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How Gut Health is Connected to Your Healthy Inflammatory Response

Published on April 21, 2022


By Gaia Herbs

Gaia Herbs

How Gut Health is Connected to Your Healthy Inflammatory Response
How Gut Health is Connected to Your Healthy Inflammatory Response

Creating an optimal digestive environment is about far more than simply processing our food; it connects to all other aspects of health. Proper digestion supports a healthy inflammatory response in the gut, allowing the immune system to keep running normally and delivering nutrients to fuel other bodily functions.*

Maintaining a healthy digestive system — and a healthy self — starts with healthy gut flora. This study is a relatively new area of research, with many discoveries in the last few decades. We used to believe there were hundreds of microbes in the gut; now, there are millions!* We also know that the microbiome extends beyond the gut to the skin, the brain, and everything in between.

Read on to find out whether you can trust your gut - and why that matters.

Your Microbiome and Overall Health

We are discovering that we need to learn more about the microbiome and overall health. Promoting gut health is one of the best ways to support a healthy inflammatory response as we age.* Aging is a natural part of life, so we want to do our best to maintain wellness and vitality.

Children's immune systems are maintained when exposed to various natural microflora in their environment. 

Many of the immune system's set points happen during the first two years of life. The microbiome is an integral part of that. How we feel, think, and how our immune system functions are all innately related to the gut. Scientific evidence also shows that a healthy microbiome in infants is linked to a healthy gut and healthy weight as an adult.REF#1377

Fascinating Research Findings on the Microbiome

A microbial ecologist at the University of Oregon recently discovered that we carry our own "cloud" of microbes wherever we go. This plume of microbes is as unique to us as our DNA, and most are helpful. We leave a trail of microbes wherever we go, and the more time we spend with people, such as our family or co-workers, the more we can pick up their microbes.REF#1378

What we eat matters when it comes to maintaining our digestive environment. One experiment studied the connection between a fast food diet and a subject's microbiome.REF#1383 Another study connected moderate amounts of sugar and fat to impaired short and long-term memory.REF#1384 A phenomenon called cognitive flexibility, or being able to adapt to changes like finding an alternate route home, was also studied by Oregon State University researchers.REF#1379

A UCLA researcher has been doing MRIs on the brains of thousands of volunteers, then comparing those scans to their gut bacteria. The findings from the first few dozen comparisons are fascinating: different brain areas seem to link to the dominant types of gut bacteria present. Our microbiome might connect to our minds.REF#1385

The gut-brain connection is an increasingly important area of research in gastroenterology, psychiatry, and neuroscience. The gut-brain axis facilitates the relationship between the central nervous system and the gastrointestinal tract, which involves a complex interplay between neurotransmitters, immune cells, nerve cells, and gut microbes.REF#1380

This axis plays a vital role in both digestive and mental health. Evidence suggests that gut microbiota imbalances can lead to various health issues, including mood disorders, constipation, and abdominal pain.REF#1380

One of the ways that gut microbes influence brain function is by producing neurotransmitters, which are chemicals that transmit signals between nerve cells in the brain. Some key neurotransmitters gut microbes produce GABA, which helps regulate anxiety and mood, and serotonin, which regulates sleep, appetite, and mood.REF#1380

Certain microorganisms in the gut influence the production of these neurotransmitters. Your gut microbiome is manageable through dietary interventions, such as the consumption of probiotics and prebiotics.

Research suggests that live bacteria, such as those found in fermented foods like kefir and sauerkraut, may help support digestive health by encouraging the balance of gut microbes.REF#1386 In addition to living bacteria, fermented foods are rich in fatty acids, which may positively affect brain health.REF#1381

Another way the gut-brain connection plays a vital role in overall health is through the vagus nerve, which connects the brain to the gastrointestinal tract. This nerve helps regulate digestive function and plays a role in communication between the gut microbiota and the central nervous system. Studies have shown that vagus nerve stimulation can help manage symptoms of various conditions, including constipation and abdominal pain, as well as mood.REF#1382

What Optimal Gut Health Looks Like

Optimal gut health means having a diverse and balanced microbiome that promotes healthy digestion and supports overall well-being. Signs of a healthy gut include regular bowel movements, easy digestion, reduced bloating, and stable energy levels.

Our microbiome acts as a natural barrier to filter out toxins. The gut lining has healthy permeability, with its film coating naturally keeping the “good stuff” in and the “bad stuff” out. A healthy gut maintains that balance of permeability.

