Having good bowel health is arguably the single most important thing you can do to maintain your overall physical wellbeing. Obviously having good bowel health is one of the main ways to nourish the body and remove toxins. It also is a main way the body makes hormones and wards off disease. But new research shows that not only does the gut influence how we digest and abosrb nutrients, eliminate toxins, produce hormones, and fight infections, it also plays a very big role in our behavior and mood, including influencing sleep.
The gut is made up of about 20-30 feet of muscular tubing crammed into the lower part of the torso. Consisting of the small and large intestines, the gut connects the stomach to the lower end of the digestive tract and assists with digesting, absorbing, and eliminating the foods we consume. But the gut is also populated with vast amounts of microbes that help make up the massive human microbiome.
The human microbiome consists of the trillions of bacteria, viruses and fungi that inhabit virtually every body part. The microbes in the gut are the largest and most important community of the human microbiome, and they can be both helpful and potentially harmful. While we still don't know exactly how many there are, which kind, or how they behave and why, there are at least two major groups of gut bacteria— firmicutes and bacteroidetes— that we know play various important roles in digesting and metabolizing everything we put into the body.
But research has also linked these gut bacteria to a wide range of diseases including obesity, inflammatory bowel disease (IBS), colon cancer, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, allergies, and asthma. It may sound off the wall, but there is also an increasing body of evidence that indicates gut microbes shape our behavior and influence how we grow, think, and feel.
Hidden in the walls of the gut are thin layers of millions of nerve cells that communicate with the brain. By way of the nervous system's inflammatory response, gut microbes interact with the immune system to affect brain function. Known as the gut-brain axis, the various interactions between microbes in the gut and the brain could have enormous benefit for better understanding psychiatric disorders.
For example, for some time now depression has been known to involve an inflammatory reponse, but understanding the scientific mechanism behind it has been elusive. Now recent research suggests that the gut bacteria oscillibacter produces a chemical that mimics the chief inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid), which calms the activity of the brain and can lead to depression. Researchers believe this is why those who suffer from constipation, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and other inflammatory disorders of the gut also often complain of depression.
In Traditional Oriental Medicine, this new research serves to validate what has already been discovered and known. For thousands of years acupuncturists have associated disorders of the gut, particularly those related to constipation, with depression, melancholy, and other mood disorders. In Traditional Oriental Medicine, constipation and the ease at which we are able to let go of unecessary thoughts and feelings, and other mental attachments related to depression, are very often the consequence of an overrestrained gut. When the gut is not functioning correctly, not only do we have trouble digesting and absorbing foods and drugs, and eliminating feces and toxins from the body, but we also have trouble letting go of feelings and thoughts that often lead us down the winding path of depression.
This speaks volumes to the importance of eating the right types of food. Foods that create sluggish bowels and do not promote healthy movements also cause a sluggish mind and can change your mood negatively. But by eating the right foods you can be sure you are giving your gut the best chance for optimum release of toxins and proper communication with your mind, which can help improve your mood.
So the next time you eat, think twice about how the food you are putting in your body will affect your behavior and mood. Generally speaking, highly processed foods and those high in sugar will destroy any beneficial gut flora and allow harmful microbes to take control. If you eat these types of foods regularly, it is very likely you are not only suppressing your mood, but you are also setting up the correct bioterrain for serious diseases to be able take a foothold in the future.
If you need help discovering more about how your diet is connected to your mood, or would like to know more about which foods support a healthy gut and a balanced mind, click here to make an appointment with Dr Rene and he'll do his best to point you in the right direction.