April 25, 2018

The Gut-Brain Connection

At one point in your life, you have heard the phrase, “ follow your gut,” or “ trust your gut instinct.” We all know that feeling we often get in the pit of our stomach when we are faced with an anxiety or fear-provoking situation. That is because the brain and gut are intrinsically connected in a way where they communicate and affect each other. The gut and the brain regulate everything from our mood, emotions, energy levels and appetite. When the gut, which is our digestive system, becomes unbalanced, it will directly affect how we feel, operate and show up in our daily lives. It is also important to check in with our thoughts. Thoughts can create our reality and if they are constantly in a low vibrating place, it can manifest into physical symptoms. In my personal life, after learning that my symptoms were linked to gut issues, it sparked my interest to learn more about this powerhouse and how I can heal it in a natural way. I’ve been transitioning to a plant-based lifestyle, eating fermented foods and mediating more to create a healthy environment for my gut. As a way to dive a bit deeper into understanding the gut-brain connection, I sat down with my sister, who’s an RN and has dedicated a lot of time toward studying the gut, digestion and how to naturally heal the body. My sister has gone through her own health issues and by making changes to her lifestyle, she too was able to reverse and regulate her symptoms/triggers. I hope her insight and this interview will encourage you all to make even the slightest change toward improving your gut and mental health.

So let’s begin…

Hey Eunice! thanks for being so open and willing to share your knowledge with my readers. I truly feel this information will be valuable for understanding the importance of our gut, how it functions and its effect on our on overall mental and physical health. Could you explain what the gut is and why is it considered the “second brain”?

Thank you! I am always excited and willing to talk about health, our bodies and the road to feeling well. I am very passionate about the anatomy and physiology of the body, which has led me to pursue a nursing degree. Besides being an RN, I have also been a patient and have dealt with health obstacles and challenges of my own that influenced me to look deeper into what it meant to cure and heal. I had to start over by relearning with a different focus on a lot of information I was taught. The major changes I made were centered on gut health and healing the gut. The gut is the gastrointestinal system that is made up of the mouth, stomach, small intestine, large intestine and ends at the anus. The gut deals with breaking down what we eat. It absorbs vital nutrients, vitamins, antioxidants and water from food and discards the waste as feces. Besides your brain, the gut is the only other organ that has its own nervous system. This system of nerve cells found in the intestines are called the Enteric Nervous system and it is made up of over 100 million nerve cells whose main role is communicating back and forth with the Central Nervous System (CNS) which is made up of the brain and spinal cord. This is amazing! This tells us that there is an intimate relationship between the gut and brain. The GI system actually contains more neurotransmitters than your brain hence the nickname “second brain” It also makes about 80 to 90 percent of our serotonin, the happy, feel-good neurotransmitter. That is more then the brain!! There is more research out there now showing that not only is the second-brain important to GI function but it is very important in our moods and decision-making. This is why the gut environment must be in balance for your brain to be in balance.

Wow, I definitely learned something new. I had no idea that the gut contained more of our serotonin levels than the brain. It makes sense that if the gut is in poor condition then our moods will also be low. There is the infamous quote from Hippocrates that I always like to reference where he says, ” all disease begins in the gut,” …could you explain how the gut and brain affect one another?

Have you ever eaten a meal and then noticed after that you felt very tired, irritated, inflamed, aches, pains, moody or even gotten a full-blown headache? On the other hand, have you ever eaten a meal that made you feel energized and mentally clear? The organs of the digestive system, together with your gut flora (bacteria), work with the nerves, hormones, and blood to keep you healthy and balanced. Some of the bacteria that make up the gut flora are “good” and support balanced health; others are “bad.” We all have both good and potentially bad bacteria living in our gut. Most of the time, for most people, the good bacteria keep the harmful bacteria in check. When the harmony and equilibrium of the gut are thrown off then symptoms and sickness arise.

The gut and brain are connected and their influences range from our moods/energy level to how often we get sick. It is a major key to our well-being. Messages via nerves and neurotransmitters constantly travel back and forth between your gut-brain and your brain. Also like I mentioned before, the majority (80-90%) of your happy, feel-good hormone, serotonin, is produced in the gut. If your gut is out of balance, you will feel the effects. If you are missing the feel-good hormone serotonin, mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety, can manifest. Think of your GI tract as what would be the engine to a car. You need to keep good quality oil and gas in it to keep it running smoothly for years. You wouldn’t want to put cheap oil and regular gas in an investment such as a Porsche engine because over time you would ruin the engine of the car. Our bodies are “high class” which means they need high-quality nutrient potent foods and liquids to keep it running and living for years. There is also the saying “you are what you eat”. If you want to constantly eat cheap, fast and junk food then it will result in a junky body with an immune system that constantly has issues. If you want a body and immune system that is well, your going to have to feed it foods like leafy greens, vegetables, and fruit plus drink lots of water. So to close this question out, Hippocrates is saying to start by looking at the gut when it comes to preventing and treating disease. Educating ourselves about food and nutrition can assist us to become more mindful and involved in our health.

