Did you know that your body has more than one brain? It’s true! And you might be surprised to hear where the second brain is located: in your gut. You have 100 million nerve cells in your gastrointestinal tract. In fact, the only place in the body with more nerve cells than the gut is the brain. The connection between the brain and the gastrointestinal tract is profound, and is often referred to as “the gut-brain connection”.
The brain and the digestive system directly affect one another, and communication between them is much like a two lane highway. Depression, anxiety, brain fog and even autism have been linked to a dysfunctioning gut due to the impact that the gut has on the function of the brain. The gut is directly influenced by emotions, and in turn a dysfunctional gut can cause moodiness, difficulty concentrating, and decreased cognition.
Science is just starting to recognize the importance of the gut and the influence it has over the rest of your body. Not only does it directly affect mental well-being, but the gut is also home to seventy percent of our immune system. This means that seventy percent of your body’s ability to fight off illnesses, like the cold, flu, and respiratory infections, lies in the health of your gut. This is true for many chronic and autoimmune diseases as well, including Alzheimer’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis. Even skin conditions such as cystic acne, eczema and psoriasis have also been linked to an unhealthy imbalance in the gut.
What makes a gut healthy vs. unhealthy? It is due in large part to the composition of your gut microbiome. “Gut microbiome” is the phrase used to describe all of the bacteria and other microorganisms that live in your GI (gastrointestinal) tract. There are good bacteria and bad bacteria, and in a healthy gut, the majority of the microbiome is composed of “good” bacteria. The exact composition of bacteria varies from person to person - research has shown that sixty six percent of a person’s gut microbiome is specific to them, making it as unique as a fingerprint. Diet, stress levels and overall emotional well-being are all things we can control that directly influence gut health.
Diet is a key factor when it comes to helping your gut microbiome flourish. Unfortunately, the modern American diet places a large emphasis on many foods that are detrimental to our gut health. There is nothing the “bad” bacteria love more than sugar. On the other hand, the healthy bacteria thrive on a high fiber, low sugar diet. Fermented foods as well as probiotic supplements also help to consistently supply the body with new, healthy strains of bacteria that can increase the quality of your gut microbiome.
Foods to avoid:
- Foods high in added sugar (candy, cereal, sugary yogurt, soda)
- Artificial sweeteners (aspartame, sucralose, saccharin)
- Too much saturated fat (some is ok, but too much red meat and other saturated fats can be detrimental to the microbiome)
Foods to Include:
- Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi and kombucha
- High fiber foods including chia seeds, apples and green vegetables
- Natural sweeteners like Stevia or monk fruit extract
- Unsaturated fats including olive oil, avocado and nuts
- A liquid probiotic supplement
Chronic stress has been shown to negatively effect the gut in multiple ways. Obesity, eating disorders and irritable bowel syndrome have all been linked to an unhealthy gut caused by stress. One method to combat chronic stress that has been growing in popularity in recent years is meditation. Even two to five minutes of meditation per day has been shown to have a profound effect on helping to reduce stress levels, decrease anxiety and increase feelings of well-being.
Exercise has also been shown to improve gut health. Not only does it clear the mind, help to maintain a healthy body composition and increase immunity, but thirty minutes of exercise five days a week has been shown to create a positive change in the microbiome after just six weeks.
The gut is a perfect example of how our emotional mind and physical body both directly impact our health, our ability to fight acute and chronic disease, and why it is important to take care of both.
Dr. Shannon Maser is a chiropractor at Alternative Chiropractic Center in Frisco, Colorado. She specializes in pregnancy and pediatric care, sports injuries, and nutrition. “My purpose is to inspire others to create new possibilities for their health, mindset, and quality of life, in a way that leaves them feeling loved, connected, and powerful.”
Contact Dr. Maser at Alternative Chiropractic (970) 368-6173 or visit accfrisco.com.