Feeling like your gut-instinct is leading you down the wrong path? Here is why it may be time to check on your gut health
Did you know that our gut is considered our second brain? And that feeling we get when we step onto a stage to do public speaking, well it turns out that has less to do with swallowing butterflies and more to do with a sophisticated network of neurons lining our intestinal walls.
According to the author of ‘The Second Brain’, Michael Gershon, this network of more than a 100 million neurons goes beyond regulating digestion and plays a crucial role in building a healthy immunity, warding off disease, regulating skin health and even our mood. For this complex system to function correctly and help us make the right decisions, it relies on a healthy microbiome – also known as healthy gut bacteria to flourish.
Now we understand why grandma always told us to follow your ‘gut-instinct’. That is if you have been paying attention to your gut health and maintaining healthy gut flora. However, if you have been subscribing to a diet full of refined sugar, crushed grapes and pasta, then that gut feeling you are experiencing is probably just gas. At which point, you should take 5 minutes out of your day to read this article and ask yourself ‘is my gut healthy?’
With lifestyle changes, stress, diet and medications all having a significant impact on gut-health, an inflamed gut may present itself in several different ways. And just like a foggy brain, a foggy gut may be impacting your life in several different ways.
An upset stomach
One of the first signs of unbalanced microbiome and inflammation in the gut is an easily upset stomach. Gastrointestinal issues such as gas, bloating, diarrhoea, constipation, changes in stool movements and even reflux are all signs that you should be paying more attention to your gut health. While this may be the result of other health issues and medications, gut inflammation is mostly the result of stress, food intolerances, environmental toxins and food.
Feeling like your morning coffee with a dash of milk no longer serves you well? Or perhaps your pasta is no longer sitting quite right. An inflamed gut may be to blame.
With food intolerances on the rise, particularly to gluten and dairy, research has found that the absence of good gut bacteria plays a significant role. That is because prolonged gut inflammation and a ‘leaky gut’ overrides the body’s ability to produce antibodies and the ability to process certain foods. In the short term, this may present itself with gas, bloating, diarrhoea, abdominal discomfort and other abdominal pain. In the long run, it may lead to more.
A persistent sweet tooth
A diet high in sugar all but guarantees inflammation not only in the gut but the entire body. That is because sugar not only decreases the number of good bacteria in the gut, but it also promotes the process of glycation. Advanced glycation end products, AGEs, are compounds that form in the body when fats and proteins combine with sugar in the bloodstream. While the body is naturally programmed to eliminate these harmful compounds, a diet high in sugar makes it increasingly difficult for the body to do so. Studies have shown that a gut lacking healthy bacteria and flora is also closely linked with higher sugar cravings. And so the cycle continues!
Unintentional Weight GainIf you have been experiencing unexplained weight gain, your gut may be the answer. A lack of good bacteria in the gut can prompt the body to store weight, especially around the stomach area. That is because an imbalanced gut makes it difficult for the body to absorb nutrients and to regulate blood sugar levels. The result of which is insulin resistance and an urge to overeat.
Skin conditionsThe link between skin and gut health has long been explored, with Chinese medicine using face mapping to analyse skin problems relating to the gut. Thinning under the eyes, dark circles, grey and pasty skin, acne and even wrinkles can all be telltale signs of a poor diet and inflamed gut. More alarmingly, a diet high in sugar is shown to increase gut permeability, allowing waste and toxins to breach the stomach lining and enter the bloodstream. The leaking of certain proteins can cause skin irritation and may present themselves in more severe skin conditions such as chronic acne and eczema.
Sleep disturbanceResearch has shown that gut health and sleep are intrinsically linked with an unbalanced gut microbiome has a significant effect on sleep patterns. With more than 90% of the body’s serotonin produced in the gut, it’s easy to understand why. A precursor for melatonin, serotonin helps regulate the body’s sleep-wake cycle, with low levels of serotonin being linked to depression and insomnia. If you are struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep throughout the night, it may be time to fine-tune your gut health before you reach for a melatonin supplement.
The link between gut health and autoimmune conditions has been the subject of several studies with evidence pointing to a relationship between gut permeability and an impaired immune system. That is due to a ‘leaky gut’ gut releasing AGEs into the bloodstream. As highly harmful compounds, AGEs are found to increase inflammation throughout the body. This systemic inflammation is believed to suppress and alter the functioning of the immune system leading to autoimmune diseases.
A change in moodIt could be argued that we have left the most obvious for last, but as our second brain, it’s only natural that our gut has an impact on our mood and emotional wellbeing. Scientists have learned that 90% of the serotonin in our body is, in fact, produced by the gut. As a chemical responsible for regulating mood, appetite and even sleep, low levels of serotonin have been linked to the onset of depression and other mental health alignments. A change in mood, stress levels and sleep patterns may be the result of gut inflammation and indirect suppression of this vital chemical.