Why the Gut and Brain Is Extremely Valuable for Our Overall Mind-Body Health
For many years, as if it was Atlantis, the gut was buried and known as a organ solely of digestion. We noticed our gut when it “did not work well.” From birth we were taught to put food in our mouth, chew and swallow down our throat, and then the rest would happen on its own. As time went on we believed that the stomach did most of the digestion and finally the “bottom” was to eliminate waste. As time went on we began to understand the process and started to scope the esophagus, which connects the mouth to the stomach, and knew of the colon, which we also began to scope to further understand its function. We were not able to reach the small intestine (outside of surgery) which remained a mystery, until we developed a camera the would send us photos like a rover from mars. It only served to expand the mystery of how the gut works.
As time has gone on we are developing a greater appreciation for all the gut does and beginning to understand a little of the vast amount of work it provides for our health. We are just beginning to appreciate what happens to our body and brain as a direct result of what our gut is doing. Is it absorbing nutrients, is it inflamed and/or bothered by irritating molecules, does it have the right flora or bacteria to help digestion. We now are beginning to appreciate how the ecology of the gut affects the quality of our body brain and mind. Perhaps the ecology of the gut is a direct reflection of our body, brain and mind not just a separate organ.
I was truly awakened to this a number of years ago when a 14 year old boy was brought to my office by his parents. He had been struggling with depression, and it had gotten so bad that he sat across from me on our first meeting, stating that every day he has thoughts of dying. He had been seen by other doctors and the last doctor he saw was a psychiatrist who diagnosed him with Bi-polar Disorder and prescribed him medication. The medication did not work and the patient felt worse. He came to me for a consultation.
As part of my routine exam, I discussed his gut health. He reported that he used to be fine, but in the last year he was having limited bowel movements, mostly once a week. I thought this was pretty severe constipation. So, besides my usual workup, I placed on him a course of digestive enzymes, a herbal gut detox and a low concentration of probiotics. I had him return in one week as a follow up. In one week, his mood was already shifting, his negative thoughts were diminishing and he was beginning to be more alert.
At four weeks his blood studies showed him to be nutrient deficient and I started him on a course of micronutrients. However, by then he mood had shifted, his depression had gone from a 10/10 to a 2/10. He was back at school, back to sports and socializing with friends. More so his bowel movements were now daily. Move forward a few years, he graduated with honors and went on to college. For awhile he would send me a text or email me just to inform how well his life was going.
Not all cases are so clear as this, but many are similar in regards to gut health.
We now understand that each microbe plays a role in our over health. Recently there were studies published that tied particular intestinal microbes to a specific neurotransmitter in our brain. Without that microbe, we would lack that neurotransmitter. A recently published study demonstrated that particular microbes may be responsible for immunization against cancer. Some microbes may kill cancer cell, other may promote preventive measures.
Either way, the gut is extremely valuable for our overall mind-body health. It provides us with life giving resources. We are best served (no pun intended) by paying attention to our gut, treating it like royalty, taking prebiotic and probiotics, limiting animal protein to 25% of our protein intake and serving it a bouquet of colorful fruits and vegetable. Pay attention to our body. If we become bloated, eliminate what may have caused it. If we become constipated, limit the food that may be difficult to digest. We are best suited to be regular without effort like our breathing. As far as types of food, there are many menu programs out there. All may benefit, none of which are perfect. So pay attention to your guy and body and everything in moderation.
Love yourself, love your gut!
Treat it well and you will be well.