“All disease begins in the gut.” ~Hippocrates, The Father of Medicine
Have you ever heard the expression “trust your gut”? What about those intuitive “gut feelings” we all experience? There’s very good reason for those “butterflies” in your tummy, so let’s shine some light on this fascinating topic.
Your body actually has two brains…. one in your head, and one in your gut.
Interestingly, your brain and gastrointestinal tract are composed of the same type of tissue! How cool is that? With a simple thought, brain neurons fire tiny sparks of electricity, which ignite the central nervous system (brain plus spinal chord). On the other hand, when we’re driven by intuition, the gut actually sends information to your brain via the enteric nervous system (the gastrointestinal tract). Think of it as your emotional GPS.
Your gut does so much more than simply digest food. For example, the bacteria living there (around 100 trillion strong) have a profound effect on your mental health, heart function, skin, mood, weight, and overall wellness. In addition, 70-80% of your immune system is controlled by gut tissue (gut-associated lymphoid tissue)! Understanding this alone can change your entire approach to health.
Your gut microflora (bacteria) outnumber human cells by a factor of ten to one, and imbalances in these bacteria have been linked to autoimmune diseases (including lupus, multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, and Parkinson’s), behavioral issues, autism, immunity, allergies, skin problems (dryness, eczema, and psoriasis), depression, anxiety, and even cancer.
So, how do we stress the gut?
#1 Overuse of medication and antibacterial products
Seventy percent of Americans are on at least one prescription drug. And even though you may not be taking antibiotics, they can still make their way onto your plate through meat consumption, as 80% of antibiotics in the United States are fed to farm animals (a great reason to buy organic!). These drugs damage your intestinal lining and wreak havoc on friendly bacteria populations.
#2 We are TOO clean!
It’s no secret that our society has become obsessed with antibacterial products. We over-sanitize at every turn! A large percentage of your good bacteria live on the skin, working hard to protect you from potentially harmful foreign invaders in the outside world. Continual use of antibacterials can corrupt your innate microbial balance and weaken the immune system. Not to mention, many antibacterial soaps contain triclosan, which may alter hormones and interfere with heart function. Keep it simple: wash with a small amount of plain soap and water.
#3 Poor Diet
Perhaps the most significant factor causing destruction in the gut is the Standard American Diet (SAD)- loaded with processed foods, excess sugars, refined grains, and genetically modified ingredients. Sugar and refined grains, especially, compromise your beneficial gut bacteria, promote inflammation, and can lead to an overgrowth of yeast. The simple consumption of probiotics, fermented foods, raw vegetables and leafy greens can work wonders in your gut!
For true lifelong wellness, one must learn how to maintain a clean and healthy gut. In a follow-up The Paper Trail article, I will provide some super easy tips and habits for taking care of this incredibly important system- our second brain.
Mercola, J. Effortless Healing: 9 Simple Ways to Sidestep Illness, Shed Excess Weight, and Help Your Body Repair Itself. Harmony Books, 2015
Axe, J. Eat Dirt: Why Leaky Gut May Be the Root Cause of Your Health Problems and 5 Surprising Steps to Cure it. HarperCollins, 2016
Junger, A. Clean Gut: The Breakthrough Plan for Elimination the Root Cause of Disease and Revolutionizing Your Health. HarperCollins, 2013
Leslie is the creator of Mindful Dine, a community dedicated to inspiring nutritious eating and healthy living. She is a self-taught cook, writer, marine scientist, ocean lover and wellness advocate. Leslie is passionate about wholesome, healing food and enjoys inspiring others to be active participants in their health. A native Texan, she now lives in Puerto Rico with her husband.