You are what you eat, says the old adage, but what on earth does this mean and is there any truth behind the saying? Increasingly scientists believe that your gut plays a pivotal role in your overall health, not just your physical health but also your mental health and the correct functioning of your entire immune system.
April 7th is World Health Day, so to mark the occasion, we are discussing the importance of good gut health for overall good health.
Good gut health linked to good brain health
Beneficial bacteria in your gastrointestinal system are largely responsible for the critical functioning of your digestive system.
But they also play a role in hormone regulation, immune response, your body’s ability to absorb vitamins and minerals, its ability to eliminate toxins and your overall mental health.
You may have heard the expression “your body’s second brain” as a way of describing your gastrointestinal system.
Research has shown that there is a powerful link between gut health and brain health. A healthy gut can have positive benefits for your entire body influencing factors like mood and memory.
Scientists now refer to the 100 million nerve cells that line your gut as your Enteric Nervous System (ENS). The ENS controls digestion but also communicates with your brain concerning the health of your gut and the body’s immune system.
That is why people with bowel disorders such as IBS or leaky gut are more prone to suffer from autoimmune diseases and mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.
In short, when your gut is healthy your brain is happier.
Symptoms caused or worsened by poor gut health
Poor gut health not only leads to obvious symptoms like reflux, bloating and abdominal pain but it can also result in problems like headaches, joint pain and fatigue.
An imbalance in the levels of bad bacteria and good bacteria in you system can lead to a condition referred to as gut dysbiosis.
Too much bad bacteria, as well as yeast and also parasites in your system, can damage the mucosal layer of your gut. Normally smooth, a damaged mucosal layer becomes permeable and allows food proteins to enter the blood stream.
This activates the immune system resulting in inflammation, food sensitivities and a whole host of other symptoms. Some studies suggest that digestive function can affect your cognitive abilities, including thinking skills and memory.
Seratonin, which is a chemical that helps to relay messages from one part of the brain to another, is 90% made in the digestive system by certain bacteria. A lack of this type of peripheral serotonin is linked to disease such as osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease.
Keeping your gut as healthy as possible
So, with your gut playing such a crucial role in your overall physical and mental health, what can you do to keep it healthy? It is important to create the condition in which good bacteria can thrive in order to protect your body and brain in the long term.
Too much processed food and diets containing high levels of gluten and simple carbohydrates can allow bad bacteria in the gut to grow exponentially. This type of diet has been linked to headaches, ADHD, depression and dementia. That’s why it is important to eat a healthy balanced diet rich in fruit, vegetables and fibre.
Advanced diagnostic testing can be used to find out which foods you are sensitive to which may impact your body’s ability to digest or absorb nutrients. Supplements, including probiotics, can restore good bacteria, helping your gut to return to optimal health and to stay healthy.
The 4 Rs of gut health are a great place to start in achieving and maintaining full physical and mental health:
- Remove (bad bacteria)
- Repair (any gut damage)
- Restore (gut health)
- Replace (good bacteria)