Want a Healthy Brain? Get a Healthy Gut

photoIf we were to come up with a list of the different types of health we hear or read about on a regular basis, it may look like the list in this photo. With one bold exception: gut health.

Gut health is a very important and very much overlooked aspect of our overall wellness. Consider this: the gut, which includes our stomach and intestines, houses 70-90% of the immune cells in our entire body. The gut controls how our body fights and handles disease. It also does a lot of communicating with the brain, helping stabilize our moods and activating our immune system. So, yeah. It’s pretty important.

Here’s what you should know about gut health.

What happens if your gut is unhealthy?

Good healthy bacteria growth and it’s ratio to bad bacteria is necessary to consider when striving for wellness. When this becomes imbalanced, inflammation occurs. Inflammation is the root of disease, and when our gut becomes inflamed, it no longer can efficiently do its many jobs. Not good.

The gut can give us signals of inflammation through pain, nausea, dizziness and bloating. Some of these signs may be evident during climate changes and environmental changes. Additionally, an increase in stress and anxiety, aging, pregnancy, and drugs and diet, can each cause inflammation.

How does this all relate to the brain?

When the gut becomes inflamed, so does the brain. The gut and brain are connected through the enteric system (a fancy way of saying the gastroenteric tract, pancreas and gall bladder). This system is comprised of neurons, neurotransmitters and proteins, and actively communicates with the brain to play a part in memory, problem solving and learning. These neurotransmitters aren’t just in your brain – there are also a ton in your gut. That’s why our mood can be affected by what we eat – seriously!

So how can I get a healthy gut?

First, eat well. Good gut health means investing time and energy into putting foods in your body that promote the growth of good bacteria and eliminate the bad. The lining of the gut replaces itself through a 14 hour to one week time frame, so eating well is important to do all the time, due to the fast change in the tissue lining of our stomach and intestines. Here are some suggestions:

  • Inflammatory reducing spices/foods: Piperine, resveratrol, curcumin, capsaicin and ginger
  • Healthy bacteria promoting foods (probiotics): buttermilk, soft cheese, miso, sauerkraut, pickles, tempeh, kimchee, oats, legumes, chicory, banana, beans, garlic, onions, leeks, flax seeds, dandelion greens, artichokes, kefir (dairy product) and yogurt. Probiotics should be carefully used in premature babies, immune deficient patients (transplants) and anyone receiving chemo or immunosuppressives.

Second, cool it on the stress and make sure you’re getting enough sleep. The gut becomes inflamed and hypersensitive with stress and decreased sleep. Sleep is important to decrease inflammation, so when you are stressed and not sleeping, the body does not have a chance to repair itself. Try relaxation techniques and exercise to  avoid gut distress.

There you have it – your gut is more important to your overall wellness than you probably ever imagined! Be sure to keep it healthy – the rest of your body, and your brain, will thank you.

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