When most people hear the word “probiotics”, they usually think of yoghurt or pills that help people poop. Yes, probiotics or good bacteria are important for elimination and regular bowel movements. But having a healthy gut that’s populated with good bacteria does a lot more for us. A whole lot more…
The gut is the body’s second brain
Believe it or not, you were born with two brains originating from the same tissues called the ‘neural crest’.
One became your central nervous system (skull brain + spinal cord) and the other became your enteric nervous system (the second brain in your gut).
Incredibly, the second brain in the gut has its own neurons, neurotransmitters and neuropeptides — things most people associate only with the skull brain. There are neuropeptides in our entire gastro-intestinal tract, from the oesophagus to the rectum.
One neuroscientist has implied that these neuropeptides can give rise to strong emotions. Ever had a gut feeling about something or someone? Now you know that’s might not just be in your head!
Interesting facts about the gut
Certain types of good bacteria can digest lactose – helpful if you’re lactose intolerant.
Other types of good bacteria also produces compounds that can lower the risk of colon cancer.
95% of the body’s serotonin is in the gut. 95%! Serotonin might sound familiar to you because the media frequently refers to it as the “hormone for happiness”. As its nickname suggests, serotonin has a strong influence on our moods and sense of well-being. Serotonin also regulates pain — people with low serotonin levels often have more pain than others. Serotonin also regulates many other processes in our bodies.
70-80% of our immune cells live in the gut. Read that again. Yes, 70-80% of your immune system is located in the gut. It’s fair to say that your immune system is in your gut. And your gut is your immune system. Take care of it and it will take care of you.
What makes a gut “healthy”?
A healthy gut is one that has more good bacteria in it than bad bacteria. An abundance of good bacteria will keep the proliferation of bad bacteria down, maintaining a healthy ecosystem.
It’s good to be aware of the food we eat and maintain healthy habits such as cooking food thoroughly, but I think this bears saying — all living bodies at all times are home to many dangerous viruses and bacteria. Yet, we do not die. We continue to live despite playing host to them 24/7 because of our immune systems. It is a gift and an indispensable ally that works tirelessly in the background. So it makes sense to help and support our immune systems by keeping our guts healthy.
As an old saying goes, ‘Death begins in the colon’.
The many benefits of having an abundance of good bacteria in our guts
A healthy gut means a healthy second brain. Scientists still haven’t fully uncovered what this second brain is capable of. But we already know that a healthy gut = high serotonin levels = happiness + less pain. If you’re suffering from depression and/or chronic pain, a healthy gut alone will increase the quality of your life.
Less gas/flatulence. This is because good bacteria minimises the putrefaction/rotting of digested matter.
Regular (daily) bowel movements. This is incredibly important. How can we expect to stay healthy if waste matter remains rotting in our systems for more than 24 hours?
Bowel movements will be less odiferous/stinky.
A stronger immune system, leading to us falling sick less often.
Protection from a myriad of problem-causing organisms, including fungus (such as candida albicans), yeast, e-coli and salmonella. Given salmonella outbreaks appear to keep happening, a healthy gut might be our best defense.
Greater resistance to food poisoning. Should you get food poisoning, you’ll likely have less severe symptoms and a quicker recovery.
How to add good bacteria in your gut
There are many ways to do this—probiotic pills/supplements, fermented foods and drinks such as yoghurt, milk kefir/water kefir as well as other fermented drinks such as Yakult and kombucha.
It’s great that there are so many ways, because most likely you’d be able to find one that’s most suitable to your lifestyle and appealing to your tastes.
Note: When looking for probiotic pills, be sure to check the reviews for them online first. Paying more for a good brand can make the difference between something that’s actually effective and something that’s completely useless. Some brands require refrigeration, so check labels carefully.
Things that harm your gut
One of the most common things that harm good bacteria is antibiotics. All antibiotics will wipe out the good bacteria in your gut. Anitibiotics are like a raging forest fire — unselective in their destruction, they wipe out the good and the bad. This is part of the reason why people who’ve been prescribed antibiotics will have a whole host of other health problems.
Interestingly, natural antibiotics/antivirals/antibacteria such as garlic or turmeric do not harm good bacteria. In fact, garlic not only destroys bad bacteria, it actually boosts the good bacteria in our guts. Unlike man-made chemically-derived antibiotics, Mother Nature’s antibiotics are smart and selective. They weed and prune so our intestinal ecosystem will be a healthy, productive one.