An unhealthy diet could be responsible for much more than we thought. Don’t let your gut control your life!
Scientists have known for a very long time that the brain communicates with the gut via the vagus nerve. This is why anxiety and stress levels can affect your digestive comfort and contribute to ulcers, IBS, colitis, and other diseases and disorders. The idea that the friendly and less than friendly flora and fauna you have swimming around inside you could be communicating back is a more recent development.
That’s right, the bacteria, archaea, protozoa, parasites, and fungi you have floating inside you have evolved to hijack your cravings and emotions for their own purposes. It makes sense, really, that they would want to create an environment that helps them thrive, even at the expense of your sanity and health. Some of them just don’t appear to care that much about you. They don’t just rely on the vagus nerve either, branching out into hormones, toxins, the immune system, and any other way possible to control their host.
Our cravings may be directly linked to our gut environment and what the bacteria and fungi there are craving (1). These guests of ours use the neurons they have access to in order to place requests. Yes, there are neurons in the gut. They also release toxins that alter the way we feel until they get what they want. This creates an addictive cycle that many of us are all too familiar with, but we assumed this addiction was merely our own.
Chronic inflammation is a huge underlying problem for many illnesses. Inflammation is an important part of the immune system and the healing process, but only in the short term. Long term inflammation leads to unnatural pain response, cardiovascular disease, brain disorders, autoimmune diseases, age related illnesses, and much more. The bacteria in our gut influence our inflammatory responses (2). The right mix of beneficial bacteria may affect the way we feel pain, and not just intestinal pain, while also decreasing the risk of many diseases.
Bacteria interact with the gut to release cytokines that promote inflammation and stress steroids that encourage a systemic stress response. Like inflammation, stress has many benefits in the short term, but long term stress begins to erode our health. The body doesn’t seem to distinguish between different stresses well. A lion attack, a work presentation, or a group of uncooperative bacteria in your intestines all release the same hormones and physical responses. The problems begin when the stress doesn’t end.
Mood (Anxiety and Depression)
There’s evidence that bacteria can hijack the vagus nerve to induce anxiety and depression (3). The mix of bacteria in our gut also affects our emotional learning and emotional sensations (4). Our mood may be more deeply tied to our microbiome than we ever imagined.
The digestive system is one of the first lines of defense we have against foreign invaders, including parasites, bacteria, viruses, fungi, and all the other little nasties that want a piece of us. Our gut bacteria make a difference in how well this war is fought (5). They can build up or tear down our defenses, depending on the types we cultivate (6). There is also evidence that the Western take on cleanliness, antibiotics, and parasites has contributed to autoimmune disorders and allergies. Our bodies rely on the little animals inside us to understand what is safe and what isn’t and how forcefully to respond.
Your gut may be making you fat (7). There’s always a lot more to weight gain than one aspect, but our mix of bacteria down there plays a role in how much weight you put on. They influence cravings, increase stress, up inflammation, release toxins, and toy with hormones. It should not surprise us that this can alter our ability to maintain or lose weight.
Our gut bacteria may also play a role in insulin resistance (8). There definitely is a change in the mix of bacteria between those with and without Type 2 Diabetes. Scientists aren’t entirely sure how this can be used to our advantage yet, but they will come up with something.
What to Do About It?
You can maintain a healthier microbiome inside yourself without a lot of effort. It just takes some attention to what you are putting into your body.
Avoid Processed Foods – Start by avoiding processed foods. These are rich in simple and complex sugars that have been stripped of other nutrients like antioxidants and fiber. Processed foods tend to feed the more pathogenic bacteria and fungi inside us, tipping the balance away from health.
Hydrate Better – Drink plenty of clean, clear, fresh water. Heavily chlorinated and fluoridated water can affect your gut environment.
Eat Fermented – Ancient civilizations traditionally fermented foods we now eat without such treatment. Fermented and sprouted foods tend to have fewer antinutrients in them and they also supply beneficial bacteria to our guts.
Supplement – Try using prebiotic and probiotic supplements to encourage the growth of only the best bacteria. Sunwarrior has probiotics in our Supergreens and our Vitamins. There are also thousands more products out there. Find what you like and what works for you and your lifestyle so you can feel better, reduce stress, and avoid illness.