Trust your gut

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Words: Kseniia Mikushina (She/Her)

Have you ever had a gut feeling about something or perhaps experienced butterflies in your stomach? What is it about your digestive system, more specifically your gut that can somehow send you all sorts of signals? Your gut is a fascinating organ, which has far more influence than you think, from your cravings to the management of your mental health.

Let’s take a closer look at the gut. It contains about 100 trillion teeny-tiny organisms – bacteria. The combination of them is entirely unique for every person, termed ‘the gut microbiome’. It goes without saying that it works intrinsically to help digest food, but it also contains 70% of your immune system, making our guts also responsible for defending our bodies from infection. Unfortunately, under the pressures faced day to day in the 21st century we as humans are not always great at taking best care of our bodies. As a result we frequently see rather disturbing dynamics when we are faced with questions about our gut health. So, what exactly went wrong? Another central character in this story is the process of inflammation; a fundamental component of our immune defence. Historically, infections and injuries used to be top causes of mortality, but now generally speaking it’s an ongoing inflammatory process (cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer, etc.) taking responsibility. As a result, our immune systems are dangerously overactive. 

So what is the healthy gut supposed to look like and what is it that we are doing wrong? Essentially, the microbes need to feed off something: please welcome to the stage the hailed probiotics. There are three types of them: fibre, resistant starches, and polyphenols. Each of these enrich your gut microbiome and provide nourishment. With the emergence of the “ultra-processed diet”, we’ve started to deprive our guts of what they need most. Ultra-processed foods get absorbed by our bodies super quickly, causing blood sugar spikes. By the time they reach our colons, there is simply nothing for our microbes to feed on. 

Gut health could be a missing piece of the puzzle when it comes to managing mental health disorders. Not only is your gut on guard when it comes to immunity but also your wellbeing, with 95% of the mood boosting neurotransmitter serotonin being produced in your gut, communicated by the bi-directional connection between your brain and your gut via the vagus nerve. Once at your brain, serotonin crosses the blood brain barrier to increase mood, memory, and cognition. 

Major depressive disorder (MDD) is a complex condition which is vastly defined by one’s genetics, environment, biological, and psychosocial factors which cannot be overlooked. However, we are gaining more and more compelling evidence indicating how your diet plays a part in this disorder. Research has found that people with depression have a different gut microbiome with less short chain fatty acid producing microbes, subsequently losing out on the necessary anti-inflammatory properties, and overall loss of diversity. As a result, depression can also be classified as an inflammatory condition. This phenomenon is even present in animals; a study of mice microbiota inhibited with antibiotics, experienced depression and anxiety symptoms following fecal transplants. This novel outlook can open up a whole new perspective on therapy, antidepressants, and the way we address mental health conditions. Despite an abundance of studies conducted, we are yet to conclusively say if the antidepressants are effectively working or not because the whole premise of chemical imbalance in the brain simply cannot be tested. It gives a rise to new drugs – psychobiotics. 

Hopefully by now, you’re interested enough to be asking yourself if there’s anything you can do for your gut health? The key here is nurturing variety as opposed to setting restrictions; instead of taking things away from your diet it’s far more beneficial to work toward diversity. Eating plants, considering your fibre intake, as well as eating fermented foods such as kombucha, kefir, kimchi, and sourdough; all rich in live microbes to boost your microbiome.

Ultimately, the fascinating study of the gut microbiome offers promise, with much still to discover. It’s evident that your gut plays a crucial role in your immune system and overall well-being. However, to reach its greatest protective potential, simple yet enriching lifestyle changes must be made. It’s fair to say that our guts perhaps deserve a little probiotic treat for everything they do for us.


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