Ever since we came out of caves and learned about our bodies, we humans have been on a continuous search for the proverbial fountain of youth.
Starting from ancient times and even up to today, medicine and scientists from other fields are restlessly working to find a miracle cure that will keep us young, healthy, and happy for as long as we want.
While we all know there is no such thing, recent discoveries have shown that our ancestors were wrong to search for the fountain in mystical, secret places. There may actually be something similar to such a cure, living within ourselves. Hidden deep inside, we have the gut - the system that regulates all and can wreak havoc if upset.
Both Hippocrates, and now modern science, believe that “all diseases begin in the gut”. It seems that our immune system’s strength is 80% dependent on the trillions of good bacteria living in the digestive tract.
So, if you get sick a lot, it may be a symptom of an unhealthy gut.
Scientists attest there is a powerful direct connection between the brain and the gut (which is also called the ‘second brain’). There is a network of neurons that line our gut and responds to emotions, which is why we tend to feel butterflies in the stomach, or nausea when we’re anxious.
If we consider the latest discoveries, and what our own bodies try to tell us, the gut may actually be the key to a healthy, happy life after all.
Symptoms of an Unhealthy Gut
The microbiome (which is the sum of bacteria and microorganisms living in the gut) is responsible for a multitude of tasks and they are continuously sending signals to the brain. This means that, when there’s an imbalance in the microbiome, some wires may get crossed and you’ll start noticing a bunch of symptoms such as:
Low immune system – translated as frequent infections (sinusitis, colds, and so on)
Mood changes – you start to feel depressed and down all the time (95% of our serotonin supply is in the gut , which is why it’s normal to feel blue when there are problems down there)
High-stress levels and anxiety – when the microbiome is in trouble, the body doesn’t handle stress all that well. This can interfere with your sleeping patterns which in turn, disrupts your entire life.
Digestive problems (bloating, acid reflux)
Skin problems (acne, rashes, and more)
Weight gain that doesn’t necessarily seem to have a solid reason
Until recently, many of these problems were not connected to an imbalance in the microbiome, but more and more research leads this way. Overall, all the systems in our bodies will suffer if the gut is not as happy.
The Effects on the Body
Extrapolating from the list above, if your gut is in trouble, your immune system will suffer as well. As a direct result you’ll get sick more often and your body will not be able to defend itself against invaders such as viruses, bad bacteria, and other pathogens.
You’ll also feel something is wrong with your digestive system because most of the food won’t be properly processed, which leads to bloating and other similar symptoms.
Finally, you may start gaining weight without any apparent reason, or you may stop losing weight at the rate you used to. So, if you’ve hit a plateau phase in your weight loss program, you should consider checking your gut’s health.
The Effects on the Brain
Recent discoveries managed to connect an imbalance in the microbiome with brain-related problems such as depression, fatigue, anxiety, and more. It seems that the second brain is fairly complex and it processes a lot of our emotions, which is why medication meant to treat the brain also affects the GI.
Finally, there is a general lack of energy and you’ll feel blue all the time. This happens because the gut sends mixed signals to the brain, and stops producing the necessary quantities of the hormones that keep us happy and active.
How to Keep the Gut in Check
Given the complexity of the gut and its huge influence on the body and brain, it’s only natural to want to promote good gut health, but how?
Well you can do so through healthy foods, exercise, and supplements. In terms of food, specialists recommend probiotics and prebiotics, fermented foods, bone broth, asparagus, banana, garlic, beetroot, avocado, yogurt, kefir, almonds, and the list goes on.
In terms of exercise, specialists recommend low-intensity activities because it promotes a healthy lifestyle. Exercise has a plethora of other benefits for the body, which is why it is highly recommended in almost all situations.
Finally, most specialists recommend probiotic and enzyme supplements to keep your gut’s health in check. Still, it’s best to discuss supplements with a specialist, to make sure you are taking something that will be truly helpful.
The Vicious Circle
Given the stressed lives we live in this modern age, specialists warn us about a vicious circle that starts with stress and ends up with a microbiome imbalance.
Basically, when you’re upset (because of work or other problems) the brain starts asking for fatty, sugary foods. Now, these are not exactly doctor-recommended for the microbiome and can disrupt the fragile balance in the gut.
Once this happens, the systems mentioned above will happen, and you’ll continue feeling down and upset, which in turn will send you towards more unhealthy foods. And the circle continues on and on.
To avoid this situation, it may be best to stay away from things like:
Living deep in our digestive tract is a second brain responsible for a lot more than just processing and elimination. Modern medicine is just starting to study the connection between the two neuronal networks and the results are astonishing! Still, it will be long before all the secrets lying in our gut will be revealed.
There’s only one thing we know for sure: if you take care of your gut’s microbiome by eating healthy and exercising regularly, the microorganisms living down there will take care of you, by providing a healthy and happy life. So put together your wellbeing plan today and apply it every day – it may be difficult at first, but soon it will become a habit.
Stewart is the content and marketing manager at TheGoodGut.org - a new project devoted to maintaining gut health. Being a passionate writer, he aims to raise the awareness of the importance of gut health to the overall well-being of any individual.
(1) – G Vighi, F Marcucci, L Sensi, G Di Cara, and F Frati, Allergy and the gastrointestinal system. Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2515351/
(2) - Adam Hadhazy, Think Twice: How the Gut's "Second Brain" Influences Mood and Well-Being [online article] Available at https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/gut-second-brain/
(3) -Dr. Siri Carpenter, That gut feeling [September 2012, Vol 43, No. 8]. Available at http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/09/gut-feeling.aspx
(4) - Emily Deans M.D. in Evolutionary Psychiatry, The Gut-Brain Connection, Mental Illness, and Disease [online article]. Available at https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evolutionary-psychiatry/201404/the-gut-brain-connection-mental-illness-and-disease
(5) - Ryuichi Morishita, Academic Editor, Exercise Modifies the Gut Microbiota with Positive Health Effect. Available at https://www.hindawi.com/journals/omcl/2017/3831972/