Most people have heard the term listen to your gut. Did you know that your gut listens to and responds to what you think, feel and do? Researchers have now learned that your gut has its own nervous system (enteric nervous system) complete with neurons, neurotransmitters and special proteins. Ninety percent of the messages that operate the gut come from the enteric nervous system and not the brain. Stress, mood, appetite, foods, drugs and environment affect this nervous system also called the gut brain.
A healthy gut has a balance of 80% beneficial microorganisms (flora) many of which are bacteria and 20% potentially harmful flora. Seventy to ninety percent of the immune cells are found in the gut. Gut flora affect the permeability of the intestinal wall. When the gut flora is out of balance, the intestinal wall may leak substances such as proteins into the body. This syndrome called leaky gut syndrome is thought to contribute to autoimmune disorders such as lupus, type 1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.
Leaky gut syndrome is also thought to contribute to an inflamed brain with symptoms of foggy thinking, poor short term memory, difficulty concentrating, depression, anxiety irritability, hyperactivity, aches, chronic pain, seizures and headaches.
It is thought that different types of gut flora have certain food preferences based on which nutrients the microorganisms need to flourish. For example some may need fat while others may prefer sugar. A diet high in sugar enhances the gut flora that needs sugar. In turn the gut produces neural signals that cause cravings for sugar. The gut brain axis also affects mood by affecting the production of chemicals called neurotransmitters.
Stress causes changes in the hormonal system which leads to changes in the gut system including blood flow, movement, and the integrity of the intestinal wall. Stress has been demonstrated to change the balance of the gut flora leading to an overgrowth of certain types of microorganisms and reducing the diversity of flora. These changes can lead to food preferences, leaky gut syndrome, mood disturbances, inflamed brain symptoms and more.
Our current lifestyle of processed and genetically engineered foods, food additives, colors, preservatives and refined sugars alter gut flora and can damage the intestinal wall. Buy organic foods and avoid genetically engineered seeds and foods. Eat meats from livestock that are not fed antibiotics. Listen to your gut and reduce foods that are known to cause distress. The most common food allergies are to dairy, soy, egg, shellfish, nuts and wheat.
Eat fermented foods as they assist in drawing out a wide range of toxins and heavy metals. Fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, kombucha, kimchee and sauerkraut also contain live bacteria. Consider taking a high quality probiotic supplement.
Environmental toxins can tax the immune system and liver, affect hormone production and may build up in the body thereby affecting gut health. Decrease reliance on plastics, pesticides and Styrofoam. Your gut brain will sense the changes and respond with a reward of improved health and well-being.
Understanding the Gut Brain: Stress, Appetite, Digestion and Mood. Presented by Marilyn Kuhn. Sponsored by Institute for Brain Potential.
About the Author
Juniper Wyndfyre RN, MSN, MA is a contributing writer for Ravenhawks Magazine on natural health topics. She is the founder of Juniper Healing Arts, a business specializing in energy healing, soul retrieval, soul-life coaching, intuitive readings and Laughter Yoga. Her goal is to help individuals discover and live the life of the true self and to remove the blocks and obstacles in the way. She enjoys laughing for no reason, dancing, hiking, reading, cooking and travel. Juniper lives in New Mexico with her 2 furry companions. Find her at Juniperhealingarts.net or firstname.lastname@example.org