The more we learn about the gut microbiome, the more we begin to understand how important it is to our health. While pesticides and other chemicals might not hurt our bodies in a visible way, they definitely hurt our little bugs (as pesticides are designed to kill little critters). Science and medicine have linked but bacteria to overall health and immune health, and now we are also looking to mental health. The symbiotic relationship between our gut health and how we feel is a hot topic of discussion and research. Scientists, physicians, and mental health practitioners are becoming increasingly aware of the important relationship between the balance of critters in our gut and how we experience our brain, mood and emotions.
You’ve hear, and felt, gut instinct, so it should come as no surprise that our gut is known as the “second brain” and there are structural/anatomical reasons for this reference. The “second brain,” known scientifically as the enteric nervous system, consists of sheaths of neurons (nerve cells) located in the walls of our gut. We refer to these sheaths as the vagus nerve and it runs from our esophagus to our anus, roughly nine meters long. When the precarious balance of bacteria in our gut becomes disturbed we often experience symptoms associated with Irritable Bowel Syndrome and other gastrointestinal related disorders. These symptoms are likely to start out as complaints of bloating, gas, constipation or diarrhea. Due to the interconnectedness of our brain and enteric nervous system, via the vagus nerve, once our gut bacteria is out of whack, we are vulnerable to a pattern of emotional discomfort, often marked by increasing episodes of anxiety and depression, but also foggy thinking, poor problem solving and stress-management and insomnia.
Our gut biome becomes imbalanced for various reasons, including, but not exclusive:
Prolonged, Excessive and unmanaged stress
Over- use of antibiotics (one course of anti-biotics can disrupt the microbiome for up to 1 year)
Prolonged use of steroids (like cortisone)
High sugar; low fibre diet (in other words, standard modern diet)
Regular consumption of alcohol
So despite the obvious supplementation of probiotics (which is a whole page on its own – please don’t rush out and buy without talking to someone knowledgeable that you trust to dispense good advice), you can take the 1st steps by cleaning up your diet. This means more fruit and veggies, raw and cooked, and much less of anything that’s out of a packet or a box. Limit your animal proteins, especially if you are buying from a supermarket – battery animals’ meat, milk and eggs are (generally) packed with hormones and antibiotics. Learn some stress-management skills and change whatever you are able to in order to gain some measure of control (it sounds simplistic, and often impossible, but it can and should be done). The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Experiment with fermented foods like kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut and kimchi – all laden with beneficial gut-friendly flora. And then ask your friendly health shop for advice on probiotic supplements.
The good news is that because we now know and understand that there is a connection between the mind and body, we have the knowledge and tools to make immediate changes that will yield significant results in how we feel. The better we understand and participate in our own sense of wellness and empowerment the more likely we are to embark on change that starts from within.