I know not everyone is as excited about this beautiful organ as I am, but there are a lot of people out there who want to know more about it and the first question is usually, why is it so important? Well, the gut is actually central to overall health so the gut impacts all of our body systems.
What do I mean by that? Well it talks to all of the body organs, to every part of the body. It is not just talking to the brain and it’s not just talking to the heart, it is talking to everything! It is sharing really cool information and that cool information comes from the microbes that reside within your gut. We’ve got to remember that the gut is an organ and it is part of the gastrointestinal tract which goes from your mouth to your anus and is about 8 to 9 meters long. Within that you’ve got that ecosystem of microbes which are bacteria, fungi, parasites, all these good stuff that reside in there. These “good bacteria” help break down food so that our bodies can absorb essential nutrients.
Watch the video here or read below:
What does the Gut impact?
The first thing that the gut impacts is your digestion. Your Gut and the microbes within your gut have an impact on the absorption of nutrients. They make nutrients like Vitamin K and they regulate the production of bile which helps you break down fats. It also plays a huge role in metabolism.
When there is an imbalance in gut bacteria or in those microbes within the gut, good bacteria may be lower than they should be and bad bacteria could be getting out of control. These contribute to conditions that we might be feeling so we might notice IBS type symptoms for example.
The other part that the microbes and the gut impact on is your immune system. So the immune system is your defense system, it’s like your sentry on the tower. It is your soldiers that are out there primed and ready to respond and react to anything that it considers a threat to your body. And more than 75% of your immune system is in your gut.
These are some of the physical manifestations that stem from poor gut health, but did you know that our gut also impacts upon our mental wellbeing?
The Gut-Brain Connection
The one I really love is the Gut-Brain Axis, more commonly referred to as the Gut-Brain connection. The Gut-Brain connection is how your gut and your brain talk to each other. Why would we even want to think about that? Well, I think it is kind of generally accepted that our diet is important for our mental health. Now, however, the science and the evidence that we’re finding out is actually proving what we have instinctively known or intuitively known all along. Science is now saying that our diet can actually be really influential on our mood. It’s also influential in terms of our pain response and satiety, signalling for us to stop eating when we feel full and reducing those times where we eat beyond fullness and then end up feeling uncomfortable afterwards.
I am referencing a clinical trial now so that you can begin to understand the evidence and build your own context around the gut/brain access and what we are seeing from the research into this. The trial I refer to is the SMILES (Supporting the Modification of lifestyle in Lowered Emotional States) trial.
The aim of the SMILES trial was to look at the role of diet in supporting mental wellbeing. This was a randomized control trial which is considered your gold standard of research and it was the first study of its kind that looked at the question, “if I improve my diet will it improve how I feel?” The trial finished in 2015 and what they did was they looked at people who were experiencing depression symptoms. They were looking at their current health conditions as well as making sure that there was nothing else going on and that it was just purely depression symptoms.
The carefully selected participants and divided them into two groups test their theory. They offered talk therapy to one group and they offered dietary intervention which also included talk therapy to the other group. This meant they had nutrition counseling and education whilst also following the Mediterranean diet.
The aim was to discover the impact on symptoms at the end of the trial and if either group had a greater reduction . In short, what the trial found was that the dietary intervention group felt the best afterwards.
What I love about this trial is that it was not measured on physical state so it wasn’t measured on your body weight or your physical activity. What they measured was the greatest reduction in symptoms and feelings and if you know me, you know I’m all about the feelings. This study is really powerful for me particularly to know and understand, in terms of supporting people, how to adopt and embrace dietary changes.
It’s really important for me to remind you about the gut-brain connection and that your gut is so important in terms of your mood and how you feel. And, how we feel is really significant in terms of physical health, emotional health, social health. These are health behaviours, these are the measurements that we have on someone’s health, as I said earlier, it’s not looking at body weight it’s not looking at physical activity, it’s looking at how you are feeling.
If you feel like your mood is off and you’re reaching for all the wrong kinds of foods, it can be helpful to remind yourself of this gut-brain connection and consider that it’s not just your willpower letting you down. It is equally important to investigate your own symptoms and ensure you are getting the right support, remember this trial included both talk therapy and dietary intervention. The great thing about what we are learning is that with the right support and with the right learnings we can support our health and our mood.
If you would like to learn more about the gut-brain connection or gut health in general, feel free to send me an email. I’d love to hear from you. You can also check out my other blog posts for more information including one I wrote about our amazing brains.
This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice. Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition.