Friday, August 12, 2016
“All disease begins in the gut.” ~ Hippocrates
A lack of healthy bacteria in our gut contributes to obesity, autoimmune disorders, anxiety, depression, autism, hormonal imbalances, allergies, and cancer.
Read on to learn about the gut brain, benefits of probiotics, and 3 steps for healing our gut for a healthier life.
We have more brain cells in our gut than in our head. The Gut Brain or enteric nervous system refers to the extensive neural network in the walls of our digestive system. It contains about 500 million neurons and houses 3 to 4 pounds of bacteria and other microbes that play a key role in our wellbeing.
Our gut bacteria help digest our food, train our immune systems, and change our behavior. They produce chemicals that affect our food cravings, energy level, happiness, and body composition. By exerting control over the Gut Brain, these bacteria influence our memory, emotions, motivation, sense of self, and many aspects of our health.
In fact, gut bacteria so strongly affect our health that doctors are now transplanting stools from healthy donors into sick people to restore health. It may sound gross, but “bacteriotherapy” appears to be a promising treatment for obesity, anxiety, and many other inflammatory diseases.
Probiotics are beneficial gut bacteria essential to promoting health and preventing disease. They’re naturally present in the gut of healthy people and can be consumed in foods or supplements to enhance health.
Anyone under chronic stress (and thus chronic inflammation) can benefit from the immune, digestive, and mood-enhancing effects of probiotics. Probiotics are also more important for those over age 50, because our protective gut bacteria decrease as we age.
We all know it’s important to eat healthy to stay healthy. Yet, even with a nutritious diet, certain events can disrupt the balance between good and bad bacteria, putting our health at risk. These events include infections, chronic stress, and antibiotic treatment.
Antibiotics are particularly harmful, as they destroy good bacteria along with the bad and reduce biodiversity within the gut, often with long-term health consequences. When our gut bacteria are out of balance, disease happens. The good news is that we can take action today to restore this balance in favor of health.
Stress is a primary contributor to inflammation and disease. Regularly practicing the body’s relaxation response (through mindfulness, yoga, sleep, deep breathing, laughing, etc.) reduces inflammation and supports the digestive and immune systems, allowing our protective bacteria to work more effectively. Relaxing and enjoying the moment literally bathes our cells in healing chemicals—a reason to do what we love (and appreciate what we’re doing) as often as possible.
Eating fermented foods (e.g., sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi, miso, traditionally pickled vegetables, kefir) and taking supplements are easy ways to get healthy bacteria into our gut. Probiotic supplements are important because they can supply certain health-enhancing bacteria not found in foods and offer higher concentrations of bacteria to speed healing. Remember to talk with your doctor before beginning any diet or supplement.
Prebiotics are types of fiber that feed good bacteria. They are plentiful in plant-based foods like bananas and other fruits, oats, barley, soy, asparagus, onions, and garlic. We can starve harmful gut bacteria by avoiding the foods they thrive on: dairy, animal fats, alcohol, sweets, refined grains, and processed foods. Simply eating more plant-based foods (rich in prebiotic fiber) can quickly restore our gut bacteria in favor of our health.
Our food and lifestyle choices affect the gut bacteria that help regulate our weight, health, and happiness. By taking action today to relax, consume probiotic-rich foods or supplements, and choose foods that feed healthy bacteria, we can heal our gut to support optimal health. If you’re experiencing unresolved health issues, maybe it’s time to turn your attention to your gut.
To your health!
Summer Flowers Ricketts
Healthy Lifestyle Coach, Sports Center of Morehead City
Certified DreamBuilder Coach, Weight Management Trainer, Wellness Educator