The reason for the importance of gut health comes down to neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are chemical signals sent from one neuron to another where it then locks into its appropriate receptor. This way, neurotransmitters communicate important information, information responsible for every single function of the body, conscious or otherwise. Breathing, digesting, circulation, even our thoughts, moods, and feelings are results of neurotransmitters. According to Scientific American, “gut bacteria may have an influence on the body’s use of vitamin B6, which in turn has profound effects on the health of nerve and muscle cells. They modulate immune tolerance and, because of this, they may have an influence on autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis.” They have also been shown to influence anxiety-related behavior.
What does this have to do with your gut? More and more research continues to show the brain-gut link, commonly known as the gut–brain axis. Disruption of this link has been associated with several diseases, including Parkinson’s and other autoimmune conditions. That’s because science now knows that your gut sends out more messages, neurotransmitters, to the rest of your body than does your brain. Thought the brain was the computer chip running the show? Turns out, not as much as we thought. The neurotransmitters sent out by your gut are produced and affected by bacteria (microbes) within the digestive system. And since the colony of bacteria living in your digestive system is affected by diet, digestion, and environment factors, we have a tremendous opportunity to heal our bodies by healing our guts. That’s pretty incredible. Here’s a breakdown of how it works:
The Gut Microbiome
Think of this as a community of microbes that lives inside the gastrointestinal tract. Though teeny-tiny, these microbes add up to about 3 pounds and play a significant role in almost every function of the body.
How it Works
These tiny bacteria produce neurotransmitters that travel along the vagus nerve, the road between the gut and the brain, to communicate all sorts of things to the other cells in your body.
Meet the Bacteria Inside Your Gut
There are thousands of kinds of bacteria. Bacillus, for example, makes dopamine and norepinephrine while enterococcus makes serotonin. Dopamine and serotonin are the feel-good neurotransmitters; hence why things like depression have been linked to imbalances in the gut.
How to Help the Gut Biome Thrive
Cut Back On Sugar
Too much sugar can not only lead to inflammation but also feed the “bad” bacteria, like candida. The way good bacteria send signals out to the rest of the body, so too can “bad” bacteria, wreak a lot of unwanted havoc.
Cut Out Triggering Foods
Often foods containing gluten, dairy, corn, soy, and eggs can trigger an inflammatory response in the gut. Try cutting them out for a couple of weeks and adding them back in one by one to see if you notice a difference. Seeing a practitioner
Add a Probiotic
A probiotic supplement is a capsule full of millions of microbes and it’s an easy way to get your fill of good bacteria. Again, seek counsel when purchasing.
Prebiotics are food for the probiotics. Onions, asparagus, leeks, chicory root, Jerusalem artichokes, and oats all contain prebiotics. Prebiotic fibers are not digested and instead turned into short-chain fatty acids, which provide energy for and repair the cells that line your gut. Note: Prebiotic foods are not for everyone. Check with an integrative, holistic, alternative doctor or nutritionist before adding them into your diet.
Vary Your Diet
The gut loves variety. Eating a wide range of plant-based foods allows you to feed a wider range of bacteria. A diverse gut microbiome has been linked to a stronger immune system, so this is a good thing. One way to make sure you’re getting enough variation: take note of the colors on your plate. Chinese medicine believes several colors should be present on your plate during every meal.