You are what you eat. This is more than an advertising slogan or something your doctor tells you at every checkup; it is a truth.
While it is true that we cannot survive without food, the food we eat is directly related to our health. There are trillions of bacteria living in your gut and what you eat determines the type of bacterial residents that you end up with.
Your gut is your second brain and is linked to digestive, immune and mental health, so do you want the tenants that take care of you or the kind that party too much and destroy the property?
The Importance of Gut Flora
The bacteria in your gastrointestinal system affect your overall well-being. They play major roles in digestion and immunity with their capability to affect nutrient and mineral absorption, hormone regulation, vitamin production, immune responses, and the ability to eliminate toxins.
Outside of this, studies have shown that intestinal bacteria have the ability to influence mood and mental health. A great deal of attention is given to the digestive and immune support that bacterial flora provide, so people may not be aware of the further reaching benefits.
A poor diet, digestive conditions and the overuse of antibiotics all contribute to an unhealthy balance of intestinal bacteria. When bad strains or pathogenic bacteria are allowed to thrive, the health of the body will begin to fade. Inefficient digestion can cause leaky gut syndrome which triggers inflammation through the body. Inflammation is the root of many serious health conditions.
Without the support of beneficial bacteria, the immune system responses are negatively impacted and the body begins to attack itself. So it should be clear just how the gut affects your health.
Why Gut Health is Important
When you focus on healing your gut and restoring bacterial balance, your body is given the opportunity to regenerate. Immunity can increase and you will start to produce more of the beneficial bacteria which can continue to fight back the bad guys. The phenomenon known as leaky gut syndrome is the consequence of poor digestion and involves permeability of the intestinal wall.
Toxins and particles can pass through this wall and enter the bloodstream, gaining access to anywhere in the body. When this happens, the body attempts to track down these foreign bodies and destroy them even when they are located in healthy body organs.
The rebuilding of this wall is therefore essential to rebuilding your health. Not only on a physical level but on a mental level, too. The Enteric Nervous System (ENS), located in the gastrointestinal tract, contains over one hundred million nerve cells. The ENS not only controls the digestive system, but communicates regularly with the brain regarding the overall health of the gut and immune system. When leaky gut syndrome occurs, the messages transmitted are not positive. The immune system receives messages that it needs to attack the body; the brain deciphers the unhappy gut as an unhappy body and mental states are altered.
The Science Behind the Change
Autoimmune disorders, as well as digestive problems, are almost always accompanied by mental issues because of the gut-brain connection. The health of your gut is determined by the bacteria residing there. If they happen to be the bad tenants mentioned earlier, your gut and brain are in trouble. At any given time your gut will contain both beneficial and harmful bacteria. What matters is that the ratio remains in favor of the good strains. Too many bad bugs cause the mucosal lining of the digestive tract to weaken and this is where the rips of leaky gut syndrome occur.
The irritation and inflammation caused by the free-floating particles and toxins send signals to the brain, which brings about mood changes. Serotonin is the “happy” neurotransmitter and 90% of it is made in the gut. When the bacteria that cultivate this are lacking, mental health suffers. Additionally, cognitive function can become impaired specifically thinking and memory.
The concept of ‘brain fog’ is common with depressive and anxiety-based disorders. This ‘fog’ is attributed to the poorly functioning gut.
What You Can Do
We have come full circle in the you are what you eat saga. The food you digest has a major impact on your gut flora and therefore, your brain function. In other words, a happy gut means a happy brain, as well as a healthy body.
The average American diet is plagued with processed, fried, and fast food, as well as more sugar than we need. These diets of simple carbohydrates and sugars damage your brain because of the destruction they cause to your gut. Pathogenic bacteria thrive on these foods and can take over the gut, causing leaky gut syndrome and we all know what happens next.
The best approach to ensure optimal health for your body and brain is to evaluate your diet and lifestyle to make the necessary changes. Exercise, nutritional changes, and supplements (probiotics, digestive enzymes) will all help to support the beneficial flora in your gut.
Companies including 1MD are making supplements that help to ensure these healthy levels are maintained to prevent bad bacteria from taking over. To use the rental analogy again, when you provide a nice place for your tenants to live, they will take care of it and you.
This also means enforcing a few dietary rules, because without rules, you can attract the wrong kind. There is too much at stake when you choose to ignore nutrition because of the intimate connection between gut and brain.