Do you know the phrase “two heads are better than one?” Science has discovered that we actually have two brains inside of us. The first brain is the brain that we all know, but the second one is in the belly. The health of this second brain could be the key to improving your workplace productivity. Here’s what scientists know so far and how you can improve the health of your gut.
The Gut Brain
No, there isn’t a literal brain like the one in your skull hiding under your abs. Your intestinal tract has just as many nerve endings as your brain does. The intestines need these nerves to know how to digest the food we eat, but they may also do much more.
These nerves secrete about 40 different types of neurotransmitters, the same chemicals that our brain produces to regulate the body and control mood. Serotonin, a transmitter that affects the mood, is primarily produced in the gut. Over 90% of your body’s production of this chemical is actually in the stomach, not the brain!
This has some important implications. What if things like brain fog, tiredness after meals, and perhaps other mental issues aren’t caused so much by imbalances in our brain’s chemistry as an imbalance in our gut’s chemistry? We do get a lot of gut reactions to mental stress, like butterflies in the stomach when we are nervous. But many mental health medications have an adverse effect on the intestinal tract because the same receptors are found in both places.
The Gut Biome
While the foods we eat do have an effect on the nerves, we have other things in our guts that stay for much longer. The bacteria that catch a ride with our food can set up a home in our intestines. With some bacteria, like the bacteria found in fermented foods like sauerkraut, there is a beneficial relationship. When we feed ourselves with food that nurtures positive bacteria in our stomachs, these bacteria have a positive effect on the nerves in our stomachs.
However, it can go in both directions. Some foods promote bacteria that don’t work well with our gut brain. Food poisoning is an obvious one, but a bad gut biome population could be related to a host of digestive diseases, and possibly contributes to other diseases as well. There is a lot of research going on about the gut biome and science is sure to discover many new things about it over the next few years.
Taking Care of Our Gut Brain
So far as science knows, the best way to take care of the gut brain is to make sure our gut biomes are healthy. Here are some things you can do to take care of it.
- Eat fermented foods or take probiotics. Foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, yogurt ,and fermented pickles can put beneficial bacteria into your intestines.
- You can take a probiotic. These come in pills, powders, and in drink form. Acidophilus and bifidobacteria are the most common bacteria in our intestines. A good probiotic product will have both of these.
- Reduce your sugar intake significantly. The bacteria that don’t treat our bodies so well love to eat sugar. Some gastroenterologists believe that the cause of metabolic syndrome could well lie in imbalances caused by too much sugar affecting our gut biomes over time.
- Eat whole foods. Bacteria and humans have evolved together over millions of years. If we eat what our ancestors ate centuries ago, our bacteria will know what to do to break it down. Whole foods are foods closest to their natural state without modern processing.
- Limit your intake of modern foods and food additives. Conversely, we don’t know how modern processing of foods and food additives might be affecting our gut biome. This is something scientists will have to study, but if a certain type of processing or additive affects your digestion negatively, cut it out of your diet. You’re not likely to get used to it over time.
This is yet another argument for avoiding the vending machine at work and bringing in a healthy meal from home, or for demanding your employer provide real food at the workplace. Most probiotic users report that it takes about a month to see significant changes in the gut biome. Try eating a little fermented food every day or take a probiotic and see how you feel in 30 days. We think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.