The human body is a marvelous contraption, but it certainly is not a modern one. It developed ages ago before there were twinkies and McDonalds. The human gut is the passageway for us to give our cells the nutrients they require to survive, and if we are mindful, to thrive. This passageway was not meant to endure a constant flow of carbonated, highly sweetened, artificially colored phosphoric acid, otherwise known as cola.
Our gut is more than just our food superhighway. The health of our gut can impact our immune system and our mood. 70% of our immune system is located in the wall of our gut. When you think about the fact that we have to choose what foods to put inside our bodies, which will be digested into molecules and absorbed into our bloodstream, it makes sense that we would need a strong defense system in our gut lining.
Our gut, a 30-ft looping waterslide from our mouth to our anus, is controlled by a complex web of nerves. This enteric nervous system is also known as the Second Brain. The Second Brain does not rely on input from our conscious brain to do its job of digestion, but it does communicate with our brain via the vagus nerve. The enteric nervous system is interwoven with the autonomic nervous system, so that when we are in high-stress fight-or-flight mode, our guts do not propel food. We would not want to leave a trail of droppings if we were fleeing from a lion! When we are in parasympathetic mode, feeling relaxed, we digest and propel our food more optimally. The enteric nervous system uses the same neurotransmitters as in our brain, and 95% of the body’s serotonin is found in our bowels.
The microbiome of the gut plays a crucial role in our health. We have 10x more microbial cells in our bodies than human cells. To be in optimum health, we must behave symbiotically with our gut microbiome, nurturing it with a diet that allows the healthy bacteria to flourish. An anti-inflammatory diet full of a rainbow of vegetables and fruits, nuts, seeds, beans, and fermented foods not only makes our microbiome happy, but it also makes our human cells happy and healthy. Show your gut some love with a plant-laden diet, 8 glasses of water daily, and regular exercise, and your health and mood will reap the benefits.
Dr. Bren Boston, MD sees patients at the Akasha Center for Integrative Medicine in Santa Monica. Call 310-451-8880 to make an appointment.