by Gary Feldman
Hippocrates said, “Health begins in the gut, and death begins in the gut.”
It is crucially important at this time of a pandemic that we strengthen our immune systems. It all begins in the gut.
The gut channels everything that enters our bodies when we breathe, eat, drink and whatever is absorbed through our skin. The gut influences our immune system response and ability to resist disease.
The gut is the primary player of the digestive system and gastrointestinal tract. It does so much more than break down food, absorb nutrients and expel waste. Trillions of bacteria, viruses and fungi inhabit the gut. The gut flora is made up of both good and bad bacteria.
The phrases, “I have a gut feeling” or “My gut reaction,” symbolize the integral role of the gut. What happens in our gut affects how we feel physically, mentally and emotionally. I
t has a lot to do with our memory, decision-making and whether we feel stressed or sad. Our thoughts also have a big impact on the digestive functions of the gut.
The Gut is Considered Our Second Brain
The human microbiome is the internal community of living microorganisms that supports healthy digestion and the immune system, among many more functions. It is made up of trillions of cells that continually communicate with our brains as to the state of the health of our bodies.
The enteric nervous system sends signals to the brain. The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve that links the brain stem to the heart, lungs and gut. It is an information superhighway.
The gut-brain axis refers to the vagus nerve pathway where all the signaling takes place. When the micro-organisms in the microbiome send distress signals, a host of effects can occur, including depression, stroke, seizures, cancer and disease.
We can try to control the signals our gut is sending.
The Standard American Diet
Common side effects of the standard American diet are gas, bloating, and pain or exhaustion after meals. The Western diet consists of heavily processed, denatured (nutrient-deficient) food that has been linked to obesity, diabetes and heart disease, as well as poor memory function, hyperactive immune response and inflammation.
Fatigue, brain fog, PMS, and constipation are all signs of systemic inflammation. Many symptoms of inflammation can even mimic mental illness. To heal inflammation in your body, avoid foods that trigger such as packaged items, boxed meals, most bottled sauces and all processed vegetable oils.
These contain additives that wreck the gut. Refined sugars, dairy, gluten, grains (corn is a big culprit), soy, all genetically modified food, coffee and alcohol can also be problems for the gut. Consuming sugar and caffeine late at night can contribute to brain fog and the deterioration of your normal state of health.
Micronutrient deficiencies are ever-increasing as laws allow massive use of pesticides and herbicides which heavily deplete the soil, not to mention the use of synthetic fertilizers. Many other factors also deplete these nutrients including stress, smoking, pharmaceuticals, and toxins in the environment.
Restore a Damaged Microbiome
The overuse of antibiotics destroys the good bacteria in the gut. Supplementing with fermented foods and probiotics can help to restore it.
Vitamin B12 is essential to help the mood. Magnesium is considered one of the most beneficial minerals since our systems need a sufficient supply daily as it assists with over 300 bodily functions. Zinc is very vital for the immune system, sexual health and cellular repair.
Our bodies need a constant supply daily as the body doesn’t store this mineral. These vital nutrients can’t be manufactured by the human body, so include lots of foods or supplements containing them.
The human brain consists of about 60 percent fat, so consuming adequate amounts of essential fatty acids, including Omega-3s, is critical for mental health, cellular regeneration and protection of the neural pathways.
Dark leafy greens; wild, sustainably caught salmon; mackerel, and sardines are high in EFAs. Eggs from pasture-raised, grass-fed chickens, and all kinds of sprouted nuts and seeds are rich in EFAs.
Don’t be worried about eating extra fat as a high natural fat (the good, unprocessed fats) diet is optimal for blood sugar stabilization.
Eat “real” food, organic food, when possible. Today, there is less of a price difference between organic and conventional food. Non-organic foods contain very high levels of many kinds of pesticides and herbicides, such as glyphosate (Roundup), a known endocrine disruptor, that can cause damage to DNA and birth defects.
By choosing a whole-foods-based, organic diet, you get the healthiest, best tasting foods. A big benefit is that you are also supporting the long-term health of all species and the planet.
The Colors of Your Food
Take time while planning your meals. Consume foods that are colorful by nature, not artificial. Our saliva contains powerful enzymes that begin the pre-digestion of food. Chew slowly to ensure that you are benefitting from your digestive juices.
The good news is that damage to the gut, even from a lifetime of poor eating, can be reversed. Your body can create new microbes in as little as 24 hours, just by changing what you eat. It takes about 30 days to begin to reset your body.
Food is information for your gut. With every bite we take, whether organic or lab-created (GMOs), we program our bodies to live vital to the next day or to create disease. A healthy gut will not let unwanted substances pass into the bloodstream. What signals is “your” food sending to your gut and what is your gut telling you?
Gary Feldman is a researcher, health writer, nutrition educator and lecturer and instructor in the Port Washington Union Free School District Continuing Education program. firstname.lastname@example.org