To say that Gut health intrigues me is an understatement. It has its place in both subsets of my “Hippy” friends and my “Strict science” friends taking on the world to help healthify us humans. We all go through negative moods but what if our diet can negate it and help us to be the best form of ourselves? I have become totally intrigued by all facets of health including physical and mental health and nutrition and I’m always looking to be the best form of me. In the article below, I will discuss the basics of how our Gut works, The Gut-Brain Axis, what antibiotics do to our system, how gut health and fermented food improve our gut health and what food to eat to improve our gut micro biota.
“All disease begins in the gut- Hippocrates”
What is our Gut?
The Gut acts as a barrier to allow nutrients and water to pass in and block out any toxins. It is a selective shield between us and the outside world. If we take an analogy of New York City as our gut biome, it is a diverse city with so many different cultures and people of all nationalities. New York is our gut and the the people are the bacteria. The more healthy, positive, happy, good moraled people in New York City, the better vibes in New York. The more negative, unhealthy, bad moraled people, the worse the vibes. The same applies to our Gut and the good bacteria that colonise it. The more Good bacteria the healthier the gut.
FACT: You have over 100 trillion cells in your gut biome, that’s more than the number of people that ever lived
The Gut Brain Axis – The Vagus Nerve
There is only one other organ that competes with he gut for diversity, the brain. The gut contains a network of nerves known as the ‘gut brain’ because it is just as big and chemically complex as the grey matter in our brain. The gut is commonly known for transporting food with the odd burp but there has to be more to the gut then meets the eye with it’s complex neural network. Signals from the gut can reach different parts of the brain including the insula, the limbic system, the prefrontal cortex, the amygdala, the hippocampus and the anterior cingulate cortex. These regions of the brain are involved in self-awareness, emotion, morality, fear, memory and motivation. We may be able to have an effect on these parts of our brain by our gut.
The vagus nerve connects the gut to the brain. The Vagus Nerve is the longest of the cranial nerves. Your gut uses the vagus nerve like a walkie-talkie to tell your brain how you’re feeling via electric impulses called “action potentials”. Your gut feelings are very real. Experiments stimulating the vagus nerve in humans at different frequencies can make people comfortable or anxious. The stimulation of the vagus nerve is now approved by the E.U as a medical treatment for depressive disorders.
In a study on motivation and depression, a mouse was placed into a bucket of water to see how long it was motivated to keep swimming in pursuit of its aim. The mice with depressive symptoms did not swim as long. It showed that inhibitory signals are transmitted more efficiently in their brains than motivational signals. Researcher from University College Cork, John Cryan (quite cool that this research is carried out in my home town) , fed half of their mice with bacteria Lactobacillus rhamnosus. A bacteria that is known to help with gut health. The results showed that the mice not only swam for longer but also had less stress hormones. Although mice were used in this study, can the same be said for us humans, can good gut bacteria help us stay motivated?
Inflammation and Depression
There is growing evidence that the trillions of microbes living in our gastrointestinal tracts (microbiome) play a mysterious yet significant role in mental health varying from psychological resilience to neuropsychiatric disorders.
The gut is a huge matrix which controls our inner life and subconscious mind. If your gut is predominately being fed processed food (sugar and fried food) then it will become inflamed, it won’t function well and you won’t feel great. By eating various food we can either inflame our gut with processed food or we can control our inflammation with probiotics and other fibrous foods.
When the gut is irritated and inflamerd, it’s connection to the brain can make life extremely unpleasant. In a study, Enck, (2017) subjects brains were scanned. Healthy subjects showed normal brain activity, with no notable emotional components. Subjects with irritable bowel syndrome caused from inflammation with a poor diet had clear indications of activity in the emotional centre of the brain normally associated with unpleasant feelings. We all have those days when we eat too many sweets or fast food and we feel like crap. There’s science behind it all!
95% of all our serotonin “happiness hormone” is formed in cells in the gut. Anyone that suffers from anxiety or depression should remember that an unhappy gut can cause an unhappy mind.
Does the precise nature of the creatures that colonise us make a difference? Skewed amounts of different bacteria in our gut have been detected in those suffering with depression, nervous diseases, malnutrition, obesity, chronic digestive problems. Therefore, when something is wrong with our gut microbiome, something drastically goes wrong with our health.
The Effects of Antibiotics, Anti-depressants and Pain drugs.
After taking antibiotics, studies have shown that you’re wiping out both good and bad bacteria. Antibiotics wreck havoc on our system and can lead to inflammatory bowel disease. Antibiotics rid the gut of beneficial bacteria which in turn encourages yeast growth which promotes inflammation and symptoms of IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). Taking anti-depressants and pain drugs do not solve the underlying issue such as your diet/ fibre intake and gut biome.
As Dr. Rhonda Patrick highlights in her podcast with Joe Rogan. “It’s important to be skeptical and not blindly follow your doctors advice because they do not have time to learn the ins and outs of nutrition.” Medical doctors do not receive nutritional education and a lot of doctors do not see nutrition as a means of treatment. So in other words if you are having trouble with your gut then maybe a nutritionist may be the solution.
How can we improve our gut bacteria (Biome)?
To promote the growth of good bacteria, we need to eat probiotic, fermented foods such as Kombucha, Kefir (fermented yogurt style drink) ,some Kimchi (Korean spicy fermented cabbage)and Sauerkraut (Fermented Cabbage).
What to eat?
Joe Rogan, my favourite podcast host drinks 2 kombucha a day and eats lots of kimchi. Myself, I’ve been hitting up My Goodness in Cork City, a local business that sells a variety of tasty fermented food and refined sugar free treats. I buy their Kimchi and Ginger or Lemon Kefir. I drink a glass of Kefir in the afternoon and I have 2 heaped tablespoons (roughly 30 grams) of Kimchi or Sauerkraut with my breakfast. I can hand on my heart say that I feel so much better now that I have started to look after my gut health. I can’t recommend it enough and there is scientific evidence to back it up. Watch out for my next blog which will show the process of making home made kefir and Kimchi.
Listen to: Dr. Rhonda Patrick on the Joe Rogan show.
Read: Gut by Giula Enders
Eat: If you’re in Cork grab some local My Goodness Kombucha, Kefir and Kimchi. If you want to save some money you can make your own. You can buy kefir grains or ferment your own cabbage to make sauerkraut or Kimchi.
Enck P, (2017). Therapy options in irritable bowel syndrome. – PubMed – NCBI. [online] Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21389791 [Accessed 23 Oct. 2017].
Cryan, J., Bruno, J., Jinan, T., Forsythe, P. and Bienenstock, J. (2011). Ingestion of Lactobacillus strain regulates emotional behavior and central GABA receptor expression in a mouse via the vagus nerve. [online] http://www.pnas.org/content/108/38/16050.short. Available at: http://Ingestion of Lactobacillus strain regulates emotional behavior and central GABA receptor expression in a mouse via the vagus nerve [Accessed 26 Oct. 2017].