Why gut health is central to well being. You and your gut
Gut health is at the very centre of mental and physical wellness
Yet so many of us don’t pay enough attention to it. Discover how it can influence cravings, our moods and even our weight!
Previously, we considered ourselves to be a physiological island, an entity unto itself that was entirely responsible for its own operation. We assumed that we created our own enzymes for digestion of food, and that our own tissues indicated when we were hungry.
Over the past ten years however, we have come to realise that this is not the case. Our body is more like a complex eco-system, a social network, interacting with billions of bacteria and other micro-organisms which inhabit our skin, genitals, mouth and, above all, our gut.
In fact, our body has ten times more bacteria than human cells! And we each have our own unique microbiome which we start building during our first years’ of life.
We generally believe that microbes are bad for us, that they are germs that create disease. But many bacteria actually play very positive roles in our body and gut health. There are bacteria which build certain enzymes that we need in order to create vitamin B12. And certain foods can only be broken down in our gut by bacteria such as Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron, a key agent in metabolising carbohydrates.
Another example is Heliobacter pylori. It has the bad reputation of causing peptic ulcers. But what is less known is that it also performs at least two very positive functions, including regulating the acidity in the stomach, and producing two hormones which help regulate the appetite: ghrelin, which tells the brain that the body needs to eat, and leptin, which gives signals that the stomach is full and no longer needs food.
Research has shown that people who have been treated with antibiotics to clear H. pylori have gained weight. This is most likely due to an elevated level of ghrelin which maintains the feeling of hunger, resulting in overeating. Further research is necessary to clearly establish this link. According to the research of Dr Martin Blaser, it very likely that antibiotics do play a role. Read his book ‘Missing Microbes.’
Our Gut Microbiome
Over the past 10 years, studies have linked the gut microbiome to a range of complex behaviors including moods and emotions, appetite and satiety. [Tweet “There appears to be a clear link between the gut and the brain. “]Not only does the gut microbiome seem to help maintain brain function, but it may also influence psychiatric and neurological disorders, including anxiety, depression and autism. Further research is necessary to establish these interactions.
Other interesting research shows that microbes actually influence human eating behaviors and dietary choices to favour the consumption of the specific nutrients which the microbes thrive on – as opposed to the microbes passively living off whatever nutrients we choose to send their way. So bacteria may very well be affecting our cravings and moods to get us to eat what they want!
In this very interesting Science Daily article, the researchers explain that while the mechanism is still unclear, the authors believe that our gut microbiome may influence our decisions by releasing signaling molecules into our gut. Because the gut is linked to the immune, endocrine and nervous systems, these signals can influence our physiological and behavioral responses.
“Bacteria within the gut are manipulative,” says Carlo Maley, PhD. “Fortunately, it’s a two way street. We can influence the compatibility of these microscopic, single-celled houseguests by deliberately altering what we ingest, with measurable changes in the microbiome within 24 hours of diet change. “
Gut bacteria may be affecting our eating decisions in part by acting through the vagus nerve, which connects one hundred million nerve cells of the digestive tract to the base of the Professor Aktipis of the Arizona
State University Department of Psychology states, “Microbes have the capacity to manipulate behaviour and mood through altering the neural signals in the vagus nerve, changing taste receptors, producing toxins to make us feel bad, and releasing chemical rewards to make us feel good. Targeting the microbiome could open up possibilities for preventing a variety of diseases from obesity and diabetes to cancers of the gastro-intestinal tract. We are only beginning to scratch the surface of the importance of the microbiome for human health.”
Children, their guts and their behaviour
Other fascinating research from The Ohio State University finds that the abundance and diversity of certain bacterial species in the gastrointestinal tracts of children between the age of 18 and 27 months appear to impact behavior, particularly among boys. Children with the most genetically diverse types of gut bacteria more frequently exhibited behaviors related with positive mood, curiosity, sociability and impulsivity. Significantly, in boys only, researchers reported that extroverted personality traits were associated with the abundance of specific microbes.
“There is definitely communication between bacteria in the gut and the brain, but we don’t know which one starts the conversation,” said Dr. Bailey, one of the researchers. “Maybe kids who are more outgoing have fewer stress hormones impacting their gut than shy kids. Or maybe the bacteria are helping mitigate the production of stress hormones when the child encounters something new. It could be a combination of both.”
The microbiome is a fascinating domain of research. Links between brain and gut health,also between the composition of our microbiome and certain diseases, may be the key to discovering the causes and treatment of many disorders.
4 good choices to improve our gut health :
- Avoid highly processed foods and foods high in sugar and fat.
- Eat whole foods derived from natural sources.
- Minimise the use of antibiotics. They change the composition of the microbiome, and may be a contributing factor in obesity.
- Use pre- and probiotics regularly. I[Tweet ” personally use Vita Biosa, a fermented drink which I take as a few months’ cure.”] For supply details read here.
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