The Gut Brain Connection
Our body has many microbiomes. A microbiome exists in any part of your body that interacts with the outside world. Some examples of these are gastrointestinal (GI) tracts, nasal cavities/lungs, skin, and sexual organs. Microbiomes are not just home to bacteria, but also an entire ecosystem of archaea, fungi, viruses, and parasites. We call this collection of microorganisms in our GI tract “Gut Microbiota”. Most of our gut microbiota live in our large intestine. Amazingly, there are 40-100 TRILLIONS of bacteria in the gut!
I like to think of our GI tract as a long twisty tube that runs from top to bottom. The inside of the tube is where nutrients pass through. This inner layer is called the Gut Lumen. Within the Gut Lumen, a layer of mucous protects the tissue lining and works with the gut microbiome to protect our bodily systems. It is hypothesized that decreased diversity in healthy gut microbiota and a weak mucosal lining lead to obesity and other long term conditions associated with chronic inflammation.
(A.) Small Intestine (B.) Large Intestine (Colon)
Picture Source: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fcimb.2020.00248/full
The gut brain axis begins below the mucous membrane lining and is defined as any location where our gut and brain are communicating. This can be efferent, brain talking to gut, or afferent, gut talking to brain. A great example of this is The Vagus Nerve because it uses efferent and afferent neurons to communicate in both directions. I find it super cool because this nerve has a huge influence on the mind body connection. It plays an essential role in both current and future therapeutic approaches aimed at optimizing the healing and wellness process. This nerve that goes from your gut, to your brain, and back is used as a road for serotonin and the immune system. Notably, serotonin aka “the happy hormone”, is also involved in mood, sleep, appetite, gut motility and more. Scientists believe this could be a reason why balanced diets and gut microbiome diversity are crucial for mental health and protection against diseases such as Obesity, Type 2 Diabetes, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and more.
Today, the Gut Microbiome continues to be a hot topic for researchers because there is a lot we still don’t fully understand. Some reasons why it is taking a while to perform high quality experiments is because diet studies are extremely challenging to measure and everyone has a unique gut microbiome. Many promising studies have been completed in vitro (lab mice) but these do not always translate over to humans.
Your gut MAY be telling you it needs some TLC if you are experiencing any of the following….
- Irregular bowel movements (constipation or diarrhea)
- GI upset (bloating, cramps, painful gas)
- Mood or cognitive troubles (anxiety, brain fog, irritability)
- Sugar cravings
- Many many more!
Overall, we do know that a diverse gut microbiota and protective mucosal lining help to keep the body functioning with a manageable amount of inflammation. Basically, the more plant sources in our diet, the more healthy microbes can be fed and thrive. Here are 3 tips to support your gut microbiota:
- Gradually Increase Fiber** (Approximately 15g fiber per 1000 calories). Whole, unprocessed carbohydrates are a better source of fiber, nutrients, and can protect against leaky gut compared with their refined, highly processed carbohydrate counterparts.
- Exercise Consistently.
- Prioritize Sleep.
Try This Dinner Recipe to Increase Fiber!
Lentils Cacciatore, Inspired by NYT Cooking’s Ali Slagle
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1⁄4-inch pieces
1 red bell pepper, stems and seeds removed, thinly sliced lengthwise
Kosher salt and black pepper
1⁄4 cup kalamata olives drained and seeds removed or capers
3 tablespoons tomato paste
4-6 garlic cloves, chopped
1⁄2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1⁄2 cup unsalted broth or stock
1 (14-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
3⁄4 cup red lentils
Cheese topping (optional)
In a large pot, heat the oil over medium-high. Add the carrots and bell pepper, season with salt and pepper, and cook until just softened, 3 minutes.
Add the olives, tomato paste, garlic and rosemary and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomato paste begins to stick to the bottom of the pot, 2 to 3 minutes.
Add the broth, season with salt and pepper, and cook until nearly all the liquid has evaporated, 2 to 3 minutes.
Add the tomatoes, red lentils and 2 1⁄2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, partly cover, then reduce the heat and simmer until the lentils start to break down and lose their shape, 20 to 25 minutes. Stir vigorously from time to time to scrape any stuck lentils from the bottom of the pot.
This can be served over grains and topped with a sprinkle of cheese (I like goat).
Makes 4 servings and takes about 30-45 mins to make.
- Unsaturated fats like olive oil and olives help support heart health and the gut microbiome better than saturated fats.
- Lentils are high in fiber and provide about 8g of dietary fiber per ½ cup serving (uncooked).