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Of mice and men
Did you know your gut or your gastrointestinal tract (digestive tract), shelters a vast colony of bacteria?
Not the kind of bacteria that gives you infections or stomach cramps.
But the good kind of bacteria that aids in digestion. Human beings have one the largest microcosm of bacteria in their digestive tracts.
Recent studies have indicated that the number of gut microbes is 10 times more than the total number of human cells.
These serve a plethora of functionalities including fermentation of dietary fiber, breaking down long chain fatty acids, metabolizing bile and stomach acids, synthesizing essential nutrients, and reversing bodily inflammation.
But the most prominent function of the gut bacteria was revealed when a team of scientists interchanged the gut flora of two distinct categories of mice.
One group was fearless and healthy, the other was anxious and timid.
The result of this simple experiment changed the world’s perspective on the importance of the gut.
Only with the simple interchange of gut bacteria, scientists were able to observe a dramatic effect.
The exchange caused the anxious ones to become bold and vice versa.
This raised a big question – is gut culture related to our brain and behavior? And does this relation stand true for human beings too?
Do you get butterflies in your stomach?
There are a lot of phrases in the English language – ‘gut-wrenching’, ‘gut feeling’, ‘butterflies in your stomach’, which tend to relate human emotions to the abdominal region.
And as per research, these might not be that misleading after all.
Scientists have discovered a strong link between our gut health and our brain. The Vagus nerve, which the longest cranial nerve in our body, connects our brain to the gastrointestinal tract. In fact, when scientists cut this nerve in the mice, they saw no effects of digestion on the mice brain whatsoever.
These studies revealed to the world one of the most important functions of gut bacteria – the control of stress hormones.
The digestive tract and the brain are so closely knit that the gut is often referred to as the “second brain”.
And just like the brain, our gut can “feel” too.
Conversely, whatever emotions cross the path of your brain, your gut senses it too.
This means that if you are stressed or in a fit of rage, your gut also faces the negative repercussions of the same.
The gut heals the brain
Throughout our lives, we have been taught that the brain is the ultimate control center of everything that happens in our body.
Little did we know that our digestive tract was somehow involved in maintaining proper brain functions.
The gut and the brain basically work in tandem, one helping the other.
A troubled gastric function relays the warning signal to the brain via the Vagus nerve and any stressor faced by the brain glides down to the abdomen in a similar way.
This could only mean one thing.
Keeping your digestion healthy and regulated will have a direct positive impact on your brain.
Let’s add this point to the long list of reasons why you should aim for a better digestion.
Why should you care about your digestive system?
Digestion is how your body breaks up the food that you consume into nutrients.These nutrients supply us with energy, help in growth, and facilitate cell repair.
Now, how do these nutrients reach every cell of your body? When our food is digested into simpler compounds, the nutrients are absorbed into your bloodstream.
These, then travel to different parts of the body, including your brain. This is the biggest reason you should aim at improving your digestion – nourishment. The other related reasons are-
- Digestion provides us with the nutrients required to sustain and continue life.
- The nutrients absorbed during digestion help in repairing cellular damage. If you’ve had a surgery or fractured a bone, you need these nutrients to help you bounce back to perfect health.
- The linings of the intestine contain tiny structures called as Villi which absorb nutrients and transfer them to the bloodstream.
- The end process of digestion, i.e, excretion, helps in flushing out the waste products and toxins out of your body.
- Be it building stronger muscles, preparing for a crucial exam, or keeping yourself stress-free, your digestive system is the one that comes to your rescue.
Proven steps to improved digestion
Watch what you eat!
The biggest enemy of your gut health is processed food and sugar.
In an experiment, where an individual was fed sugar-rich processed for ten straight days, shocking things were observed in his gut.
The individual had lost a massive amount of gut bacteria (there are roughly 100 trillion organisms comprising your gut flora) and suffered physiological and psychological damage throughout the process.
Hence, the moral of the story is, sugar is your digestive tract’s mortal enemy.
- Eat fats, but the healthy kind. As you know, your cholesterol has two components – HDL (good cholesterol) and LDL (Bad cholesterol). Fats that enhance your HDL count are good fats. These are very important from the digestion point of view because they enhance metabolism and decrease pressure on liver and gallbladder. These are found in omega-3 fatty acid rich fishes, avocado, coconut, flaxseed, olive oil, seafood, and nuts.
- When you talk about improving digestion, how can fiber-rich foods be far behind? Whole grains, vegetables, oats, and legumes, are the best source of fiber.
- These add bulk to your stool. They also facilitate proper absorption of water in the body and smooth passing of bowels.
- Such a fiber-rich diet keeps your gut flora happy, decreases gastrointestinal inflammation, and regulates your bowel movements. Eat a fiber-rich meal every day and you will never have to use a laxative ever again.
- The latest trend of eating “probiotic” foods such as probiotic yogurts or “kefir” is actually great for your gut health and digestion. The main members of this probiotic family are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. These collectively protect you against diarrhea, lactose intolerance, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). Moreover, these friendly-neighborhood bacteria colonies are our natural defense against eczema, vaginal infections, urinary tract infections, and even the common cold.
Watch what you do!
Digestion doesn’t begin in our stomach, but it starts in our mouths.
The moment we take a bite of food, our oral cavity triggers the process of digestion. The teeth are busy in mechanically breaking down the food. The salivary glands make the food wet too so that it can easily travel along the food pipe.
Also, our saliva contains certain digestive enzymes which facilitate faster digestion.
If you don’t chew your food properly, it makes it harder for the stomach and the intestines to break it down.
- Exercising, yoga, and basically any physical activity that keep you moving around are a boon for your digestion. These help in better absorption of nutrients. Moreover, breathing exercises have a positive influence on your bowel regularity. Moving around burns your food and uses it as a fuel. Undigested or poorly digested food ferments within your gut which leads to bloating, gastric troubles, acidity, and constipation.
- Set-up a fixed eating schedule and follow it diligently. When you move out of a proper eating routine, it may cause bloating and indigestion.
- The eating-clock should be coherent with your body’s internal clock. Have breakfast within an hour of waking up. Don’t skip lunch, even if you had a heavy breakfast.
- Have dinner at least 3 hours before hitting the sack. Don’t keep extended time-gaps between each consecutive meal.
- Just like you need to bathe every day, your internal organs, too, need to flush out toxins Detoxing is a great way to do that. Over time, our body tends to accumulate toxins and poisonous elements which alter normal bodily functions, mainly digestion. Detox techniques, clear out the gut, restore the gut microbiome (gut bacteria universe), and restore smooth functioning of all the vital digestive organs.
And don’t forget these…
- Drink plenty of water to avoid gas, acidity, and constipation.
- Maintain a healthy weight for a healthy digestion.
- Avoid smoking and alcohol. These release toxins in your digestive tract.
- Keep a check on your stress levels. Remember, stress affects your gut and brain both.
- Chewing a piece of fresh ginger helps in curing common digestive ailments.
- Never eat food when you are angry or are in a bad mood.
- Turn off the TV or laptop while eating.
A happy stomach and a clear gut is the secret to a long and healthy life.
Yoga and other ancient schools of healing consider the digestive fire as the core element of our body. Poor digestion can wreck your health and mental well-being in ways you can’t imagine.
So from today, start taking care of your digestive system.
And in turn, it will take care of you.
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