You might have heard the gut referred to as the “second brain”. That is because it is regulated by the enteric nervous system, a complex network which uses the same chemicals and cells as the brain to help us digest and to alert the brain when something is wrong. The gut and the brain are constantly talking to one another.
Of course, the gut performs essential functions that the brain does not: the gastrointestinal tract absorbs nutrients ingested through food and supplements and excretes waste products of digestion, making good gut health critical to overall health.
The enteric nervous system is a component of the autonomic nervous system, and researchers are interested in how the gut microbiome (the trillions of bacteria in the gut) interact with the enteric system and the whole nervous system of the body. These research investigations are yielding and exploring evidence that bacteria in the gut – and the byproducts they produce – affect mood, cognition, and behaviour.
As everyone reading this will know, the “second brain” factor of the gut is highly relevant to our emotional and psychological experience. Feelings of anxiety, stress, or nervousness can be experienced as pain in the abdomen, diarrhoea, nausea, or butterflies in the stomach.
And given that there is “immense crosstalk between [the] two large nerve centres” of the brain and the gut, in the words of Braden Kuo, co-executive director of the Center for Neurointestinal Health at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), keeping the gut healthy may be an important component of mental health as much as physical wellbeing. Much of the current advice of physicians and dieticians on caring for the gut focuses on the gut microbiome, and how to nurture and protect those trillions of bacteria.
Some of the science-based ways to improve gut bacteria include:
- Eating a diverse range of foods to support a diverse microbiome, and following a plant-based diet with lots of vegetables, fruits, beans, and legumes.
- Eating fermented foods (yoghurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, and others), which are rich in beneficial lactobacilli, a type of bacteria.
- Eating prebiotics; these are foods that promote the growth of beneficial bacteria, and are mainly fibre or complex carbohydrates that certain species of gut bacteria can break down and use for fuel.
However, no matter how optimal your lifestyle or food intake, your health may suffer if your gut is compromised: malabsorption can be a feature of many gut ailments, from the relatively minor to the most serious, meaning the gut is unable to extract maximum nutritional value from what you are consuming.
Gut issues can range from chronic constipation or bloating to irritable bowel syndrome and illnesses such as colitis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and various gut cancers*. Please don’t ‘sit on your symptoms’ and ignore anything amiss or out of the ordinary for you. If you have any of the following symptoms, see your GP to discuss whether any tests are necessary:
- Blood in the faeces
- Persistent changes in bowel habits
- Abdominal pain
Finally, don’t overlook the value of smart supplementation in supporting gut health. NatureBee coined the term “potentiated pollen” to describe how it has made its bee pollen more potent for humans to digest. The process takes fresh, multi-floral, wild, raw, 100% bee pollen and breaks open its hard cell walls using a proprietary process similar to how a walnut is opened to get to its delicious, healthy contents.
The potentiation process opens and releases the contents of each pollen granule, making it more digestible and bio-available – so it’s as easy as possible for the hard-working gut and its microbiome to use to support your overall wellbeing.
*NB If you would like to know more about gut cancer signs and symptoms, the Gut Cancer Foundation (GCF) offers great resources. This August, GCF’s stomach cancer campaign is raising awareness of those cancer types, symptoms, and risk factors.
Disclaimer: Bees are not harmed in the making of this product. To extract the venom, a pane of glass is placed alongside the hive and a gentle electrical current is run through it, which harmlessly encourages the bees to sting the surface.