In a balanced GI system, we start digestion by thoroughly chewing healthy food, which triggers the release of digestive enzymes to prepare the next step. The stomach releases hydrochloric acid to break down the food further, which then passes to the intestine at the appropriate molecular weight and size. Nutrients begin to pass through the gut wall and enter the bloodstream, but larger molecules remain inside and pass through the system entirely, ultimately being eliminated. 

A healthy gut will face occasional challenges - like eating leftovers in the fridge a day too long or having too many slices of greasy pizza - but it has the processes to handle such situations. This healthy gut lining aims to keep larger molecules in the digestive tract (not in the bloodstream or elsewhere) on a one-way ticket out of the body.

When these interlopers are present, the immune system is next in line to get involved, which means it has to stop doing whatever it previously did. (Your body innately has a "Plan B.") Maintaining gut health means that the immune system gets to keep patrolling the perimeter, which is its main gig.

How Can You Support Gut Health?

Supplements and other dietary interventions can also help to support digestive and mental health by promoting the growth of beneficial gut microbes.* For example, prebiotic supplements support gut microbes by providing prebiotic fiber, which is their primary food source. 

If you want to promote the growth of beneficial gut microbes and support your digestive and mental health, try Gaia’s Cleanse Essentials Kit. This kit contains a range of supplements, including prebiotics, to help support your gut microbiota and promote healthy digestion.* 

The kit also includes a liver support formula and a fiber supplement to support a healthy liver and regular bowel movements. 

The gut-brain connection is a complex and important area of research. The gut microbiota plays a crucial role in this connection, producing neurotransmitters and communicating with the brain through the vagus nerve.

By promoting the growth of beneficial gut microbes through dietary interventions and supplementation, it may be possible to ease digestive discomfort. With its carefully selected blend of herbs and nutrients, the Cleanse Essentials Kit is an excellent option for anyone looking to support their digestive and overall health.*

Gut Instinct: Can You Trust Your Gut?

Think back to our earlier question: Can you trust your gut? Consider that your second brain, the enteric nervous system, comprises 100 million neurons that line the gut from the esophagus to the anus. It can control gut behavior independently of the brain and contains 95% of our serotonin, known as one of the "happy" hormones. Our gut is never "off" or on vacation - it is constantly in a feedback loop with the brain like they have walkie-talkies with an open channel. Consider how your digestion affects your emotions. When you are moody, how does your gut feel? These bacteria are constantly communicating with other aspects of the body.

The good news is that there are plenty of ways we can support our guts and maintain a hospitable environment for various healthy bacteria. Eating local, seasonal foods, as well as fermented foods (preferably some that are homemade), can help support the normal function of the gut and healthy inflammatory and immune responses.REF#1386

Beyond consuming probiotic-rich foods, there are other ways to promote mucosal health. We must maintain microbes and pH balance from end to end to allow our flora to flourish naturally in the GI tract. That starts with chewing food thoroughly.

Digestion begins in the mouth, where chewing stimulates the three major sets of salivary glands to moisten food and release digestive enzymes. The parotid glands in front of the ears release amylase, which helps digest carbohydrates. The submandibular glands on the floor of the mouth release protease, which helps break down protein, and the sublingual glands under the tongue release lipase, which assists with the digestion of dietary fats. Taking the time to chew your food until it becomes a liquid supports digestion, allowing each organ to perform its specific role.

Proper chewing helps the digestive system maintain the appropriate pH for each process step, allowing the healthy microbes to do their jobs and the secretions to flow correctly. It also promotes healthy gut motility. (Think of your gut as a subway train during rush hour. You want it to keep moving smoothly!) This process also supports detoxification through the liver.

The polyphenols in plants and calcium-rich probiotic foods feed the flora as well. In addition, bitter foods or digestive bitters naturally stimulate the secretions needed to cleave food to the appropriate size for optimal digestion.

Gut Health Key Takeaways

Gut health is essential for overall health and vitality and requires a balanced lifestyle that supports the body's natural balance of microorganisms. 

Supporting gut health involves maintaining a balanced diet rich in fiber, fruits, and vegetables while limiting processed foods, added sugars, and artificial sweeteners. Regular exercise, managing stress, getting adequate sleep, and taking probiotics or prebiotics may also help support a healthy microbiome.*

Things happening in the gut support our overall wellness and vitality. A healthy gut supports a healthy inflammatory response, the body's natural detoxification processes, and even a healthy mood.

