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Tag Archive gut health

The Gut-Brain Connection

The gut-brain connection. If there was ever a call for “digestive health,” this is it!

Yes, it’s true. The gut is considered the “second brain.”

There is no denying it any more.

And because of the new scientific discoveries about the vagus nerve, the enteric nervous system, and the amazing influence your gut microbes can have, it’s no wonder what you eat feeds not only your body but can directly affect your brain.

I find it amazing (but not too surprising).

What exactly is the gut-brain connection?

Well, the gut-brain connection is very complex, and to be honest, we’re still learning lots about it!

There seem to be multiple things working together. Things like:

  • The vagus nerve that links the gut directly to the brain;
  • The “enteric nervous system” (A.K.A. “second brain) that helps the complex intricacies of digestion flow with little to no involvement from the actual brain;
  • The massive amount of neurotransmitters produced by the gut;
  • The huge part of the immune system that is in the gut, but can travel throughout the body; and,
  • The interactions and messages sent by the gut microbes.

This is complex. And amazing, if you ask me.

I’ll briefly touch on these areas, and end off with a delicious recipe (of course!)

The vagus nerve

There is a nerve that runs directly from the gut to the brain.

And after reading this so far, you’ll probably get a sense of which direction 90% of the transmission is…

Not from your brain to your gut (which is what we used to think), but from your gut up to your brain!

The enteric nervous system and neurotransmitters

Would you believe me if I told you that the gut has more nerves than your spinal cord?

I knew you would!

And that’s why it’s referred to as the “second brain.”

And, if you think about it, controlling the complex process of digestion (i.e. digestive enzymes, absorption of nutrients, the flow of food, etc.) should probably be done pretty “smartly”…don’t you think?

And guess how these nerves speak to each other, and to other cells? By chemical messengers called “neurotransmitters.”

In fact, many of the neurotransmitters that have a strong effect on our mood are made in the gut! e.g. a whopping 95% of serotonin is made in your gut, not in your brain!

The immune system of the gut

Because eating and drinking is a huge portal where disease-causing critters can get into your body, it makes total sense that much of our defence system would be located there too, right? 70% of our immune system is in our gut!

And you know that the immune cells can move throughout the entire body and cause inflammation just about anywhere, right?

Well, if they’re “activated” by something in the gut, they can potentially wreak havoc anywhere in the body. Including the potential to cause inflammation in the brain.

Gut microbes

Your friendly neighbourhood gut residents. You have billions of those little guys happily living in your gut. And they do amazing things like help you digest certain foods, make certain vitamins, and even help regulate inflammation!

But more and more evidence is showing that changes in your gut microbiota can impact your mood, and even other, more serious, mental health issues.

How do these all work together for brain health?

The honest answer to how these things all work together and make the gut-brain connection is that we really don’t know just yet. More and more studies are being done to learn more.

But one thing is becoming clear. A healthy gut goes hand-in-hand with a healthy brain!

So, how do you feed your brain?

Of course, a variety of minimally-processed, nutrient-dense foods is required, because no nutrients work alone.

But two things that you many consider eating more of are fibre and omega-3 fats. Fibre (in fruits, veggies, nuts & seeds) help to feed your awesome gut microbes. And omega-3 fats (in fatty fish, walnuts, algae, and seeds like flax, chia, and hemp) are well-know inflammation-lowering brain boosters.

If you’re struggling with brain fog, fatigue and low mood and would like to know more about foods to feed your brain, click HERE to book a free 15 minute fatigue breakthrough call!

Recipe (Gut food fibre, Brain food omega-3): Blueberry Hemp Overnight Oats

Serves 2

Ingredients

1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)

1 cup oats (gluten-free)

1 cup almond milk

1 tablespoon chia seeds

2 tablespoons hemp seeds

½ teaspoon cinnamon

1 banana, sliced

¼ cup chopped walnuts

Instructions

  1. Blend blueberries in the food processor until smooth.
  2. Mix blueberries, oats, almond milk, chia seeds, hemp seeds in a bowl with a lid. Let set in fridge overnight.
  3. Split into two bowls and top with cinnamon, banana, and walnuts.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: Your gut microbes love to eat the fiber in the blueberries, oats, seeds, and nuts. Meanwhile, your brain loves the omega-3 fats in the seeds and nuts.

References:

http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/healthy_aging/healthy_body/the-brain-gut-connection
http://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-probiotics
http://www.precisionnutrition.com/fix-gut-fix-health
http://neurotrition.ca/blog/your-gut-bugs-what-they-eat-and-7-ways-feed-them

Prebiotic Foods

Prebiotic foods?

Yes! They’re the food that we feed our probiotics, the friendly gut microbes that are oh so important for good health.

Our gut microbes are alive, and they need to eat too. Their favourite foods are called “prebiotics” and include dietary fibre and resistant starch. The same fibre that keeps us feeling full slows down digestion and provides roughage that keeps us regular. Resistant starch helps promote healthy blood lipids. Both of types of prebiotic foods (fibre and resistant starch) are linked with many health benefits.