Would you say that the gut is the core of our immune system? If a person has a weakened immune system is that a result of a poor gut or it is more complex?

Yes, the gut is the core of our immune system. Many people are unaware that 80% of our immune system resides in our guts. Isn’t that amazing! More then half of our bodies defence system and protectors are hanging out in our GI tract! It regulates which particles from the broken down food pass through the intestinal lining back to the body and what gets discarded as waste. Healthy digestive tracts are designed with small gates that allow digested foods to pass while keeping out larger food particles and other antigens (foreign particles that cause immune reactions). In the leaky gut, the gates in the intestinal lining become damaged (from food and environmental toxins), allowing large food particles and unwanted substances (like bacteria) to enter the rest of the body. Once inside, the body treats them as foreign invaders and this causes immune reactions that can trigger inflammation and pain to name a few symptoms. When leaky gut develops, you can become very sensitive to certain foods. For example, you eat a food substance containing dairy or soy, and particles from these foods slip through the intestinal barrier and set off an immune reaction. The immune system attacks these food particles because the body recognizes them as a threat. They don’t belong. If these foods are constantly introduced to the body, the body will react to these foods with signals (rash, headaches, chronic inflammation, brain fog, pain).

Unfortunately, many of us who react to foods in this way are diagnosed with an autoimmune disease not realizing that simply changing what we eat can reverse the symptoms. I feel that this is very concerning because medical professionals are saying that there is something wrong with the body and it is attacking itself when the body is actually doing what it is supposed to do by attacking foreign antigens and toxins from the foods we are eating. Our bodies are caught in the crossfire and the evidence of the crossfire are the symptoms. Our bodies are actually giving us red flags, smoke signals and alarms. Many people ignore them or medicate to reduce the symptoms. But the medication never cures the “real” problem. What cures and heals are increasing our mind-body connection and our knowledge about what our bodies need to function on an optimal level. No one knows you better than you. The gut is the center of our health and the key to reversing health conditions begins there like Hippocrates said!

What are some simple ways we can strengthen our gut health and build stronger immune systems?

Some steps that people can take to strengthen their gut health and immune systems are to start feeding your gut good bacteria (gut flora) and eliminating processed foods, meats, dairy, bread, and sugar for more plants, fruits, seeds, nuts and lots of water. I understand going cold turkey can be difficult for some, to those individuals, I would suggest starting with one or two days out of the week without those foods. Another great way to start understanding what your body is reacting to is to eliminate those foods for two weeks then reintroducing them to your body to help identify any mental and physical changes. Everyone’s body is as different as their fingerprint.

Here are some suggestions to start:

Take a quality probiotic.

Probiotics can assist in rebalancing your gut flora (microbiome).

Eat fermented and cultured foods.

These foods consist of kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha and fresh pickles. Not only do they contain probiotics, they are also full of digestive enzymes, which assist your stomach, liver, and gallbladder in breaking down food so that it can be digested properly.

 Avoid alcohol and coffee.

These substances can affect your microbiome (gut flora) and damage the intestinal lining.

Eat more fiber.

Fiber helps regulate your digestive tract and acts as food for your good bacteria. Double up on leafy greens, vegetables, fruits, seeds and nuts. I like to think of fiber as the sweeper that keeps your digestive tract clear.

DRINK MORE WATER!

In your opinion, would you say that having a balanced gut is the key to optimal health?

Yes. It is very foolish to believe that what we eat does not affect our mental and physical well- being.  Our bodies use what we ingest to continue making us! From the largest organ, the skin, to the smallest red or white blood cell. Our bodies break down the food and take what it needs to keep us alive and thriving. Healing my gut made the biggest impact on my health when it came to dealing with Lyme disease. Lyme sets off a domino effect of symptoms on the body that mimic other conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, MS and liver conditions like hepatitis. It was a complicated, confusing and tough time. But it wasn’t until I changed how I ate that I began to heal my whole body. It made and continues to make the biggest impact in my life!

 

With Love,

Christine

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