Did you know your gut is considered the 2nd brain of the body and contains more than 100 million neurons? Your gut, which consists of the cellular membrane lining the gastrointestinal tract from the esophagus down to the rectum, is also known as the enteric nervous system.
“Its main role is controlling digestion, from swallowing to the release of enzymes that break down food to the control of blood flow that helps with nutrient absorption to elimination.
The enteric nervous system doesn’t seem capable of thought as we know it, but it communicates back and forth with our big brain—with profound results.” explains Jay Pasricha, M.D., director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Neurogastroenterology. What does this mean? Issues like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, constipation, diarrhea, and upset stomach have been linked to depression and anxiety. The original thought was the depression and anxiety were the cause of the digestive issues. Recent studies are finding that gut related issues may be the cause of anxiety, depression, along with other health problems such as headaches, tremors, sleeping problems, loss of focus and tight muscles.
What can you do to better the health of the Enteric Nervous system?
Seven Essential Keys to Rehabilitate Your Gut, from Birth to Death:
- Vaginal birth
Do everything you can to avoid a Caesarian section. When you elect to deliver a child via Caesarian section – and there are times when it needs to be done to save the life of the mother or the baby—understand that by and large, you’re tripling the risk for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and doubling the risk for autism in your child. You’re also dramatically increasing the risk that your child will struggle with obesity, type 1 diabetes, and allergies. These are all inflammatory issues that are dramatically increased in children born via Caesarian section.
Aside from providing the most appropriate nutrients, breast feeding also affects your child’s microbiome via bacterial transfer from skin contact.
Animal research shows that when you change the animals’ microbiome using antibiotics, they gain weight. We also give antibiotics to cattle to make them fatter, faster. The same thing occurs in your body, which is why avoiding unnecessary antibiotics is so important.
- Refined sugar and processed fructose
Sugar and high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) preferentially increases the growth of pathogenic disease-causing bacteria, fungi, and yeast, so limiting the amount of refined and processed sugars in your diet is a key dietary principle for gut health.
Fructose is also far more aggressive in terms of causing glycation of protein than other sugars, meaning high levels of sugar in your blood that bind to proteins. This too is correlated with leaky gut, and may explain why fructose consumption is related to increased gut permeability, and inflammatory diseases like obesity.
- Genetically engineered foods and pesticides
Avoid genetically engineered foods. As noted by Dr. Perlmutter: “Yes, there is a clear and present danger in the notion of genetically modifying the food that we share with our gut bacteria. The gut bacteria are expecting the type of food that they have been provided for a couple of million years.
Suddenly, we’re introducing foods that are genetically unlike anything the human microbiome has ever seen. The research that allows the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to allow genetically modified food has not even considered looking at the effects of GMOs on the human microbiome.”
Glyphosate, which is liberally used on genetically engineered Roundup Ready crops, and many non-organic non-GMO crops as well, has also been found to alter the human microbiome, so genetically engineered foods deliver a double assault on your gut bacteria every time you eat it.
“We’re poisoning the food that we eat. If that’s not bad enough, that’s the food we’re feeding our microbiome, which are going to determine whether we live or die,” Dr. Perlmutter says. “It’s a bit of a worry.”
- Probiotic foods
Focus on eating probiotic foods, such as fermented vegetables, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, and kombucha (a fermented drink). A broad-spectrum probiotic supplements may also be advisable—especially if you have to take a course of antibiotics.
- Prebiotic fiber
Consume plenty of prebiotic fiber. Not all fibers are prebiotic, so not any old fiber will do the job here. Whole foods are the best. Examples include dandelion greens, which can be lightly sautéd, Mexican yam or jicama that can be chopped up raw and put in your salad.
Onions and leeks are also excellent choices. These kinds of foods will allow your gut bacteria to flourish, which is the key to health, disease resistance, and longevity.