Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body's Most Underrated Organ
Our gut is almost as important to us as our brain or our heart. Rather than just a functional and, let's be honest somewhat embarrassing body part we imagine it to be, it is one of the most complex, important, and even miraculous parts of our anatomy. And scientists are only just discovering quite how much it has to offer.
New research shows that gut bacteria can play a role in everything from obesity and allergies to Alzheimers, shaping our moods and even influencing how we feel.
A network of communication
The link between the gut and the brain is nothing new. But the connection between the two is not as simple as we might have previously thought. Rather than a one-way system of communication where the brain sends signals downstream, researchers are now beginning to understand it as more of a network.
A move away from the idea of hermetically sealed compartments in the body towards a network of information and a common language for the whole body. Its the study, to give it a scientific name of Psycho-Neuro-Endicrino-Immunology, or P.N.E.I for short. A closer look at how the central nervous system communicates with the immune system and what this means for our health.
Gut, brain, health
It's the idea that your immune system influences your hormones, it influences your nervous system, and it influences your psychology. Your gut produces 89/90% of your serotonin in your entire body, so if your gut's not happy you may be more prone to depression. And following this logic; if your microbiome is not in balance, you're P.N.E.I kicks in.
GUT health and happiness
Giulia Enders talks about these communication pathways in her book, GUT:
"We tend to think our brain makes these commands and then sends them down to the other organs and then they all have to listen. But really, it's more that 10% of the nerves that connect brain and gut deliver information from the brain to the gut.
Maybe more interestingly, 90% of the nervous fibres that connect gut and brain deliver information from our gut to our brain. And when you think about it, it does make sense, because our brain is very isolated. It's in this bony skull surrounded by a thick skin, and it needs information to put together a feeling of 'How am I, as a whole body, doing?'.
And the gut, actually is possibly the most important advisor for the brain, because it's our largest sensory organ collecting information, not only on the quality of our nutrients, but also on how our immune cells are doing.
So it does make sense that when our body and our brain are putting together this feeling of 'How am I, as a whole body doing?' that the gut has something to contribute to this process. And it also makes sense that people who have conditions like irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease have a higher risk of having anxiety or depression....maybe it's because their brain is feeling sympathy for their gut."
The effect of stress
While some of the studies have raised more questions than answers, researchers now know that both physical and emotional stress can have a very real effect on your immune system and its ability to protect us.
Research has shown time and time again that people in stressful situations have measurable changes in physical responses to injury. Whether it is slowed wound healing, a higher incidence of infection or a worse prognosis for cancer survival.
For many years, the immune system was considered a stand-alone, autonomous mechanism. This, as we now know, is not the case. The brain speaks regularly and persuasively to the cells of the immune system and vice versa. Stress is both psychological and physical.
The mind and body jigsaw puzzle
You could almost draw a line from every single physiological process to your microbiome. It's a seismic step forward in our understanding of just how the inner workings of the body fit together. A jigsaw puzzle with the four parts making up a holistic approach to mind and body. The science might be complicated, but the message is clear and simple;
If we treat our gut well, it will treat us well in return.
Interested to learn more?
Why we need to rethink our approach to fleas, ticks and worms - read the article
Taking care of animal health, naturally - browse the range.
Giulia Enders: The surprisingly charming science of your gut - watch the video