Technically-speaking, a prebiotic has three qualities:

It needs to be undigested and reach the colon intact;

It needs to be digested by our gut microbes; and,

It needs to stimulate our health-promoting good gut microbes.

Now that we know what prebiotics are let’s dive into their health benefits.

Health benefits of prebiotics

Prebiotic fibre helps keep us regular by bulking up our poo. It gives it substance and form, so it’s not too runny or liquid. In fact, more fibre is often recommended to help with symptoms of diarrhoea. Prebiotic fibre used to be thought of like a broom that sweeps food through our guts, but we’re learning more about its health benefits beyond this role.

For example, prebiotics can also help to maintain normal bowel structure and function, and even enhance blood flow to the cells of the colon.

Those are some of the health benefits of prebiotics themselves. But we get even more health benefits when our friendly gut microbes eat and digest them.

For one thing, our gut microbes use prebiotics to make short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). These SCFAs (e.g., butyrate) can feed the cells of our colon to keep them healthy. SCFAs also inhibit the growth of bad gut microbes, and can even increase mineral (e.g., calcium and magnesium) absorption. These effects are all linked to the slight acidity caused by the acids in those SCFAs.

Dietary fibre also binds to healthful phytonutrients (phyto = plant). These phytonutrients are lost when the fibre is removed from the food. But, when we eat the prebiotic fibre, our gut microbes release these phytonutrients so we can absorb and use them.

Food more information on gut health, contact Kate for a free 15 minute nutrition consultation.

Where to get prebiotics

Dietary fibre and resistant starch are the main sources of prebiotics.

Prebiotic fibre is found mostly in plants; both fruits and vegetables. 

Resistant starch is any starch (a type of carbohydrate) that goes through most of our digestive tract without being digested. It’s not broken down by our digestive enzymes because it’s “resistant”… until it gets to our gut microbes in the colon. Resistant starch is found in starchy foods like whole grains and potatoes.

One of the big differences between fibre and resistant starch is that all of the fibre we eat is indigestible. All of it reaches our colons. Resistant starch, on the other hand, is just a small percent of the starch we eat. Most starch is digested and absorbed along our digestive tract, and that part is not considered to be prebiotic. Only the small amount of starch that is resistant to digestion and makes it down to the colon to feed our probiotics is prebiotic.

Prebiotic fibre is found in fibrous fruits and vegetables. It’s essentially what’s removed when we make juice – the pulp. It’s one of the reasons why eating whole fruits and vegetables is more healthful than replacing them with juice.

Here are some great sources of prebiotic foods fibre:

Onions

Asparagus

Bananas

Berries

Pears

Prebiotics foods resistant starch is found in:

Whole grains (e.g. oats)

Potatoes

Corn

Seeds

Legumes

Green bananas

Starches can be made resistant by cooking and cooling these foods before eating them. The cooling process allows the starches to re-shape themselves into a structure that is harder to digest (i.e., more resistant).

Conclusion

Prebiotics are fibre and resistant starches that feed our gut microbes. And when we feed our gut microbes, they help keep our gut healthy and have other health benefits too.

Do you ever juice your amazingly healthy fruits and vegetables and have a ton of leftover pulp? What do you do with it? I have a great recipe for using that oh so healthy prebiotic foods in a delicious way.

Recipe (Juice pulp): Brownies

Serves 12

Ingredients

¾ cup cacao powder (prebiotic)

3 tbsp coconut flour (prebiotic)

1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
2 eggs
2 cups juice pulp, firmly packed (prebiotic)

½ cup coconut oil, melted

½ cup maple syrup

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350F. Line an 8”x8” baking tray with parchment paper.

Add cocoa powder, coconut flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt to a large bowl. Stir to combine.

Whisk eggs, pulp, oil and maple syrup. 

Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir to combine well. Use a spatula to scrape the batter into the baking dish.

Bake for 30 mins until the top is firm and edges just start to pull away from the dish. 

Allow the brownies to cool.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: I like to blend the wet ingredients in my blender to make cleanup easier.

References:

http://neurotrition.ca/blog/your-gut-bugs-what-they-eat-and-7-ways-feed-them

https://nutritionfacts.org/video/juicing-removes-more-than-just-fiber/

https://nutritionfacts.org/video/resistant-starch-colon-cancer/

https://extension.psu.edu/prebiotics-how-to-feed-your-good-bacteria

https://www.monash.edu/medicine/ccs/gastroenterology/prebiotic/faq

How to Improve Gut Health

Hippocrates said, “All disease begins in the gut.”

And while this may not be 100% true for every disease in every person, more and more research shows that our gut has a bigger role in many diseases than we used to think. And we’re not just talking about heartburn, constipation, diarrhoea, IBS, IBD, etc. We’re talking about all kinds of issues like allergies, pain, mood disorders, and nutrient deficiencies.

