A good day starts with good shit. Is that not true?
In the Western world, talking “shit” is considered embarrassing, and not appropriate. Alright, so maybe I don’t really want to hear about my brother’s “solid one” and give him a high 5 when he reports to me at breakfast, but(t) I think that the topic of our gut is something that is of integral importance to health. I think that social support around the topic is another healing component of colon health, and that this directly relates to state of mind and contentment.
Be honest with yourself here, how good do you feel after you’ve had a great bowel movement? Pretty good, like you can take on the world, invincible 😉 ?
According to Ayurveda, proper management of the colon is the foundation for treating the digestive system and all our digestive diseases. And furthermore, our gut health is directly related to our state of mind, our body’s immunity and our happiness.
Let’s have a look at our gut bacteria. Our gut flora is an array of microorganisms residing in our large intestine that functions directly to impact our health in order to:
- help the body digest certain foods that the small intestine cannot digest
- produce some vitamins like Vitamin B and K
- combats aggressions from other microorganisms and maintains wholeness of intestinal pH and integrity
- It plays an important role in the immune system, performing a barrier effect.
- A healthy and balanced gut microbiota is key to ensuring proper digestive functioning.
While our general composition of microbiota is similar in most healthy people, everyone does have a different make-up of gut microorganisms, with more than 3 billion microbial genes in our gut (150 times more than in our own genes!). The personalization comes into play based on environmental factors, ethnicity (for example, Japanese people cannot easily digest lactose), and studies show that a big influential factor on our gut flora health is environment, diet and lifestyle.
So what happens when our gut flora is off and what causes it?
Dysbiosis is a condition where there is an imbalance of out gut microbiota, and occurs when we are under stress, abuse our health, and make poor diet and lifestyle choices. This can be linked to disorder and malfunction of the bowels, inflammatory diseases, allergies, obesity, diabetes and many more.
Let’s link this to brain function:
Studies in rats show a link between gut health and brain function. The Blood Brain Barrier (BBB) is a network of cell that provide a gateway between the bloodstream and the nervous system. It protects our brain from toxins, and filters out threatening components in our blood. A study took mice that were raised in a germ-free environment, where they had weak gut flora, and weak protective mechanisms and immunity, and showed that their BBB had weakened junctions.
This leaky barrier resulted in nerve damage to the brain, particularly the hippocampus which controls stress and memory formation. Other affected areas were the frontal cortex (our happiness brain centre!) which functions for executive control and decision making, and the striatum, for coordinating movements. These deficits lasted through into adulthood.
Gut flora determine our relationship to the environment around us, as 75 percent of the immune system resides with the gut. They determine much about our emotional well-being, since 80 percent of our serotonin is in the gut. The enteric nervous system—often referred to as the “second brain”—is embedded within the gut. Gut microbes determine our vulnerability to disease and stress, and direct our potential to thrive emotionally, physically and intellectually.
According to a study reprinted on the website Green Med Info:
“… [A]n increasing number of clinical studies have shown that treating gastrointestinal inflammations with probiotics, vitamin B, D and omega 3 fatty acids, through attenuating proinflammatory stimuli to brain, may also improve depression symptoms and quality of life. All these findings justify an assumption that treating gastrointestinal inflammations may improve the efficacy of the currently used treatment modalities of depression and related diseases.”
So how do we promote healthy gut?
Dr. Mercola recommends:
- Fermented foods are still the best route to optimal digestive health, as long as you eat the traditionally made, unpasteurized versions. Healthy choices include lassi (an Indian yoghurt drink, traditionally enjoyed before dinner), fermented raw (unpasteurrized) grass-fed organic milk such as kefir, various pickled fermentations of cabbage, turnips, eggplant, cucumbers, onions, squash and carrots, and natto (fermented soy).
If you regularly eat fermented foods such as these that, again, have not been pasteurized (pasteurization kills the naturally occurring probiotics), your healthy gut bacteria will thrive.
- Probiotic supplement. Although I’m not a major proponent of taking many supplements (as I believe the majority of your nutrients need to come from food), probiotics are definitely an exception. I have used many different brands over the past 15 years and there are many good ones out there.
- If you do not eat fermented foods, taking a high-quality probiotic supplement certainly makes a lot of sense considering how important they are to optimizing your mental health.
Probiotics have a direct effect on brain chemistry, transmitting mood- and behaviour-regulating signals to your brain via the vagus nerve, which is yet another reason why your intestinal health can have such a profound influence on your mental health, and vice versa. Two other important factors to treat gastrointestinal inflammation and also help relieve depression are:
- Animal-based omega-3 fats: These not only regulate inflammatory processes and responses, but also positively influence outcome in depressive disorders. So if you are currently struggling with depression, taking a high-quality, animal-based omega-3 fat supplement like krill oil daily is a simple and smart choice.
- Vitamin D: Most people are not aware that vitamin D deficiency is associated with inflammation and depression. One previous study found that people with the lowest levels of vitamin D were 11 times more prone to be depressed than those who had normal levels, so you will want to be sure your levels are in the healthy range by getting proper sun exposure or using a safe tanning bed. As a last resort, you can also take a high-quality vitamin D3 supplement, but make sure you have your levels monitored if you choose this route.
How does this link to a good shit? The life you live, the stress you put yourself under, the food you eat, and how you eat them, all factor into your colon health. A marker for damaged or compromised gut flora is directly related to healthy bowel movement functions. Are you plugged up? Incomplete? Grumpy? Take a look at your state of mind, your diet, and lifestyle. Consider where you are and where you want to be. Maybe this is where you begin to change your life.