By Olivia Costanzo
Have you ever had a “gut feeling” about something? What if I told you that feeling is millions of bacteria and fungi at work; that we’re all just shells housing millions of fungal and bacterial species? Maybe you’d say there’s no way, or maybe you’d totally believe it. Either way, these fungi and bacteria which make up our gut microbiomes are more powerful than we know. The gut microbiome is our frontline of defense from the entire outside world; it’s also our second brain. No, it doesn’t have thoughts of its own, but it communicates to the brain in a major way.
First, let’s get clear on just what we’re referring to when we say “the gut”. The gut is the largest membrane in the whole body–starting at the sinuses, running down the posterior varynx, down into the esophagus, small intestine, stomach and rectum. The majority of the gut is in the digestive tract. It covers two tennis courts and is only one cell layer thick–that’s half the width of a human hair. This membrane is the barrier system that separates us from the outside world. It is a complex system of proteins that we can think of being similar to velcro. It is home to 90% of all cells and genetic material. It is the location for 70-80% of our entire immune system, and is where vital neurotransmitters like serotonin are created.
This delicate lining is a powerhouse and vastly important to our health. That ‘gut feeling’ we get, or the butterflies, or that feeling of your stomach in knots are all signs of our gut-brain connection. Maybe you’ve heard of “leaky gut”, which is what happens when our half-hair width of a velcro defense system becomes compromised allowing particles into our bloodstream–and eventually to our brain–that shouldn’t be there. Symptoms of leaky gut manifest as food allergies, or airborne allergies, digestive distress, brain fog, mood disorders, autoimmune conditions, etc. The root of all disease begins in the gut.
The way modern medicine has divided our bodies into different systems and even assigned regions to different doctors (think gastroenterology, cardiology gynecology etc), doesn’t honor our bodies as whole, interconnected beings. When it comes to modern, conventional psychiatry, the last thing that would be considered as correlation would be the patient’s digestive system. The gut-brain connection is generally overlooked by conventional doctors, yet pills–effective through the digestive tract–are prescribed to affect patients’ brains. Doesn’t that make you wonder? If you could gain just one thing from this article, I’d wish it to be curiosity. We should all be curious about the inner-workings of our bodies–be curious about what a round of antibiotics actually does to our overall health…be curious about what a food system contaminated with pesticides does to the millions of bacteria of our microbiome…be curious about how rates of inflammatory diseases are rising.
Something like walking out of the doctor’s office with a prescription for antibiotics to treat a common cold may seem insignificant, but when we deny the way nature intended our bodies to work, there are consequences. We’ve just scratched the surface on this ever-important topic of our gut-brain connection. Check back next month as we dive a little deeper into the role of our guts.