When we consider what we want for our lives, and for those around us, health and happiness are two of the most common desires. However, they’re also fairly vague! Health and happiness are both subjective, but there are certain steps we can take to improve them. When looking for ways to give your body the support it needs to function at its best, the gut is an interesting area of focus.
‘A Flatter, Happier Tum’ is a brand-new eBook from bestselling health and wellness author Liz Earle MBE. In it, Liz breaks down the fundamentals of gut health and in particular, our gut bacteria. The eBook offers simple actionable changes to keep your digestive system in top shape and reap the benefits of a well-supported gut.
How we feed and fuel the human gut can have an important influence on our health, so there’s never been a better time to get better acquainted with how the pieces of the puzzle fit together! Could our gut bacteria hold the secret to improving our mental and physical wellbeing?
The role of the gut microbiome
The gut microbiome is an extremely complex system, but its role in modulating or influencing key areas of health are a growing focus in the health and wellness sector. We’ve known for a long time that the gut microbiome can aid digestion of otherwise indigestible food particles, produce vitamins and help us better absorb some essential nutrients from food, but we are now beginning to see a much wider scope of its influence. We are discovering that the gut microbiome can influence other parts of the body, such as the immune system, brain health and cognition – and even our sleep health.
The key is in the gut microbiome composition. This is the delicate ecosystem within the gut, comprising trillions of microorganisms, including bacteria. There are some types of bacteria that are particularly beneficial, which we know as the ‘good’ gut bacteria these include bifidobacteria and lactobacilli. It’s thought that there may be up to a thousand different kinds of bacteria in one individual’s gut microbiome.
What do we mean by ‘a healthy gut microbiome’?
A healthy gut microbiome is hard to define because everyone has a different composition and it’s able to shift, change and adapt but overall is very resilient during lifetime – in fact, it’s as unique as your fingerprint. The human body is so complex that what we might say is a healthy gut microbiome for one person may not necessarily be the same for another individual.
Instead, when we talk about supporting ‘gut health’ we are often talking about optimising the amount of good bacteria in the gut. Your digestive tract has a finite amount of space for bacteria to grow and inhabit. By increasing the number of beneficial bacteria that live in the gut microbiome, you are limiting the space available for other types that are less advantageous. In terms of gut health, this is known as microbial diversity. There are many types of bacteria that help our bodies to perform at its best, so it’s always a good idea to give a helping hand to those that benefit us!
Can the gut microbiome affect our happiness?
The gut has a strong link with the brain. For instance, have you ever wondered why we can feel nauseous when anxious? Or why you can get ‘butterflies in the stomach’?
The brain and gut microbiome are able to send signals and information to each other. We call this relationship the ‘gut-brain axis’, and it may help to explain why our gut is so closely connected to our mood.
Although the relationship is bidirectional, almost 90% of the neural communication between the gut and the brain starts in the gut. This indicates that the gut could have a powerful influence on brain function, including influencing mental health, stress and mood. For example, one of the routes - the vagus nerve - sends information from the central nervous system to different parts of the body, including the gut, and sends sensory information from peripheral organs to the brain.
The composition of the gut microbiome can also influence mental health in additional ways, too. The gut microbiome can help the host produce neurotransmitters - chemical compounds that affect how the brain functions. Serotonin is a well-known example, produced in the gut by enterochromaffin cells in the gut, using precursors provided by some members of gut microbiome. It’s an important contributor to happiness and wellbeing, with approximately 90% of serotonin actually originating in the gut.
Get to know your gut bacteria!
Our gut bacteria don’t just help to break down food, they can play a much more prominent role in our health and wellbeing.
If you’re looking to feed and nourish your good gut bacteria, one approach is to increase your fibre intake. Fibre is the preferred fuel source for certain good types of bacteria, including bifidobacteria, stimulating and encouraging them to flourish! However, according to a study conducted on behalf of Public Health England, only 9% of adults (and just 7% of adults over 65) obtain the recommended amount of 30g of fibre per day, which includes 5g of fermentable prebiotic fibre.
Prebiotic fibre exists naturally in certain kinds of food, including onions, leeks and Jerusalem artichokes, however many people are unable to consume the amount required in order to achieve a ‘prebiotic effect’, whilst other people may not be able to tolerate them so opt to incorporate a prebiotic fibre supplement such as Bimuno® into their diet.
So, why not get better acquainted with your microbiome and give your gut bacteria a helping hand? We know it has an influence on physical and mental wellbeing, so looking after your gut can be the start of your journey to wellbeing. Click here to find out more about Bimuno.
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