Understanding the gut-brain connection

bowel (front)We all know (too well) that what we eat has a profound impact on our thighs and overall health. But did you know that your stomach has a significant link to your brain too? Specifically, the health of your gut can contribute to mental illnesses, like depression, chronic stress, and anxiety.

How exactly does this work? Psychology Today says it has to do with these three physical systems:

1.    Stress and the body

Typically, if you’re in danger, your body responds by flushing your system with hormones that give you the energy and strength to fight, or run away from, whatever is endangering you; aka, the ‘fight or flight’ response. 

But, while previously this would only happen on the odd occasion when a lion tried to eat you, these days, our bodies experience this kind of stress-induced response more frequently. And this can have a striking effect on our bodies, by causing ailments like intestinal troubles, hypertension, headaches, and mental illness.

2.    The immune system

Your body’s response to stress is the same, whether you’re working towards a deadline, or running away from a man-eating tiger. And when our bodies are on high alert, they behave as if they’re fighting an infection: they become inflamed. 

But, while inflammation has its place in healing real infections, chronic levels often lead to chronic (and even deadly) illnesses like depression, cancer, and autoimmune diseases.

3.    The gut microbiome

Managing these biological responses comes down to our microbiomes: microscopic organisms like bacteria, archaea, parasites and fungi that make up 90% of our biology. These germs are good for you, affecting everything from your pain threshold, to your hormones, and your ability to fight off illness and manage stress. 

This means that the germs that live with you are really important; not just for survival, but for your quality of life too. 

You can improve your gut health by taking pre- and probiotics regularly, avoiding antibiotics and processed foods whenever possible, and eating and drinking a variety of cultured and fermented products like yoghurt, cultured butter, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, and kombucha. 

Scientists are only just scratching the surface of the gut-brain connection, but so far one thing’s for certain: unhealthy food affects way more than just your thighs.

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