The Importance of Gut Health
When it comes to most fad diets, we have been told to "eat less and move more". However, some people have struggled with obesity for years. Even genetics can't explain why some people have managed to stay skinny and others out on pounds more easily. Although there are still some exceptions, scientists have discovered that gut microbes are a factor to consider when it comes to our health.
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What’s in our guts?
Each person has microbes that live inside their guts that make up the digestive tract’s microbiome. These bacteria help the body further break down food and turn nutrients into smaller building blocks the body can use. They also keep the “bad” bacteria in check by multiplying so they have no space to grow, maintaining equilibrium. This is especially important because, without balance, one can become susceptible to digestive disorders such as Crohn’s disease and Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). That being said, it is crucial to pay attention to what you eat because it will affect your body in some way. Eating too much sugar or fat content could raise your blood sugar, and not drinking enough water could leave you dehydrated, but how does what you eat affect your gut health, and why are scientists focusing on this topic?
What can our bacteria tell us?
Our brain communicates with different parts of the body and our microbes can also send messages back. Depending on what we eat, our microbes can signal cravings to the base of our brain via the vagus nerve. It is the longest cranial nerve running from the brainstem to the colon. A study done in 2014 focused on how our microbiomes communicate with the brain and have an effect on behaviour. Both non-pathogenic and pathogenic bacteria may create “anxiogenic and anxiolytic effects depending on the nature of the stimulus”, which means that the bacteria in our guts could potentially induce or reduce psychological problems (but more evidence needs to be collected). Since this could cause certain mood disorders, it opens possibilities for nutritional based therapy aimed at improving bacteria balance in our guts.
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Do you ever wonder why it’s difficult for others to lose weight?
Your microbes could be one reason: an unhealthy balance in our microbiome may have a link to the pituitary gland which helps set your appetite. The gland can also have an impact on the balance of bacteria in our guts. Everyone is born with a different set of gut bacteria, which could be compared to that of a tropical rainforest. However, the less diverse someone's microbiome is—even though they could exercise and eat well—they could still be susceptible to obesity. In a documentary called "It Takes Guts", it is described that gut bacteria from lean people and obese people were implanted into mice that didn’t have any microbes. Even though the mice with the obese microbes would eat less, they still ended up gaining more weight. This shows that a lack of diversity in our microbiome not only signals obesity but can also causes it.
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What Affects Microbial Diversity?
Your microbiome is a very important ecosystem that can be affected by a number of different things from what you digest to how you were born. Foods that are probiotics contain bacteria similar to the ones found in your gut. Probiotics food items such as miso soup, whole wheat foods, cottage cheese, kimchi, bananas, garlic, onions, soybeans, and yogurt contain diverse bacteria that don’t all work the same and can have a different effect on your body. They may also help make your immune system stronger and ease allergy symptoms. However, every microbiome is unique and some things may work differently with everyone.
For that reason, experts believe that more research in this field is needed. Your microbiome may be affected as you grow up, but it may also vary from where you live to how you were born. Babies that are born via C-section have a 22% chance of becoming obese as they miss receiving some of their mother's bacteria. Lastly, early exposure to antibiotics could be a reason for obesity as well. Although antibiotics are essential to some illnesses, unnecessary amounts could lead to eliminating gut bacteria, getting rid of that diversity in bacteria.
Scientists have over the years have shown that gut health is another key to understanding nutrition. With this information in mind, others should take in consideration what they put in their bodies because it may play a role in how we choose to eat in the long run.
CBCtv. (2016, December 27). Debunking diet secrets and weight loss: The Answer Might be in Your Gut. Retrieved December 20, 2020, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9PBCXSK80s
How Your Gut Health Affects Your Whole Body. (2020). Retrieved December 20, 2020, from https://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/ss/slideshow-how-gut-health-affects-whole-body
Probiotics: What is it, Benefits, Side Effects, Food & Types. (2020). Retrieved December 20, 2020, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/14598-probiotics
Robertson, R. (2017, June 27). Why the Gut Microbiome Is Crucial for Your Health. Retrieved December 20, 2020, from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/gut-microbiome-and-health
Seladi-Schulman, J. (2018, August 27). Vagus Nerve: Anatomy and Function, Diagram, Stimulation, Conditions. Retrieved December 20, 2020, from https://www.healthline.com/human-body-maps/vagus-nerve
Article Author: Idil Gure
Article Editor: Linda Duong