The science of Gut Health

The studies looking at the gut and our microflora has grown exponentially in the past 5 years. Specifically, the strong connection between our digestive system and the brain has been emphasised, researched and proven to be strongly related one to another. The intestines are basically the second brain as it not only determines the status of our immune system but it influences appetite, mood and various other actions of the brain. This makes me remember the saying of not trusting my mind or my thoughts. First, I thought I should not identify with my emotions because I am not my mind. But what if there is a second interpretation, and that is, maybe the bacteria living inside are actually dictating my thoughts. Hmmm… spooky right?

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There are several types of bacteria and the two most important are Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes. The more processed, meat based foods you eat, the more you shift the balance towards the least beneficial type, the Bacteroides phyla. The more fibre and plants based food you consume, the more you encourage healthier colonies to develop. There are certain foods that contain beneficial bacteria or encourage the development of healthy bacteria such as probiotics, prebiotics and fermented foods. I am mentioning this not only for maintaining a healthy environment but also because nutrient-gut-microbiota interactions are key players in diabetic, obese and insulin resistant people.

A study carried out by Tillisch and his colleagues in 2013 about the combination of a fermented milk product with a probiotic that modulates brain activity. Healthy women consumed a fermented milk product that contained probiotic for a month. In order to measure the effects, the participants underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging before and after. Post intervention, the brain regions that control central processing of emotion and sensation were significantly affected in the intervention group compared to control and no intervention group. Probiotics are live microorganisms, for example Lactobacillus sp. (Firmicutes) and Bifidobacterium sp., tested for health benefits. These bacteria are anaerobic and can be consumed as dietary supplements or as food products, such as yogurt. The same study also found after scanning, in the resting-state, the probiotic group had grater connectivity in a brainstem region and areas of the prefrontal cortex associated with cognition.

According to Dr Perlmutter and Loberg in 2015, ADHD and depression have a lot in common, inflammation being one of the common symptoms. More than 11% of children between four to seventeen years are diagnosed with ADHD nowadays and this disease is characterized by attention deficits, learning disabilities and impulsivity control problems. Individuals with a genetic predisposition to the disorder and who suffer from chronic inflammation have the highest risk for developing ADHD.

In another study from 2011 recruited children diagnosed with ADHD aged 4-8 years. There was a diet group, which consumed a restricted elimination type of diet, and a control group, which only received healthy diet recommendations. Those in the intervention group showed a 40% < improvement in the ADHD rating scale. The restricted elimination diet is a very good way of testing whether ADHD is triggered by hypersensitivity to a certain food or not. Research suggests that more than half of the children diagnosed with ADHD may actually be experiencing a hypersensitivity to foods such as dairy wheat and processed products with artificial ingredients and food colourings.

Changes in the microbiome results in composition changes of gut bacteria which may have an influence on behaviour, the brain and health in general. The studies I mentioned were mainly focused on disease just to show you how important a healthy microflora is. In the following illustration you can find an easier way to picture it!

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References

Foster, J. and McVey Neufeld, K. (2013). Gut-brain axis: how the microbiome influences anxiety and depression. Trends in Neurosciences, 36(5), pp.305-312.

Pelsser, L., Frankena, K., Toorman, J., Savelkoul, H., Dubois, A., Pereira, R., Haagen, T., Rommelse, N. and Buitelaar, J. (2011). Effects of a restricted elimination diet on the behaviour of children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (INCA study): a randomised controlled trial. The Lancet, 377(9764), pp.494-503.

Perlmutter, D. and Loberg, K. (2015). Brain maker. Little, Brown and Company.

Tillisch, K., Labus, J., Kilpatrick, L., Jiang, Z., Stains, J., Ebrat, B., Guyonnet, D., Legrain-Raspaud, S., Trotin, B., Naliboff, B. and Mayer, E. (2013). Consumption of Fermented Milk Product With Probiotic Modulates Brain Activity. Gastroenterology, 144(7), pp.1394-1401.e4.

 

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