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Guide to The Fascinating World of Gut Health and the Gut-Brain Connection


A flurry of science and research surrounds and continues to explore our gut health and the gut-brain connection, discovering exciting links to how closely this living community within us is connected to our physiological and mental health. In this guide to gut health we unpack the origins and explain why you should be loving your gut!



love heart hands shape on woman's tummy


The Unique Beginnings of Your Gut Microbiota

We all have an entirely unique microbiota network determined initially by our DNA. A person is first exposed to microorganisms as an infant, during delivery in the birth canal and through the mother’s breast milk. Exactly which microorganisms the infant is exposed to depends solely on the species found in the mother. As you grow up, environmental exposures, lifestyle and diet can change your microbiome to either benefit your health or increase your chances of disease.


What is Gut Microbiota?

Hidden in your gut is a complex community of over 100 trillion good and bad bacteria that live inside your digestive system and influence human physiology, metabolism, nutrition, and immune function. Collectively, they're known as the gut microbiota.


Imagine your gut as a bustling metropolis teeming with trillions of microscopic citizens. These residents are bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microorganisms living in your digestive tract and are essential to your health.


The microbes, as your body’s own community, tirelessly work to aid digestion, produce vitamins, fend off harmful invaders, and maintain overall balance. They’re the unsung heroes of your gut, performing vital tasks while you go about your day, blissfully unaware of the microscopic drama unfolding within. The bacteria in your gut harvest energy from food, balance the good versus bad bacteria, manufacture neurotransmitters such as serotonin, enzymes, and vitamins like vitamin K, and are also involved with immune and metabolic functions.


The gastrointestinal microbiota is a complex ecosystem of approximately 300 to 500 bacterial species comprising nearly 2 million genes (the microbiome). There are 10 X more microbial cells in your gut than in the human body, totalling roughly 100 trillion microbes representing as many as 5,000 different species and weighing approximately 2 kilograms. Other human microbiome sites include skin, oral, and vaginal, but the gut is the most popular, influential and diverse neighbourhood.


The Gut-Brain Connection

Now, here’s where things get really interesting. Your gut and brain constantly communicate, like best friends gossiping over coffee. This interaction is known as the gut-brain axis. Imagine your gut and brain sending texts to each other. This chat happens through a complex network of neurons, hormones, and chemicals, with the vagus nerve acting as the messenger service. This bi-directional communication means that your gut health can impact your mood and vice versa.


Your Second Brain

Your gut has its own nervous system, called the enteric nervous system, which contains around 100 million neurons, more than in your spinal cord. It's often referred to as the ‘second brain.’ While it won’t help you solve crossword puzzles, it does play a crucial role in managing your gut’s functions and communicating with your brain.


How Does This Connection Impact You?

The gut-brain conversation is not just idle chit-chat. Here’s how it impacts you:


  1. Mood and Mental Health: About 90% of the body's serotonin, a key neurotransmitter affecting mood, is produced in the gut. This explains why gut health is so closely linked to mental health. The gut bacteria produce neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) like serotonin and dopamine, which help regulate your mood. An imbalance in your gut microbiota can potentially contribute to anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders. So, your gut microbiota affects both your physical and mental health,


  1. Immune System: Around 70% of your immune system resides in your gut. A healthy gut microbiota helps train your immune system to distinguish between friend and foe, reducing the likelihood of chronic inflammation and autoimmune diseases.


  1. Digestion and Nutrient Absorption: Your gut microbiota aids in breaking down food and absorbing nutrients. A balanced microbiota means efficient digestion and better nutrient uptake, translating to more energy and overall vitality.


  1. Stress Response: Have you ever felt ‘butterflies’ in your stomach? That’s your gut-brain axis at work. Stress can alter the composition of your gut microbiota, and in turn, an imbalanced gut can affect how you handle stress. It’s a two-way street!


Nurturing Your Gut Microbiota

So, how do you keep your gut microbiota happy and your gut-brain conversations pleasant?


  1. Eat a Diverse Diet: Consider your diet the social scene for gut microbes. They love variety! Fibre-rich foods, like fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, are particularly beneficial. Eating diverse, healthy foods leads to a diverse microbiome and a healthier, happier gut.


  1. Eat Fermented Foods: Fermented foods such as yoghurt, sauerkraut and kefir all contain healthy bacteria, mainly Lactobacilli, and can reduce the amount of disease-causing species in the gut.


  1. Don’t Eat Artificial Sweeteners: Research has found evidence that artificial sweeteners like aspartame increase blood sugar by stimulating the growth of bad bacteria in the gut.


  1. Breastfeed for Six Months: Breastfeeding is very important for developing the gut microbiome. Breastfed children for at least six months have more beneficial gut bacteria than bottle-fed children.


  1. Probiotics and Prebiotics: Probiotics are live bacteria that add to the population of good microbes in your gut. You can find them in yoghurt, kefir, and fermented foods like sauerkraut. Prebiotics, on the other hand, are fibres that feed your good bacteria. Foods like garlic, onions, bananas, and asparagus are great sources.


  1. Limit Antibiotics: Only take antibiotics when medically necessary. Antibiotics kill many bad and good bacteria in the gut microbiome, possibly contributing to weight gain and antibiotic resistance.


  1. Exercise Regularly: Physical activity can boost the diversity of your gut microbiota. Plus, it’s a mood enhancer, thanks to the gut-brain axis.


  1. Stay Hydrated: Water helps maintain the mucosal lining of the intestines and supports the balance of good bacteria in the gut.


  1. Manage Stress: Techniques like meditation, yoga, and deep-breathing exercises can help keep your gut and brain on friendly terms.


Conclusion

Science has begun to examine more closely how this enormous system of organisms influences and affects our health, from heart disease to arthritis to cancer. Your gut microbiota and the gut-brain connection play pivotal roles in your overall health. By understanding and nurturing this relationship, you’re improving your digestion, mood, immune system, and well-being.  Your gut and brain are in constant dialogue, working together to keep you healthy and happy. Embrace this incredible connection, and learn to love your gut.


Health and Mindset Coaching can help you make lifestyle and habit changes that unlock your health, wealth and happiness potential. Using personalised strategies and scientifically proven tools to improve your health, longevity, resilience, stress management and life balance.

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