Sunday, March 5, 2017

Fiber, Gut Health, and the Second Brain

As humans, we are filled with bacteria. I'm not talking about the bacteria on the outside of our bodies, that is entirely another story. I'm referring to our microbiome (or the human flora). I've read an article in Scientific American that said inside us, there are more bacteria microbes than human cells. Some articles say it may be one-for one ratios. Either way, its true that we are filled with bacteria. We eat food to fuel our bodies with energy and sustain essential functions for our cells and organs. The foods we eat also "feed" the 100 trillion bacteria in our bodies, specifically within the gut and other vital organs. If we eat healthy foods, we can feed our bodies to produce good bacteria. If we consume overly processed, artificial chemicals or foods high in sugars, there is potential we produce bad bacteria, and the gut can get out of balance. In fact, different strains or species of bacteria can be formed based on the types of foods we eat, so truly we are what we eat, it transforms our intestinal composition.

The bacterial microbes that live inside us affect our health, weight, mood, mood disorders, behavior and how full we feel. The gut intestinal flora (bacteria) affects not only how we digest and process food, but it also contributes to the functionality and strength of our immune system, as well as playing a role to reduce inflammation. 

The digestive system is a complicated process, it literally starts with how we ingest and chew our food, how it travels through the esophagus into the stomach, small and large intestines and eventually exits the body. The wall of our gut, or the enteric nervous system (ENS) is what controls the digestive system. The gut breaks down our food, and generates energy, and our bodies can utilize the vitamins. Healthy digestion also helps create good bacteria to fight the bad (pathogenic) bacteria.

Latest studies and research all indicated that the key to good gut health is to consume more fiber, and a variety of different types. It is believed to be the most effective way to produce a more balanced gut bacteria environment. Every single day, choose from a variety of things like fresh leafy, stalky green vegetables, legumes (beans), lentils, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and fruits to build up your microbial diversity. Many of these are considered prebiotic foods because they have the types of fiber that beneficial gut bacteria thrive on when they ferment in the gut. Also consider adding some probiotic bacteria by eating yogurts, fermented foods or take a probiotic supplement that is refrigerated. Don't bother with any probiotic that is room temperature, the bacteria needs to stay alive in order to work. 

Back to the enteric nervous system. The ENS is a huge network of neurons that are dispersed across layers of our gut tissue. This system is self-automated and maintains our biochemistry throughout the gut. It does things like keeping the correct pH levels and chemical configuration needed to enable digestive enzymes to kick into gear and break down and process the foods we ingested.

I first became interested in studying this topic a few years ago as part of improving my own health. As a Type 2 Diabetic, I needed to understand how I could change my diet to control my diabetes. After consulting with my medical doctor, nutritionists and health care professionals I learned what I needed. During this same time there were some synergies between my personal nutritional education and my work. My professional background has been in the pet industry, specifically pet food and nutrition. As such I spent several years studying the latest research of the leading nutritionists and scientists around health. Everything pointed back to diet, including fiber, digestion and gut health. The same principles apply for dogs and cats as in humans. I've been fortunate to have spent several years working closely with three of the world's leading experts on fiber and gut health. Gut health--through fiber is a key driver to better heath. I have been able to utilize much of this knowledge and latest research when we developed our new Lucy Pet Formulas for Life with P.B.F. Prebiotic Balanced Fiber. We realized it was time that there was a super-premium pet food on the market that can help dogs and cats live a healthier life through better gut health. We pulled together the experts in gut health and animal nutrition to discuss the gut and digestive systems for dogs and cats.

The gut has some pretty serious functions, aside from processing food, it stops any dangerous pathogens, bacteria, viruses, etc from progressing through the body or to vital organs. The gut wall lining has immune cells which secrete histamines or other inflammatory secretions which can trigger the brain to induce vomiting, or initiate diarrhea. In either case its the method the body uses to "get the poison out", or make sure the pathogenic foreign bacteria gets out as quickly as possible. This helps explain how integral the gut is with the brain and to protect our bodies from sickness or disease. The gut truly is like a "second brain" in that it communicates with the brain and helps control many functions in the body. Until now, very few people understood just how important a healthy diet with high levels of fiber can be for better health and to enable the "second brain" to do its job.
There is a fascinating article on this at New Scientist, this image below is from that site and helps visually explain some of what I've shared in this post.
image credit: New Scientist

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