Who would have thought that your tummy can talk to your brain (and no, I am not talking about being ‘hangry’, as my girlfriend would say) ?
Well…strong scientific evidence now suggests that your gut microbiota has an important role in bidirectional (brain to gut, and gut to brain) interactions between the gut and the nervous system (1). Your gut and brain are in constant contact thanks to a specific pathway which scientists now call the gut-brain axis (GBA). It turns out that all this new stuff may be an extremely important gateway to our health, so please read on!
What does ‘gut microbiota’ mean?
Gut microbiota (previously called gut flora) is the name given today to the microbe population living in your intestine.
Your gut microbiota is simply made up of trillions and trillions of tiny microorganisms, known as bacteria. One-third of your gut microbiota is common to most people, while two-thirds are specific to each one of us. In other words, the microbiota in your intestine is like an individual identity card, or a fingerprint (2).
While each of us has a unique collection of good and bad bacteria or gut microbiota, it always fulfils the same physiological functions, with direct impact on our health.
It is believed that there are some important physiological functions which need considering when it comes to your gut microbiota.
Some of the functions are:
- important role in the immune system
- proper digestion and metabolism
- helps with production of some vitamins (B and K)
- helps to breakdown polysaccharides, and polyphenols etc etc (3).
Now we have established that the human gut microbiota and its role in both health and disease has been the subject of extensive research, because of its involvement in human metabolism, nutrition, physiology, and immune function; we need to consider what happens if it doesn’t function properly?
Research shows us that imbalance of the normal gut microbiota have been linked with gastrointestinal conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and wider systemic manifestations of disease such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and atopy (4).
What can affect your Gut Microbiota?
Some of the newest research out there shows us that the microbiota offers your body many benefits through a range of physiological functions (5). However, there is potential for these mechanisms to be disrupted as a result of an altered microbial composition, known as dysbiosis.
Fibre: Current research suggests that diet exerts a large effect on the gut microbiota (6). It is proven that the consumption of dietary fibres can help towards maintaining healthy gut flora (7), so have your beans, lentils or chickpeas. Other natural foods that are high in fibre:
- Nuts: Almonds, pecans, and walnuts.
- Sweet potatoes & potatoes (with the skin).
Sugar: I’ve said it before and I will say it again…Cut out sugar. This should be your first priority. Sugar feeds bad bacteria and promotes yeast and candida overgrowth, all of which damage your gut.
Pre-biotic rich foods: eat prebiotic-rich foods that feed good bacteria: Sweet potato, carrots, asparagus, and squash contain fibrous prebiotic carbs that support good bacteria growth.
Diversity: This point is one of my favourites when it comes to nutrition. During one of the interviews I did, it was suggested to me to keep my diet diversified and seasonal (local, fresh, seasonal, organic produce). Check out the episode with Fiona Campbell.
2. Environmental factors
Natural Birth: Microbes colonise the human gut during or shortly after birth. The fact that babies delivered naturally have higher gut bacterial counts at 1 month of age than those delivered by caesarean section suggests gut colonisation by microbes begins during, and is enhanced by, natural birth (8).
Breast feeding: The growth and development of a robust gut microbiota is important for the development of the immune system and continues during breast-feeding, a stage which seems to be important for the long-term health of the individual, so whenever possible attempt breastfeeding (9).
Lack of exercise & smoking: Both, smoking and lack of exercise can significantly impact the large bowel (and potentially the microbiota). Indeed, smoking has a significant influence on gut microbiota composition, increasing Bacteroides-Prevotella in individuals with Crohn’s Disease (CD) and healthy individuals (10). Exercise (or rather a lack of it) may be an important influence on any shifts in microbial populations that are associated with obesity. This is highlighted by a recent study that showed an increase in the diversity of gut microbial populations in professional athletes in response to exercise and the associated diet (11).
Stress: another lifestyle factor, stress, has an impact on colonic motor activity via the gut-brain axis which can alter gut microbiota profiles (12). Stress may contribute to IBS, one of the most common functional bowel disorders, and the associated changes in microbial populations via the central nervous system (CNS). The gut-brain axis is bi-directional (read below), so stress can actually affect how your gut is communicating to your brain.
What is Gut Brain Axis (GBA)?
Your intestines and brain talk to each other via the endocrine system (hormones released into the bloodstream) and the nervous system (nerve signals triggered in the gut and transmitted to the brain, and vice versa).
The gut-brain axis is an important messaging system that oversees your satiety, food intake, glucose regulation, fat metabolism, insulin secretion and sensitivity, and bone metabolism.
The gut-brain axis is bi-directional, involving both hormonal and neuronal pathways, and so changes in the gut microbiota may influence brain activity, including mood (13).
So, hopefully it makes a bit more sense now why it is considered important to look after your gut health in order to maintain good overall wellbeing!
“Our lifestyle choices today can change the world tomorrow, so why not change it for better?”
Dr Stefan Gospodinov DC (MChiro)