Chinese Medicine has long held that there is a connection between what you feel and how you feel. Western medicine research is beginning to understand the relationship between our guts and our minds called the “Gut-Brain Axis.” Our gut and brain have a steady ability to communicate via the nervous system, hormones, and the immune system. Such communication greatly affects how we feel physically as well as emotionally.
The gastrointestinal (GI) tract, has it’s very own nervous system called the enteric nervous system (ENS) which governs the movement and regulation of the digestive system. “Scientists call the enteric nervous system the “little brain”. But it’s not so little. The ENS is two thin layers of more than 100 million nerve cells lining your gastrointestinal tract from esophagus to rectum…(and what’s more) researchers are finding evidence that irritation in the gastrointestinal system may send signals to the central nervous system (CNS) that trigger mood changes.” As a result of this strong relationship, what we put into our bodies becomes vital to our physical and emotional wellbeing.
Hormonally and immunologically speaking, when we are under stress, our bodies react by releasing what are called “inflammatory cytokines.” These are little chemical messengers that bring our immune system into high alert. In a way, our body reacts to all stress as if it were an infection (and to chronic stress as if it were a chronic infection) by releasing these cytokines. How is the gut involved? It turns out that the gut flora plays an important role in regulating our immune response. “Your digestive tract is…where 80% of your immune system is located. Research is revealing links between an unhealthy gut and a wide range of medical problems, including obesity, allergies, asthma, and cancer. In fact, many researchers believe that diseases often stem from a communication breakdown between the gut and other parts of the body.” Additionally, growing evidence shows disruption of the microbiota in early infancy as a “critical determinant of disease expression in later life.” Therefore, the makeup of our gut microbiome can make the difference in whether we are sick or well.
What does this mean for you? It means that in terms of feeling well physically and emotionally, the quality of the food we consume is just as important as making time for a workout.
When in doubt, here are 8 ways to a healthier and happier “second brain”:
- Limit or stop your consumption of:
- Processed foods
- Refined Sugars
- Seed oils (these are high in omega-6 oils, which are proinflammatory)
- Take antibiotics only when absolutely necessary; these play a major role in killing off healthy gut flora.
- Avoid exposure to pollutants, pesticides, and other chemicals.
- Eat coconut milk yogurt, coconut milk kefir, sauerkraut, refrigerated pickles, and kimchi. These are probiotic foods that supply your body with good bacteria.
- Eat probiotic foods such as jicama, onions, garlic, asparagus, leeks, bananas, chicory root, and Jerusalem artichokes. These supply the soluble fiber that your good gut bugs love to eat.
- Take a powerful probiotic supplement such as lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidobacterium lactis to flood your system with good bacteria.
- Manage your stress. Activities like yoga and meditation don’t just calm your mind; they help heal your “second brain” as well.
- Drink bone broth every day. The gelatin and anti-inflammatory nutrients in bone broth soothe and heal your gut.