Why is gut health important? There are many reasons – and the most obvious might be the least important. Most often when people think of gut health, they think of diets or weight loss, but a healthy gut means much, much more. Your gut is your second brain!
Let’s take a deeper look… The human body contains roughly 13-30 trillion cells. The actual number is unknown and changes with age and other factors, as well as who did the calculation. We are always discovering more about the body, but the important thing to remember is that these cells are communicating in various ways in order to coordinate the many functions of the body. A trillion is a big number – hard to fathom for most people. Imagine if you had a million dollars, a million times – that would be 1 trillion.
With tens of trillions of cells in the body (containing our DNA, or made from it), it is truly miraculous how things stay organized in there for us to survive and live as a coherent human being. But here is what’s more amazing – we have more bacteria in our gut than the rest of our body combined. It was once believed that we have over 10 times as many bacteria (that gets into the 100 trillion range!) but that number is being revised as science progresses and we continue to discover more about the body. All of these are sending signals, communicating with the cells in our body, and interacting closely with the nervous system as well. Regardless of the actual number count, we can start to have an appreciation for why gut health is so important.
Feel with your gut AND your brain
You may have heard the saying “Trust your gut feeling” before, and for good reason. Your gut processes signals without the biased inputs from the pre-frontal cortex (the thinking part of the brain) or the lower/mid brain – sometimes referred to as the reptilian brain which is in charge of our survival instincts and fight/flight responses.
Communication between the gut and nervous system is a two way street – anxiety and stress can cause indigestion as much as indigestion can give us feelings of anxiety and stress. Eventually it becomes hard to distinguish between what is cause and what is effect. That’s why it’s so important to be aware and consciously interrupt these self-propelling cycles that don’t serve us and keep the patterns that are healthy.
This means that gut health is a part of mental health. Keeping a healthy gut means more than just having a healthy diet. It means to eat under the right conditions so your body can absorb nutrients and create balance for the nervous system. It means that we are aware of our food choices and making choices beyond the initial impulses (this is where we get to use the brain’s intelligence over what the gut craves.) For example, if you eat while angry, your body will not activate the proper relaxation responses, enzymes, and everything that goes with properly digesting foods.
And lastly, your gut actually produces many of the brain’s neurotransmitters. It is responsible for many of the signals that our brain is capable of transmitting in the first place. So you can begin to see why it is regarded as the second brain. Many cases of anxiety, depression, and other challenges for mental health can be corrected when the gut environment is in balance either by diet or by avoiding things that can destroy our gut biome like antibiotics which kill both good and bad bacteria in the gut. The issues are not in the brain, but in the gut. If you ever experience anything like brain fog or stronger feelings like anxiety or depression, try taking a look at how you are eating.