There is a strong connection between your gut and your brain health, immune health and hormonal health. Basically, your entire health depends on the balance of your microbiome.
The body is composed of over 100 trillion microbes that make up your microbiome, which includes bacteria, fungi, viruses and protozoa that live primarily in your gut, but also on your skin, urogenital tract, lungs, throat, nose, and mouth. The microbiome supplies the body with essential vitamins, modulates weight and metabolism, and makes up 70% of the immune system.
A balanced microbiome helps resolve inflammation and intestinal permeability, which balances the immune system and reduces symptoms, illnesses and the risk of chronic disease. When your microbiome is out of balance, however, both acute illnesses and chronic diseases can result. More and more, scientists are finding that an unhealthy gut environment is a cause of gastrointestinal diseases, obesity, cancer, depression, type 2 diabetes, asthma, sinusitis, infant immune deficits, and much more.
Understanding gut microbial compositions and the role that the microbiome plays in our state of health and wellness is starting to become clearer due to genomic studies.
Several largely funded studies have taken place over the past several years in an effort to understand the microbiome, and especially the gut environment. Two of these studies, the European Metagenomics of the Human Intestinal Tract (MetaHIT) and the US Human Microbiome Project (HMP), used large-scale sequencing to determine the baseline healthy gut microbiota verses that of an altered disease state. Both High Throughput Sequencing (HTS) and Metagenomics (shotgun sequencing) have been used to bring light to many of the information we now know about the microbiome.
You might have read that many doctors and scientists believe inflammation is a leading cause of almost all chronic health issues. The gut is responsible for this inflammation that so many of us suffer from because the inflammatory response starts in the gut. The microbiome is what triggers the production of cytokines, which signal your immune system’s response to inflammation and infection. The inflammatory response that is triggered in the gut travels to the brain, which then signals the rest of the body. This means it influences and affects your entire body and mind, and therefore your overall physical and mental health.
We’ve all heard the saying, “Go with what your gut is telling you.” Have you ever wondered why “gut” is used in that phrase? The answer to this question has to do with the Enteric Nervous System (ENS), and it proves why gut microbes have such a strong influence on your mood, brain function and diseases that affect the brain.
Your ENS is located in the wall of your gut and is known as the gut brain. It is responsible for your “gut instincts” because it sends information to your brain in response to potential threats and your wellbeing. When we feel “butterflies” in the stomach, what we are really feeling is blood being drawn away from the gut and into the muscles – this is the fight or flight response.
When a pathogen crosses the gut lining, histamines and other inflammatory substances are secreted from the immune cells in the gut wall. These substances are then detected by the ENS, which notifies the body and the brain to expose of the pathogens through diarrhea or vomiting.
The ENS and it’s connection to the brain also causes foods to affect your mood. For example, fatty foods can make you feel good because they contain fatty acids that are detected by the gut wall, which then sends out feelings of comfort to the brain.
Unfortunately, most people’s microflora is out of balance due to the lifestyles we lead. Some of the things that cause an imbalance in the microbiome, as listed by Dr. Mercola, include:
There are several things you can do to help keep our gut flora in balance, some of which include:
Diet – By far, the most effective way to balance your gut flora is by eating a healthy diet that is rich in whole foods and fermented foods (sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, and naturally fermented pickles), while also eliminating foods that cause an imbalance like processed foods, grains, table sugar, GMOs, conventionally-raised animal products, and pasteurized foods.
Pay Attention to Your Cravings – Science has recently discovered that there is a link between the foods you crave and the composition of your microbiome. Craving sugar and refined carbohydrates, for example, could be a sign that you have an overgrowth of yeast in your gut. Learn more about what your cravings mean here.
Probiotics – Probiotic supplements help replenish the “good” bacteria in your gut, serving to balance and neutralize an overabundance of “bad” baceteria.
Prebiotics – Prebiotics are plant fibers that nourish the good bacteria that is already in the large intestine. Prebiotics are thought to be more potent and powerful than probiotics.
Get a Handle on Your Stress – If you suffer from chronic stress, you are supporting the “bad” bacteria in your gut. This is one of the reasons why stress is so harmful to our overall health. Practice stress management techniques, such as yoga, meditation and relaxation to reduce stress, and make an effort to change situations in your life that are stressful.
Lead a Natural Lifestyle – The more pain killers (NSAIDs) and antibiotics you take, the more unfiltered water you drink, and the more chemicals you consume and put on your body, the more you are disturbing your gut flora. When possible, always try to go with natural solutions for pain relief, drink filtered water and consume more organic and natural products.