There is so much more going on within our bodies than what we can perceive with the naked eye. Right now, on the backs of our hands, our cells are growing, multiplying, morphing and splitting over and over again, yet we cannot see. Similarly, there is an entire ecosystem of bacteria in the gut, containing trillions of microbes (microbiome) that are responsible for controlling many of the processes within the body.
The communication of the gut’s microbiome is listened and responded to by the enteric nervous system (ENS), which is a part of the nervous system that governs the function of the gastrointestinal tract. The ENS is so extensive and complex that it can operate independently from the brain and central nervous system, hence why scientists are now labeling it as our ‘second brain’. And by that, they do not mean a thinking brain; it cannot reason, make decisions, write poetry or solve calculus, but it is a vast network of communicating neurons that has a direct impact on our physical, emotional and mental well-being.
Gut health is more than just digestion.
The incredible complexity of the gut and how it’s linked to our mental, emotional and physical well-being, continues to be a topic of growing interest in the medical community. There is extensive and ongoing research to show the connection between our gut health and our mood, mental health, immune system, autoimmune diseases, skin disorders, endocrine disorders, and even cancer.
Gut bacteria directly stimulates neurons of the ENS to send signals to the brain via the vagus nerve, thus, enabling us to feel the inner world of our gut and its contents. This is essentially where the ‘second brain’s’ mode of communication comes in, through the gut to the brain, which is why a big part of our emotions are affected by the nerves in the gut. And it goes both ways; our gastrointestinal system is very sensitive to emotion. Ever heard of the expression ‘gut feeling’ or ‘butterflies in the stomach’? Psychological and emotional factors can affect the physiology of our gut by causing inflammation to the GI tract. An unhealthy gut can, therefore, be the cause orsymptom of anxiety, stress or depression.
Given the nature of this gut-brain connection, we can begin to understand why we may feel nauseous, have more extreme toilet habits or a loss of appetite just before an important interview, just after you’ve read your tax bill or before you’re about to go on stage. When you’re stressed, the gut knows about it – right away!
“The system is way too complicated to have evolved only to make sure things move out of your colon“
– Emeran Mayer, Professor of physiology, psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles (U.C.L.A.).
Gut microbiome, which is the bacteria that live in your intestines, is responsible for just about every one of your body’s processes including the absorption of vital vitamins and minerals, hormone regulation, digestion, vitamin production, immune response and the elimination of harmful toxins – all of which have a direct impact on our emotional, physical and mental health.
A whopping 90% of serotonin is produced by the gastrointestinal tract! Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, sometimes referred to as the ‘happy chemical’ because of its effect on our happiness and well-being. This essentially means, if the microbiome isn’t functioning properly, our mood dips and we are likely to experience emotions associated with anxiety and depression.
“All disease begins in the gut”
Can we cure disease by healing our gut?
Of course, it depends on how severe or chronic the condition is, but we have good reason to believe that it is possible to cure, or at least significantly decrease the symptoms of disease by healing the gut.
Mark Hyman, founder and medical director of The UltraWellness Center and chairman of the board of the Institute for Functional Medicine, believes that by changing our diet we can pretty much cure any disease.
“Food is medicine. Bad food is bad medicine and will make us sick. Good food is good medicine that can prevent, reverse, and even cure disease. Take away the bad food, put in the good food and magic happens.’’
He explains that the problem with modern day medicine is that we are given something to cure the symptom rather than the cause. For example, the doctor gives us a diagnosis that we have depression, a migraine or psoriasis, to then be ‘treated’ with an antidepressant, a migraine pill or an immunosuppressant. Antibiotics are another form of medication that doctors like to dish out like candy bars at Halloween! Although we do not doubt their effectiveness to tackle a bacterial infection, while cleaning your body of bad bacteria, they also completely strip the body of good bacteria, which causes great problems for the gut.
What if you could literally transform any bodily condition or emotional state through dietary changes alone? Hyman says that “food is information carrying detailed instructions for every gene and every cell in your body, helping them to renew, repair, and heal or to be harmed and debilitated, depending on what you eat.” If you could get rid of most of your chronic symptoms of either physical or emotional distress, surely you would give it a try it for a week, maybe two?
It’s about trusting your body’s ability to communicate to you what it likes and what it doesn’t like;
“If you are constantly putting in information that is making your body toxic, sick, and fat—hyper-processed industrial junk food, sugar, flour, chemicals, additives, MSG, high fructose corn syrup, trans fats, artificial sweeteners, inflammatory foods, or what I call anti-nutrients—it acts like poison in the body. It inflames your gut and your cells leading to whole-body inflammation that you experience as pain, allergies, headaches, fatigue, and depression and that leads to weight gain, diabetes, and heart disease.”
We couldn’t agree more, Mark! We are all about empowering people to their own body’s ability to self-heal and we believe the best way to do this is to heal the body from the inside out; to clear out the body’s toxins and replace them with pure, clean, nutrient-rich substances.
The gut-healing experiment.
To heal your gut, it is absolutely vital that you eradicate all substances that make you toxic, bloated and inflamed (sugar, caffeine, alcohol, processed foods, etc.) and only ingest things that help your body detoxify and cool off inflammation. For example, eat only whole real foods, drink plenty of water and stop all potential food sensitivities and allergies.
On top of this dietary change, we recommend you include deep relaxation practices into your daily routine, be it writing, walking, breathing, meditating, taking regular baths etc. Deliberately adjusting how you think and feel is just as important to your self-healing as deliberately adjusting what you eat and drink.
If you would like an idea of what foods are best to eat and which practices help you to relax the most, please check out our article, ‘7-day mind and body detox’. Please note: for a more complete and thorough cleanse, we would recommend cutting out dairy altogether; your digestive system has to work a little harder when digesting lactose, so we advise giving it a much-needed vacation, just for a week or two.
Don’t believe us. Try it for yourself.
The Power of Probiotics!
Putting back the good bacteria.
We cannot stress enough the importance of taking daily probiotics, either as a supplement or by consuming fermented food products. They are absolutely essential for keeping your gut clean and healthy.
Probiotics are found in fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, miso, and pickles. The function of probiotics is to repopulate the gut with good bacteria to help it heal and function optimally. This maintenance of good gut bacteria strengthens and maintains our immune system, helping to control the inflammation in our body, which is related to a lot of serious diseases.
Our favorite, and arguably the most effective way of taking probiotics, is by making your own kefir grains. Kefir provides multiple strains of good bacteria that colonize the gut, making it a very rich and diverse probiotic source – a lot more potent than yogurt.
The mouth-gut connection
Not only do probiotics help to restore healthy gut bacteria, they also help to balance our oral microbiome found in the mouth. Apart from the fascinating gut-brain connection as spoken about above, there is an even more fascinating connection between your mouth and your gut.
Your mouth is the beginning of the entire digestive tract so keeping your mouth healthy is critical to the prevention of toxins entering the gastrointestinal tract. Just as changes to your gut microbiome will affect your mouth, changes to your oral microbiome will affect your gut.
Our article, ‘how your gut health and oral health are related‘ explains how your gut and mouth are in constant communication with each other and that the problems in your mouth are clues to problems in your gut. When a healthy and harmonious environment is created in the mouth, it can have a beneficial domino effect on your gut health.