The gut: a game changer for a healthy lifestyle

We all know the benefits of eating right, yet not many seem to know how to take care of your gut, the second brain of the human body.

In recent decades, researchers have discovered that the gut-brain axis communication pathways between these two parts of our bodies can influence gut behavior by following our thoughts and feelings, and the same happens vice versa. Studies have shown that this link includes triggers from our mood, stress response, and our environment.

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Two thin layers in the digestive tract with millions of nerve commands encapsulate the gut microbiome, home to about 100 trillion microbes weighing about 2 kg. It affects digestion and energy production, but is also a key component of our overall health. It is not limited to the gut as it links hormonal, sleep, skin, liver and metabolic health.

It is almost another organ; he lives with us and we even feed them. [They] they live in symbiosis with us, says pharmacist Oonagh O’Hagan, of Meaghers Pharmacy in Dublin. As a teenager, he struggled with chronic irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), constantly taking medications and laxatives. It has started to affect not only his physical health, but his emotional well-being as well.

I think people think of food as something that keeps them going, whereas I think your food is medicine for your body, says O’Hagan. The important thing is that we can control it, it’s not something that is out of our control. Everything we put into our mouths is controllable.

Daily food intake affects the gut microbiome and it is often a varied plant-based diet that has the greatest benefits for the gut. The fibers found in fruits and vegetables contain polyphenols, which provide bitter taste, and antioxidants, which are good for the bacteria in the microbiome. O’Hagan says, «It’s not just about taking supplements, it’s also about watching your diet, hydration, stress management, getting enough sleep, and exercising.» All of this really stimulates the microbiome.

The gut also produces neurotransmitters such as serotonin, which influence sleep and mood. Its connection to different brain functions links it to many diagnoses of depression and anxiety disorders, type 2 diabetes, and intestinal conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), constipation, diarrhea, or bloating.

OHagan says that while most people might think it’s complicated, it’s not. Things that disrupt our microbiome include the constant consumption of processed foods, unavoidable in today’s food market, and the constant use of antibiotics. He says, sometimes when we overuse them, they’re clearing the ear infection, but they don’t know what the good or bad bacteria are, so they also wipe out our microbiome.

Many times antibiotics are needed, so the key is to replenish and take care of our gut. OHagan recommends looking at labels to try to reduce the amount of preservatives and food additives consumed. She says that if you don’t recognize the ingredients as something you could pull out of your cabinet or fridge, then it’s processed food and should be stored in small quantities.

For OHagan, it’s about making small, sustainable changes and creating more awareness toward healthier choices. The key is education around it. We’re not looking for 100 percent, there are 21 meals [in the week]. Even if you got 80% right of those, it’s going to be better than where we are today.

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