If you’re even the slightest bit interested in health and wellness, you’ll have heard the news – gut health is important. You’ve probably seen gut-friendly recipes like bone broth popping up everywhere and probiotic rich food and drinks like sauerkraut, kefir and kombucha in every health food shop. But why? Why is it so important we look after our gut? I decided to share some of my favourite gut facts for you so you can see why health practitioners like myself are all obsessed with the gut.
Before we start though, I just wanted to clarify that that when we talk about the gut, it’s not just what’s in your belly. I’m referring to the whole digestive tract. I’m talking from your mouth, down the oesophagus, to your stomach, down through the seemingly endless lengths of your small and large intestine and all the way to the uhh… “exit point.”
The gut is basically responsible for breaking down all the food and drinks you consume, absorbing the nutrients and then excreting the waste products. While this is already amazing, here are three more reasons to love it!
1/ THINKING ABOUT FOOD CAN HELP YOU BREAK DOWN YOUR FOOD
Before you even put anything into your mouth, the Cephalic Phase is helping you to break down your food by using your senses! Simply the thought, sight or smell of a good meal is enough to stimulate a response in the body that causes digestive enzymes and gastric juices to start being secreted. These juices then work to help break down food as efficiently as possible. This phase is so important, and accounts for up to 20% of overall gastric secretion.
Think back to the last time when you thought about/saw/smelled a delicious meal, and the way you started to salivate more, your stomach might have started grumbling and your appetite probably grew more intense. This is the Cephalic Phase in action! Even your saliva has enzymes to help you break down food, so you salivating at the thought of food is all part of the digestive process.
Despite how important this phase is, it isn’t utilised often enough in modern society. In a world where everything is rushed and on-the-go, eating has become something that is done as quickly as possible without being given a second thought. I honestly think that this kind of mindless eating is to blame for a lot of people’s digestive issues as their bodies have just not had time to prepare itself well for the meal. This can cause things like indigestion, heartburn, bloating and cramping. If you think about going for a run without warming your muscles up first, it’s going to be a bigger struggle trying to get your body to work efficiently without that prep time isn’t it? It’s the same thing for digestion. If we were to just slow down, appreciate our meals more to let that Cephalic Phase occur, our bodies would be so much more ready to tackle the things we’re putting into it!
2/ IT’S YOUR SECOND BRAIN
The gut has recently been dubbed as the “second brain” by many health professionals, and for good reason! Inside the lining of your intestine is the Enteric Nervous System (or ENS) which contains millions of neurons (some resources I read say 100 million, others say up to 500 million!), which are the same kind of cells found in your brain. These neurons communicate information from the gut to the brain via the vagus nerve, and also receives information in return. BUT it has been that it can also function autonomously as well. Meaning that when studies were done on mice where the vagus nerve was cut (which is pretty awful, but true), the ENS continued to still work without needing instruction from the brain. It’s actually mind-blowing how amazing that is!
ANOTHER reason we refer to the gut as a second brain is because it houses an entire life system within it – the ever-incredible microbiome. This the colony of hundreds and thousands of different types of bacteria and microbes living inside your intestines. These guys combined can weigh up to 1-2kg, and are responsible for so many different functions in the body, from the cravings you have to the amount of energy and nutrients you utilise from your food. Depending on what’s thriving down there, this colony can either be your body’s best friend or worst enemy so it’s important to get this balance right!
3/ IT’S LINKED TO YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM
Did you know that 70-80% of your immune system is located in your gut? Because your gut is responsible for filtering out the bad stuff, and absorbing all the good stuff, it makes sense to have most of your immune cells down there, helping to precent any toxins from reaching other parts of your body.
If you look after your gut well, and there’s an abundance of “good” bacteria, they can actually assist your immune system by helping to identify the “bad” bacteria and other pathogens that you’ve injested, and alerting your immune cells to them to help your body destroy them.
If you have an overgrowth of “bad” bacteria, these guys can actually trigger an exaggerated immune response, causing issues like inflammation, allergies, leaky gut syndrome, autoimmune conditions and affect the overall absorption of essential nutrients minerals needed for good health and immunity.
You can see why now it’s so important to know what’s living down there, and try to promote the right balance because without that, other systems like your immune system can really struggle!
Have I peaked your interest yet?! I hope I have, because this is just the beginning of our gut series. Each week I’ll be sharing more information on it! Next week, I’ll be getting deeper into the microbiome and exploring how these little critters control us and our minds (really, they do and it’s mind blowing!).
Catch ya soon health lovers!