Do you ever get butterflies in your stomach or a “gut feeling” about something? We were always taught to think this may just be a human function, but numerous studies have found links between the gut and the brain. In fact, the gut affects more than you probably think. Let’s take a look at all the different things your gut can affect and how you can achieve a happy gut.
The emotional aspect
Studies have shown that there might be a bit more to the idea of a “gut feeling” than previously thought. In short, they argue that your gut is so complex it could in fact, be thought of as a “second brain”. This “brain” is hidden in the walls of your gut and is called the enteric nervous system (ENS). If you take a look at everything contained in the gut, this idea makes a lot of sense.
The gut brain contains:
- 500 million nerve cells
- 20 types of neurons
- Autonomous microcircuits
- Chemical and mechanical sensing
- Control of muscle movements
- Secretions of enzymes and hormones
To help you make a bit more sense of all this- think about how your body gives you a signal when you’re hungry or when you’re full. And then, think about all the muscles, enzymes, and hormones needed to digest food and get it all to where it needs to go.
The mental health side of things
For a long time, researchers and medical professionals thought emotional and mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression made the symptoms of IBS and digestive issues worse. But research now suggests that it is the other way around- that digestive issues make our mental issues worse. Meaning that a healthy gut can lead to improved symptoms of mental illness.
John Hopkins Medicine says,
“Researchers are finding evidence that irritation in the gastrointestinal system may send signals to the central nervous system that trigger mood changes.”
The physical health side of things
Are you bloated, have diarrhea or constipation? Do you crave certain foods?
It could all be to do with an unhealthy gut. Research has also shown that gut microbes can directly influence a person’s eating behaviour due to a production of antibodies. These antibodies lead to an interference of normal hunger regulation and cause you to think that you’re hungry when you’re not, and vice versa.
What makes unhealthy gut flora
Well, there’s a variety of things, and we’re not experts but to break it down an unhealthy gut can be asssociated with chronic stress as well as a diet low in fermentable foods and high processed foods.
So how can you maintain a healthy gut?
1. Make sure you are getting enough probiotics and prebiotics.
Probiotics are known as good bacteria and are used to reinstate diminished good bacteria into your system. For example, antibiotics decrease the amount of good bacteria in your digestive system and thus probiotics are used to help the cultivation of new good bacteria. On the other hand, prebiotics are non-digestible foods which stimulate the growth of probiotics. Probiotic bacteria are often eliminated from the gut . Thus, prebiotics are needed to ensure they thrive. Benefits of keeping probiotics alive include aiding digestion and warding off bad bacteria. So, in short- a healthy gut is a balance of good and bad bacteria whereas an unhealthy gut is caused when the bad bacteria take over.
Sources of prebiotics include: garlic tomatoes, greens, bananas, berries and asparagus to name a few.
While sources of probiotics include: yoghurt, sourdough bread, miso and fermented foods.
2. Try to reduce stress
This is a difficult one because having an unhealthy gut, as we have just explained, can lead to more mental health problems. So take some time out to meditate and relax- anything you can do to de-stress a little.
3. Start including fermented foods to your diet
Fermented foods are fantastic sources of probiotics and include foods such as sauerkraut, kombucha, sourdough bread and yoghurt.