Our Gut is an incredible part of our body – and until recently it was under-appreciated by medical science. Now – thanks to mounting interest and research – our understanding of this complex ecosystem and how it influences our bodies and our health – is unfolding.
As well as extracting energy and nutrients from the food we eat, our gut makes up the largest part of our immune system and produces dozens of hormones that influence everything from our appetite, our instincts to our mood.
When we talk about having ‘gut feelings’ or ‘gut instincts’ we are reflecting on the senses we experience from deep within our guts that help us make decisions or take action. What most of us are not aware of is actually how closely our guts and are brains are entwined. Buried in our intestines are over 100 million neurons or brain cells spread out in a thin layer that extends all the way from our throat to our rectum – which help make up what is known as the ‘gut– brain axis’
What is Our Gut Microbiome?
Central to all of these critical functions that this remarkable organ performs is the near 2kgs of microscopic organisms or microbes that we host in our gut – known as the gut microbiome or microbiota. This ecosystem made up of bacteria, viruses, fungi and other microbes – comprises of between 40 and 100 trillion organisms – and at least 1000 different species according to current estimates – more biodiversity than found in a rainforest.
These creatures have evolved with us over millions of years, and many of them are essential for our bodies to function and for our health and wellbeing.
As well as aiding the digestion of our food, protecting and maintaining the health of our gut
1. Regulation of Body Weight
our gut has the role of deciding exactly how much energy needs to be extracted from the food we eat, hence, it exercises control over feelings of hunger. In fact, it is the gut which decides exactly what kind of food we crave and how much our blood sugar should spike after we eat. Essentially, it has the power to make us fat. However the question which persists is if the microbiome itself can be altered so it works with us rather than against us
2. Protection against Invaders
The gut plays a major role in keeping diseases and health issues at bay – as a major part of our immune system. Over the last few decades, the world has been witnessed an exponential rise in cases of asthma, eczema, autoimmune diseases, inflammatory bowel disease, to type 1 diabetes –all direct byproducts of an overactive immune systems. There has also been much research into the link between other chronic conditions such as obesity, autism and even cancers with a disruption of our gut microbiota. We are closely monitoring how changing and improving the composition of bacteria in our gut can reduce the impact of diseases
3. Influencing Our Mood & Mental Health
Our gut microbes extract energy from food and convert it into a variety of hormones and chemicals which has the power to influence our mood, our cravings and overall mental health and well-being. In fact, changing the composition of our gut microbiome could can reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression.
While our appreciation of the critical roles performed by this organ is only now starting to take shape, there has also been much hype and exaggeration. What is important to remember is that bacteria doesn’t just exists inside your body by chance. We receive our first dose of protective strains bacteria at birth through the birth canal and subsequently through our mothers breastmilk. We are then subsequently exposed to other strains and species through the food we eat – some of which help the protective strains in our microbiome thrive. Similarly some types of diets, treatments and behaviours will harm the important strains – and encourage the growth of undesirable strains and pathogens linked with ill health.