Digestive Health 101
Our gut is home to trillions of microorganisms—at least 1000 different species of known bacteria with more than 3 million genes! About one third of our bacteria, also called gut flora, is common to most people, while the remaining two thirds is specific to the individual. What is so important about this gut flora is the physiological functions it is responsible for: 1) it aides the body in digestion of food 2) it helps produce vitamins B and K 3) it helps us combat harmful microorganisms like parasites and viruses 4) it supports our immune system and 5) its balance and homeostasis ensure proper gut/brain communication. (1) This is why it is so essential to keep our gut flora healthy and balanced. So, how can we do this? Below, I give a quick run-down of gut wellness: Digestive Health 101.
All Disease Begins in the Gut – Hippocrates
Prebiotics for Digestive Health
Prebiotics, also known as fermentable fiber, is the indigestible food that promotes the growth and activity of our trillions of beneficial bacteria. Essentially, prebiotics are crucial to the diet. Prebiotics are present in fruits and vegetables such as plantains, garlic, artichokes, onions, leeks, asparagus, tomatoes, bananas, plums and apples. They are also found in grains such as bran, cereals and nuts like almonds. It is vital the diet be comprised of diverse vegetables, fruits and healthy grains. (1)
Probiotics for Digestive Health
Probiotics can help balance the gut flora when it has been affected by poor diet, infections, antibiotic treatments or other factors such as stress and trauma. Traditionally, probiotics are from lacto-fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, fermented wines, and fermented milks. At present, a large number of clinical studies with probiotics have been performed. The most common probiotics include Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. In addition, other microorganisms such as Enterococcus and Streptococcus have also been considered. (1)
The “Gut–Brain” Relationship
Perhaps the most important discovery of the 21st century is the interrelationship between our gut and brain. In 2010, Gerard Mullin found that if gut functions are disturbed, this results in corresponding malfunctions of the brain, proving the nervous system is greatly involved in this relationship of the two. To give an example, if someone’s diet is lacking important gut nutrients, this will in effect impact the brain, which could result in faulty or inadequate signaling. Vise versa, if someone is experiencing high levels of stress or trauma, the result could be an inaccurate brain signal, which could disturb the digestive system. So, when the brain-gut line of communication is not working properly, the nervous system could react with unwarranted signals. (2)
How The Gut–Brain Connection = Overall Wellness
We must consider the research from Watzke (2010). He found that both the gut and brain rely on the gut nutrients for their nourishment – food! However, when the nutrients become depleted (from improper diet, stress or genetics), the brain can inhibit signals to the gut. This is how digestive function becomes imbalanced. More interestingly, a 2005 study by Gershon found that 90% of serotonin receptors are in the gut (along with 95% of our serotonin) and control food moving through the GI tact. In fact, he also showed that serotonin controls the perception of intestinal pain. Basically, this means the loss of mucosal serotonin (SERT)—serotonin that lines the gut–may contribute to gut issues such as IBS and colitis. Finally, the loss of serotonin in the lining of the stomach complicates the gut balance further, as it can create symptoms of depression and anxiety.
It is absolutely essential to maintain a proper diet full of whole foods, consume probiotic and prebiotic rich foods, and steer clear of stress, since stress could ultimately alter the gut-brain line of communication. (2)
Also, in the next post I explain how to make your very own probiotic-rich Sauerkraut. Find it here.
Let’s keep our digestion happy!
In Divine Health,
1) Gut Microbiota For Health. Retrieved from http://www.gutmicrobiotaforhealth.com/en/about-diet-gut-microbiota/
2) Bauman, Ed. & Friedlander, J. (2015). Therapeutic Nutrition: Part 1. Bauman College: Penngrove, CA.
3) Mullin, G. (2010). Nutritional approaches to functional digestive disorders. Conference Recording Service, Inc., Berkeley, CA
4) Watzke, H. (2010). Heribert Watzke: The Brain in Your Gut. TED http://www.ted.com/talks/heribert_watzke_the_brain_in_your_gut.html?utm_source=newsletter_weekly_2010-10-19&utm_campaign=newsletter_weekly&utm_medium=email
5) Gershon, M. (1998). The Second Brain. (p. 17). New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers