By: Kaitlin Cleary & Charlotte Miller
Trust your gut, just like ‘It’s raining cats and dogs’ or ‘Break a leg,’ this idiom has been seamlessly integrated into our everyday language. However, the more time you take to consider the meaning behind the saying, the more you notice its emphasis on the mind and gut. As we began to independently research this brain-gut connection, it became clear to us how much information there was about it —but how little was known about it. This brain-gut connection has been at the forefront of research recently, and the findings are quite miraculous. Foremost, let’s talk about the gut and what constitutes a ‘healthy gut.’
The gut is a crucial part of the digestive system, so food and nutrition have an immense impact on it. The microbiome in one’s gut is composed of thousands of living microorganisms, including bacteria, that play a major role in the absorption of nutrients (Ghaisas, 2016). These nutrients include vitamins, amino acids, minerals, and enzymes (Ghaisas, 2016). In this sense, a healthy gut refers to a healthy gut microbiome. The bacteria that inhabit the gut microbiome also play a part in building the immune system. Although gut microbiota seem to have a surplus of responsibilities and functions, it also influences neurological function. The gut-brain axis refers to the interaction between the gastrointestinal tract (GIT) and the central nervous system (CNS) which communicate with each other via nerves, peptides, and neurotransmitters (Ghaisas, 2016). This gut-brain connection is also referred to as the ENS-CNS connection, or enteric nervous system and central nervous system. With a connection like this, it is not surprising to learn that one’s gut health can directly affect one’s stress levels. In fact, a 2016 study conducted by Yale Medicine proved that an unhealthy gut microbiome in study participants correlated to higher levels of anxiety (Schnorr and Bachner, 2016). Ultimately, it’s hard to ignore the powerful connection between our gut and our brain. Keeping this information in mind, let’s delve into food types that promote the importance of maintaining a healthy gut microbiome.
The best foods for a healthy gut are products that have prebiotics and probiotics and foods that are easily digestible. Yogurt is at the top of the list for several articles discussing gut health. In addition to yogurt, whole grains and specifically sourdough are the best forms of bread to eat because they are easier to digest than white bread (Bowyer, 2018). Kombucha, which is filled with live probiotics, contributes to healthy bacteria in the gut and helps to hydrate you. With any diet recommendations, drinking water and staying hydrated is always a significant mention. As you may have heard before, or read on hol3health, the Mediterranean diet is one of the best diets for longevity and overall health. Some staples in this diet include olive oil, legumes, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fish. These foods are also beneficial for gut health as they are easily digested and are packed with nutrients (Bowyer, 2018). Incorporating these foods can have extensive health benefits and promote gut health. Overall, it is advisable to err on the side of caution when it comes to dietary choices and avoid foods with high fat and caffeine content, as they often cause undesirable gastrointestinal effects (Valdes, 2018). Does that mean you have to skip the morning coffee? Absolutely not! After all, you know your body best
In reviewing the research, it seems to emphasize an undeniable connection between one’s gut and mind. Just like any other organ in the body, the gut’s health is crucial to our overall health and well-being. This means that it is even more important to check in on yourself and see how that gut is feeling. In fact, some medical experts even recommend keeping a journal if you are experiencing gastrointestinal discomfort- to chronicle symptoms and eating habits (Valdes, 2018). By listening to your body and your mind, it becomes easier to understand what foods negatively and positively affect your health. After all, no one gut microbiome is the same, so make sure you are monitoring what your body responds best to. Just like the saying goes, if something feels off, trust your gut− it’s probably right!
**If you are interested in more topics relating to the science behind the brain-gut axis, keep an eye out for an article next month on gut health as it relates to mental health!
Bowyer, J. (2018). Use of dietary indices to control for diet in human gut microbiota studies. Microbiome, 6(1), 77–77. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40168-018-0455-y
Ghaisas, M. (2016). Gut microbiome in health and disease: Linking the microbiome-gut-brain axis and environmental factors in the pathogenesis of systemic and neurodegenerative diseases. Pharmacology & Therapeutics (Oxford), 158, 52–62. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pharmthera.2015.11.012
Schnorr, S., and H. Bachner (2016). “Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, New Haven.” Integrative Therapies in Anxiety Treatment with Special Emphasis on the Gut Microbiome, vol. 189, no. 89, 30 Sept. 2016, pp. 397–422., doi:27698624. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5045149/
Valdes, A, et al. “Role of the Gut Microbiota in Nutrition and Health.” The BMJ, British Medical Journal Publishing Group, 13 June 2018, https://ww.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.k2179