There are more bacterial cells in your gut than stars in the Milky Way or human cells in your entire body – it’s no wonder that we turn to our gut feeling to make our most difficult decisions. The 40 trillion little bacteria in our guts called microbiota are like the gatekeepers to your mental and physical health and they begin working for you as soon as you’re born. They determine what nutrients get absorbed into our bloodstream, how many neurotransmitters are made, how we react to infections, and even how much serotonin is produced in our bodies.
“The quickest way to someone’s heart is through their stomach.”
Microbes are the bacteria, viruses, fungi, and living microorganisms found on all living things, including the human body. We’re exposed to these microbes literally from the moment we’re born when our mothers’ vaginal microbiota are passed onto us through the birth canal. Microbes can be found all throughout the body but are primarily found in the large intestine and on the skin. The “gut microbiome” that plays such a huge part in your health is actually a pocket of your large intestine that contains more than 1000 different species of microbes, each with a different function.
The gut microbiome regulates the absorption of nutrients and calories into the bloodstream via the intestinal walls. The health and composition of your gut microbiome have huge implications on what the body digests from the foods we eat. When given a diet rich in fiber, a healthy gut microbiome has been proven to help to prevent weight gain, heart disease, and diabetes. A healthy gut can also help to alleviate chronic skin conditions like eczema. Not only that, but the microbiome also communicates with your immune cells and can determine how your body responds to infection. Inside out, your gut microbiome is doing wonders to heal your body, prevent illness, and even communicate with the brain.
“Butterflies in my stomach.”
The gut is connected to the brain both physically through millions of nerves, and chemically, through neurotransmitters and serotonin production. The “vagus nerve” is a part of the central nervous system that communicates both ways between your brain and your gut. That “butterflies in my stomach” feeling you get is from the nervous system connecting your brain to your gut and responding to the fight or flight syndrome by drawing blood away from your internal organs and into the muscles.
Your gut also plays a huge role in communicating with the brain and produces a large majority of the body’s neurotransmitters and up to 90% of the body’s serotonin. An unhealthy gut is correlated with lower levels of serotonin, meaning that your gut microbiome’s health has a direct impact on your mental health as well.
Studies have found that taking certain probiotics (good digestible bacteria) may reduce anxiety, stress, and depressive symptoms as well as helping with digestion and the prevention of other diseases.
“Listen to your gut.”
A healthy gut plays an unexpectedly large part in women’s health. An unhealthy gut microbiome can wreak havoc on your body and manifest itself in a number of different ways. Some doctors have linked the increase in cases of autoimmune diseases, joint pain, anxiety and depression, bowel disorders, and more to an unhealthy gut microbiome AKA “gut dysbiosis” due, at least in part, to unhealthy diets composed of processed foods. These GMO foods and their lack of fibers and probiotics reduce the amount of nutrients that are absorbed into the body via the gut microbiome while increasing caloric absorption. Your gut microbiome can be negatively altered by medications, antibiotics (even those found in foods), food dyes, GMO and processed foods, artificial sweeteners, hormonal changes, and life stressors but it can also be repaired by listening to your gut and changing your diet.
“You are what you eat.”
- Eat a more plant-based diet enriched with whole grains to get more good-for-your-gut fiber
- Avoid artificial sweeteners and processed foods whenever possible
- Welcome fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, and yogurt into your diet
- Try an over the counter probiotic supplement. Lactobacillus GG (LGG) and VSL#3 are two probiotics that have been supported with many clinical trials
- Take antibiotics only when necessary – they’re a microbiomes enemy!
More and more studies are being done to show the power that your gut has over your brain and the rest of your body. Changing your diet has been shown to do wonders for your physical and mental wellbeing and we are just beginning to trace it all back to the absorption from your gut microbiome. Many of us grew up in an era of easy to make, highly processed foods. Signs of gut dysbiosis may be starting to rear their heads in unexpected ways but the gut microbiome is extremely resilient and can be built back with just 6 months of a new diet, paired with a healthy sleep schedule and exercise of course. Think back to all the times where you’ve made the right choice by trusting your gut. Now, it’s time to repay the favor!