Illawarra Athletic Health Hack: this week and for many weeks to come I’m going to discuss different strategies to optimise your health and fitness via simple and achievable nutritional and lifestyle strategies regardless of if you’re a beginner taking those first few steps in reclaiming your life, a fitness junkie who is always looking for that white unicorn option to optimise your health within your busy life or the seasoned athlete looking for that “one-up” on your competition. Illawarra Athletic Health Hack will do it’s best to bring you the answers.
…I know what you’re thinking, there are no gut or brain bones. I just thought it would be a good title for a post.
So we are back with the gut. I know you couldn’t stomach the thought of being without a gut post again. Pun intended, just practising my Dad jokes. If you missed last week we took a little deviation off course and talked about strategies to not do too much damage during the Christmas period. Read it here:
This week I wanted to talk to you about the link between our gut health and our brain directly. A concept known in the scientific community as the ‘gut-brain axis’. Many people I consult with say they’re “emotional eaters” and what we are finding out now is that this saying may not be just a saying at all but possibly literal.
A little physiology lesson. Our microbiome (the collective term used for the entire colony of bacteria living on and in your body) outnumbers your body’s own cells by 10:1. Yes, there are 10 more bug cells taking residence at ‘address you’ than there are your own cells. Now before you go and douse yourself in chlorine you need to know these bugs are actually there to help us, to keep us alive, to help us digest food properly, to train our immune system plus many more function we probably know nothing about yet.
Learn more about our microbiome here: My gut feeling is it all starts here!
So this gut-brain axis is something that has only been of real interest to the scientific community as a concept in recent years.
I’ll cut to the chase. On top of the disorders/diseases discussed in the post linked a few lines up, the preliminary research in this field is strongly showing that changes in the gut microbiome are changing behaviour and altering brain physiology and neurochemistry. These changes, they believe are bringing about and/or amplifying conditions like:
- multiple sclerosis
- neurodegenerative disorders
You see we have a HUGE number of neurones, the cells that make up our brains, in our digestive tract. Over 100 million which is more than exists in your spinal chord. So may so that many in the scientific field are calling the gut ‘our second brain’. This second brain, as well as controlling the entire digestive muscle coordination, it also maintains the delicate biochemical balance and composition required for the digestive enzymes to function. In other words, this second brain controls all things digestion.
Another chemically based phenomenon in the gut not easily explained was the realisation of dopamine found in the gut. Yes, that ‘happy chemical’ usually associated with our brains is found in the gut and at times more so than the brain itself.
SOOO,what does this have to do with affecting the moods we feel? Once upon a time we thought the signals sent along the vagus nerve (the main nerve connecting the gut and the (1st) brain) were one way, as in brain to gut. The same also goes with the chemical signalling. But we now know that this signalling is a 2-way phone line with the gut sending a lot of information back to the brain.
When we found this out the people in this field, of course, decided to investigate if this meant these signals were only information related to digestion or were they also affecting other aspects known to be associated with the brain, ie mood and/or behaviour.
There are a lot of behaviours to discuss and even more studies to go with each of those behaviours but I won’t discussed them all. The ones I will discuss here and in the future, in my opinion, are stand out ones though.
In one study, the subjects were fed a course of Lactobacillus rhamnosus which are the bacteria culture found in yoghurt, what they found was that the subjects with the introduced bacteria were significantly less stressed and showed resilience in the task they were given over the control (non-bacteria) group. With other testing they were able to link this phenomenon directly to the changes in their gut bacteria. It is important to find note at this point that all recent studies in the lab have been done on lab mice but it will be these experiments that mean human trials will be not too far off.
Why is this significant? Well they are linking this to anxiety and depression. Yes, they are getting set up to trial medicinal yoghurt of all things to treat such a wide spread problem like anxiety and depression. I’m NOT saying however that yoghurt will be the only answer to mental disorders, especially if the western diet is still a big part of that persons diet. But this will certainly be a big part of mental health moving forward. I’ll put money on it!
Seems like a joke, right? But think about how the western diet has declined whilst rates of mental disorders have gone up. For those of you with a science or statistics background will know that correlation is not causation but the more science we are throwing at this gut-brain axis the more we are finding out that our gut health and our mental health are one mechanism.
So where to from here? Like I said the science is young but I’m of the opinion that the fermented foods like sauerkraut and kim chi, drinking kombucha, using apple cider vinegar with the mother on salads and consuming a non-dairy yoghurt will amplify the friendly bug cultures in your gut.
Can I sign off with how excited I am that me, a health and fitness coordinator is talking to you about gut bacteria. Knowing how effective changes to the microbiome are on mental health, weight problems and heart problems to name just a few is crazy and awesome all at the same time! I can’t wait to see what comes from this space! I will be sure to keep you updated.
If you want help with creating fermented foods yourself come and see us and we’ll be more than happy to help you. Also if you didn’t know, Phili and I make fermented foods and probiotic yoghurt for you all, if you want the ready made stuff. See Phili about prices, I can’t promise I won’t eat it all though. It’s pretty yum!