Updated: Nov 3, 2018
D i d y o u k n o w t h a t y o u r m o o d i s d i r e c t l y l i n k e d t o y o u r d i g e s t i v e s y s t e m ? !
The "gut" is a term we hear so often in terms of digestion and also in regards to emotions such as having a "gut feeling" which isn't just a coincidental figure of speech. The gut-brain connection is one that is astounding; they are in constant communication. Who would have thought that our brain plays a very important role in our digestive processes and that the gut plays a massive role in how we feel!
The gut is also known as the digestive system, a group of organs that includes the mouth, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, small intestine, colon, and rectum. The health and efficiency of this system is an integral piece to our overall wellness. Did you know that 70% of our immune system is wrapped around out gut!? Digestion starts in the mouth where amylase, an enzyme that helps break down carbs is excreted as we chew. Each portion of the gut has a specific set of processes that allow it to break down the food we ingest fueling our bodies as needed with specific nutrients. The gut provides signals to the brain and the brain helps us to decide when and what we would like to eat, how much and how fast we would like to consume it.
When we eat, the gut and brain will talk to assess and decide how long to hold onto the food in the stomach where enzymes and hydrochloric acid are excreted to help break down the food. For example if we eat a fatty meal, the stomach will be told to hold onto the food longer than a lighter meal in order to have sufficient breakdown, once done it will then get sent to the small intestine. Protein, fat and carbohydrates are broken down in the small intestine where they are turned into amino acids, sugar and fatty acids. They are then packaged and absorbed to keep the human body alive and healthy! Not only do the gut and brain play a vital role in digestion, they also play key roles in our emotional well being and stress levels. The brain informs the gut about stressors and vice versa. The gut microbiome is filled with nerve cells that provide and receive information from the brain. Studies show 90-95% of the body's serotonin is produced in the digestive system from the amino acid L-tryptophan. L-Tryptophan is an essential amino acid (building block of protein) that cannot be produced within the body, which means it is present in most protein rich foods (chickpeas, pumpkin seeds, animal proteins, tofu). Serotonin is a hormone that impacts every part of our body. A key role is regulating our mood and emotions. When serotonin levels are balanced you feel happy, focused, calmer and emotionally stable. Serotonin's role in digestion is vital for the mobility of food through your system. If you were to eat something that upset your stomach, the cells release lots of serotonin which causes the gut to empty leading to diarrhea, in reverse if the serotonin overflows where it leaks into the blood inducing vomiting, protecting the body from toxins and irritants.
To ensure proper breakdown of protein in the stomach, we need to have sufficient enzymes, pepsin in particular and sufficient hydrochloric acid which activates the enzyme.
Tips for a happy gut:
Chew intently - it kicks off the digestive process
Stay hydrated, try not to drink 30 minutes before eating as it waters down the digestive juices
Incorporate fermented foods to increase good bacteria in the gut
Eat foods that make you fell good - if a food is causing you to feel bloated or nauseous, avoid it
Avoid processed foods and sugars
Keep stress levels low - take conscience breaths throughout your day
Go easy on your gut and limit heavy protein rich foods (red meats & dairy)