10-Question Gut Health Self-Assessment

To figure out your overall gut health, here's a quick self-assessment, which may include some surprises:

  1. I eat plenty of vegetables and some local, seasonal foods. 
  2. I "go" regularly.
  3. I limit my intake of red meat, processed meats, trans fats, and refined carbohydrates.
  4. I drink plenty of water each day.
  5. I adapt to stress in a way that works for me.
  6. I eat fermented foods (or those with probiotics) and bitter foods at least a few times a week.
  7. I take time to chew my food carefully and thoroughly.
  8. I have a pretty good memory, even if I lose my keys sometimes!
  9. I usually eat "just enough" food, and it's mostly healthy.
  10. I exercise regularly (even moderate exercise like walking counts).

The more of the above statements you can answer “yes” to, the healthier your gut likely is.

REFERENCES:

  • 1. Pajau Vangay, Et Al, "Cell Host And Microbe", Volume 17, Issue 5, 13 May 2015. 1 1. Pajau Vangay, Et Al, "Cell Host And Microbe", Volume 17, Issue 5, 13 May 2015.
  • 2. James F. Meadow, Et Al, "Humans Differ In Their Personal Microbial Cloud", Peer J. Published September 22, 2015. 2 2. James F. Meadow, Et Al, "Humans Differ In Their Personal Microbial Cloud", Peer J. Published September 22, 2015.
  • 3. K.R. Magnusson, Et Al, "Relationships Between Diet-Related Changes In The Gut Microbiome And Cognitive Flexibility", Neuroscience. Volume 300, 6 August 2015. 3 3. K.R. Magnusson, Et Al, "Relationships Between Diet-Related Changes In The Gut Microbiome And Cognitive Flexibility", Neuroscience. Volume 300, 6 August 2015.
  • 4. Clapp M, Aurora N, Herrera L, Bhatia M, Wilen E, Wakefield S, "Gut microbiota's effect on mental health: The gut-brain axis", Clin Pract. 2017 Sep 15;7(4):987. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5641835/ 4 4. Clapp M, Aurora N, Herrera L, Bhatia M, Wilen E, Wakefield S, "Gut microbiota's effect on mental health: The gut-brain axis", Clin Pract. 2017 Sep 15;7(4):987. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5641835/
  • 5. Şanlier N, Gökcen BB, Sezgin AC, "Health benefits of fermented foods", Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2019;59(3):506-527. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28945458/ 5 5. Şanlier N, Gökcen BB, Sezgin AC, "Health benefits of fermented foods", Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2019;59(3):506-527. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28945458/
  • 6. Bonaz B, Bazin T, Pellissier S, "The Vagus Nerve at the Interface of the Microbiota-Gut-Brain Axis", Front Neurosci. 2018 Feb 7;12:49. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5808284/ 6 6. Bonaz B, Bazin T, Pellissier S, "The Vagus Nerve at the Interface of the Microbiota-Gut-Brain Axis", Front Neurosci. 2018 Feb 7;12:49. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5808284/
  • 7. Tim Specter., "Your Gut Bacteria Don’t Like Fast Food, Even if You Do", The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/your-gut-bacteria-dont-like-junk-food-even-if-you-do-41564 7 7. Tim Specter., "Your Gut Bacteria Don’t Like Fast Food, Even if You Do", The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/your-gut-bacteria-dont-like-junk-food-even-if-you-do-41564
  • 8. Beilharz, J. E., Maniam, J., & Morris, M. J. (2016), "Short-term exposure to a diet high in fat and sugar, or liquid sugar, selectively impairs hippocampal-dependent memory, with differential impacts on inflammation", Behavioural brain research, 306, 1–7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26970578/ 8 8. Beilharz, J. E., Maniam, J., & Morris, M. J. (2016), "Short-term exposure to a diet high in fat and sugar, or liquid sugar, selectively impairs hippocampal-dependent memory, with differential impacts on inflammation", Behavioural brain research, 306, 1–7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26970578/
  • 9. Rachel Champeau, "Changing gut bacteria through diet affects brain function, UCLA study shows", UCLA Newsroom. https://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/changing-gut-bacteria-through-245617 9 9. Rachel Champeau, "Changing gut bacteria through diet affects brain function, UCLA study shows", UCLA Newsroom. https://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/changing-gut-bacteria-through-245617
  • 10. Stiemsma, L. T., Nakamura, R. E., Nguyen, J. G., & Michels, K. B. (2020), "Does Consumption of Fermented Foods Modify the Human Gut Microbiota?", The Journal of nutrition, 150(7), 1680–1692. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32232406/ 10 10. Stiemsma, L. T., Nakamura, R. E., Nguyen, J. G., & Michels, K. B. (2020), "Does Consumption of Fermented Foods Modify the Human Gut Microbiota?", The Journal of nutrition, 150(7), 1680–1692. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32232406/