in mediating our overall wellness. This whole-body approach to healthcare and wellness continues to show its value in our longevity, well-being, and quality of life: that both physical and mental health go hand-in-hand.
- Mayer, E. A. & Brunnhuber, S. in Handbook of Clinical Neurology3rd edn (in the press)
- Furness, J. B. The Enteric Nervous System (Blackwell, Oxford, 2006). A comprehensive overview of all aspects of the enteric nervous system.