There are a lot of reasons for this. Our gut is the portal to the outside world. It’s here where we take in disease-causing bacteria, viruses, and parasites. We also take in nutrients (and toxins) through our gut. The nutrients we ingest and absorb are the building blocks of every single part of our body. We’re just learning the connections between our gut and other areas of our body, like our brain (have you heard of “the gut-brain axis”). Not just our gut per se; but, its friendly resident microbes too. These guys also have newly discovered roles in our gut health and overall health.

So, let’s talk about the roles that our gut and our gut microbes play in our overall health. Then I’ll give you tips to improve your gut health naturally.

Our Gut’s Role in Our Overall Health

Our gut’s main role is as a barrier. To let things in that should get in, and to keep things out that should stay out. Think of “absorption” of nutrients as things we want to let in; and “elimination” of waste and toxins as things we want to pass right through and out.

This seemingly simple role is super-complex! And it can break down in so many places.

For one thing, our guts can “leak.” Yes, like a long tube with holes in it, it can allow things to get into our bloodstream/bodies that can wreak havoc (bacteria, undigested food, and toxins). You name it, whatever you put into your mouth can be absorbed by your gut and get into your bloodstream, even if it’s not supposed to. And when your gut wall gets irritated, it can “leak.” When this happens, you get inflammation, which is a starting point for many diseases that don’t seem linked to the gut but have a sneaky connection there.

FUN FACT: About 70% of our immune system lives in and around our gut.

A healthy gut is not a leaky gut. It maintains its barrier and shuttles things through to be eliminated. Maintaining a healthy gut barrier is the first pillar of gut health.

If you have leaky gut and would like to heal it once and for all, contact Kate for a free 15 minute consultation call.

The second main part of your gut are the billions of friendly health-promoting microbes. Gut microbes help us digest and absorb nutrients. They fight off disease-causing microbes, make some vitamins for us, and have all kinds of other health benefits, like mental health benefits, reducing inflammation, and stabilising blood sugar.

So, keeping your gut microbes happy is the second pillar of gut health!

How to Improve Gut Health

There are a lot of natural ways to improve gut health. Let’s start with what to stop. It’s always best to eliminate the cause, so let’s stop giving our guts junk to deal with. How about eliminating added sugars, processed foods, and alcohol? Try that for a few weeks, and you may be amazed at how much better your body (and gut) feels.

Also, you may want to eliminate other gut irritants. Dairy and grains contain common compounds known to irritate some people’s guts. Sometimes you only need to eliminate them for a few weeks to see if it makes a difference for your health.

By eating nutrient-dense foods, we allow ample macro- and micro-nutrients into our gut to maximise the chance for absorption. These nutrients help our bodies build and repair our gut, and every other body part as well. Some of the most nutrient-dense foods include dark leafy greens, colourful fruits and veggies, and fish.

The Microbiome

The second pillar of gut health is our microbes. By ingesting probiotic-rich foods and drinks, we can help to replenish our gut microbes. These are found in fermented foods like kombucha, kefir, miso, sauerkraut, and kimchi. Make these a part of your daily diet.

Whole foods are full of gut-friendly fibre. Not eating enough fibre increases the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. Fibre plays lots of roles in our gut, including whisking away some of those pesky bad bacteria and toxins so they can be eliminated. Fibre also helps to feed our friendly resident microbes that help us absorb and digest our food better. What foods have a lot of fibre? Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and even cacao.

Finally, don’t forget the uber-important lifestyle factors like getting enough sleep, stressing less, and getting the right amount (and intensity) of exercise for you. It’s easy to forget some of the simple, but key links there are between what we do with our bodies and how well they function.

Conclusion

in conclusion, the function of your gut is key to your overall health. There are two pillars of gut health: maintaining a good barrier and maintaining healthy gut microbes.

The main ways to improve both of these naturally is by eating nutrient-dense whole foods. Foods filled with nutrition, probiotics, and fibre. And eliminating common gut irritants like added sugar, processed foods, and alcohol.

Probiotic-Rich Fermented Carrots Recipe

Serves 12

Ingredients

1 L warm water
4 tsp salt
4 carrots, medium, peeled, sliced

1 clove garlic, smashed (optional)

Instructions

Make a brine by dissolving the salt in water.

Place carrots into a clean canning jar, packing them in tight. Make sure to leave about 1 inch of head space at the top.

Fill the jar with brine, making sure to cover the carrots completely. Weigh the carrots down to make sure they don’t float (you can use a “fermenting weight”).

Finally close the jar and let it sit at room temperature for 1-4 days. The longer it sits, the more the flavour will develop. Feel free to open and taste.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: Use this as a side dish, or even a snack.

References:

https://authoritynutrition.com/does-all-disease-begin-in-the-gut/

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-nutrition-gut-health

http://neurotrition.ca/blog/your-gut-bugs-what-they-eat-and-7-ways-feed-them