Happy Gut, Happy Life!

I wish to share something I’ve been learning a lot about lately. I have been experiencing a bad and surprisingly virulent intestinal infection in the past few months. Through this I have learned BIG TIME that nearly everything about our health, for example, how we feel both physically and emotionally, hinges on the state of our microbiome or intestinal organisms. Since I started having intestinal distress, it has become quite clear to me that dysfunction in my gut causes much confusion in my brain.

gut brainMost have no idea that our intestinal organisms, or microbiome, participates in a wide variety of bodily systems, including immunity, detoxification, inflammation, neurotransmitter and vitamin production, nutrient absorption, feelings of hunger or fullness, and how we utilize carbohydrates and fat. All of these processes factor into whether you experience chronic health problems like allergies, asthma, ADHD, cancer, type 2 diabetes, or dementia.

Your microbiome also affects your mood, your libido,  your perceptions of the world and especially your clarity of thought. A dysfunctional microbiome can be at the root of headaches, anxiety, inability to concentrate, and even a negative outlook on life. Neurologists are now finding that no other system in the body is more sensitive to changes in gut bacteria than the central nervous system. The good news? They are now seeing dramatic turnarounds in brain-related conditions with simple dietary modifications or with techniques to reestablish a healthy microbiome.

Scientists are learning that this intimate relationship between the gut and the brain goes both ways, which means that just as your brain can send pain to your gut, your gut can relay its own state of calm or alarm to the brain.

vagus nerveThe vagus nerve, the longest of 12 cranial nerves, is the primary channel between millions of nerve cells in our intestinal nervous system and our central nervous system. The vagus extends from the brain stem to the abdomen, directing many bodily processes that don’t require thought, like heart rate and digestion. Bacteria in your gut directly affect the function of the cells along the vagus nerve, in other words, our gut’s nerve cells and microbes release neurotransmitters that speak to the brain in its own language.

We have so many neurons in our gut that many scientists are now calling this our “second brain.” This brain not only regulates muscle function, immune cells, but also manufactures an estimated 80 to 90 percent of the serotonin, our “feel-good” neurotransmitter. This means your gut’s brain makes more serotonin than the brain in your head.

This is why many neurologists and psychiatrists are now realizing antidepressants can be less effective in treating depression than proper dietary changes.

To this I can only say Live and Learn! It’s funny how we don’t learn about these interesting bodily connections until we notice them in ourselves! Take care of your gut and it will take care of you.

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16 thoughts on “Happy Gut, Happy Life!

    • Yes, but probiotics aren’t even close to enough… this is a specific intestinal infection that kills people everyday! “Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) caused almost half a million infections among patients in the United States in 2011, according to a study released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Approximately 29,000 patients died within 30 days of the initial diagnosis of C. difficile.”

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  1. I knew someone who contracted C. difficile after a knee replacement – it was an absolutely awful experience for him although he did (eventually) recover. The gut-brain connection is interesting – I suffer from IBS and there is definitely a connection there, no doubt in my mind.

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  2. That’s an eye opening statement that diet may be more effective than antidepressants. I’ve suffered depression since my husband died, unexpectedly, seven years ago Christmas Day. When I give up all sugars, including alcohol, eat protein, yogurt and a balanced diet and listen to my guided imagery audios on depression, I do really well. It’s when I begin eating sugar…. everything else spirals downward. I’m glad to hear your doctor thinks you’ve gotten this under control. Powerful piece, Laura. Thank you.

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    • Yes, I KNOW that sugar is killing me but I’m a total addict. Did you know it is as addictive as heroin to our brains??? This horrible gut thing is such a powerful lesson for me in changing my eating habits.

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  3. Thank you for writing this. I believe most of our health problems can be solved using nutrition and diet. Although I am a fairly healthy eater, I am a sugar addict, sad to say. Someday I will have the desire and guts to kick the habit.

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  4. Ugh it’s so true. After going through a bowel resection, I’m much more cognizant of the role our digestive system plays in EVERYTHING. Thank you for such a comprehensive post. I hope your situation improves.

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  5. I’m a big believer in eating real food with an emphasis on vegetables as opposed to anything that comes from a package because there is so much hidden sugar. I also prefer eating probiotic foods like sauerkraut than taking probiotics. It makes a world of difference in your health. I hope you feel better soon!

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  6. I do hope you improve Laura but thank you for sharing such important and educational information. What we eat and how we eat it is something most of us don’t place enough importance on for good health.

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