Intestinal bacteria: Your gateway to a healthier life
 
The food you eat and your intestinal bacteria affect your brain.

Intestinal bacteria: Your gateway to a healthier life

By Dr Trushna Bhatt

For a culture that places so much importance on food and flavors, we know precious little about the way our food affects our overall health.

An important factor that dictates what our meals do to our bodies is the food-gut interaction. Think of the gut as a main gate to your body, through which the stuff you eat enters your body, goes to the stomach, is broken down and so on.

How well the food is digested, how it interacts with the gut microbes (the friendly little helpers in our gut that help us digest, absorb and use food nutrients) and how the gut helps ward off diseases are important issues that we rarely think about. But it's important to be mindful of what you eat, in what quantity and how frequently. This is especially true for the present generation that's bombarded with convenience foods that give a lot of taste but little nutrition. It's time we take better care of our gut.

This is where Emeran Mayer comes to the rescue. In her book "The Mind-Gut Connection: How the Astonishing Dialogue Taking Place in Our Bodies Impacts Health, Weight, and Mood," she explains what the gut does, how it works tirelessly to keep us going, and even how the gut is connected to our brain.

Exploring the Links Between the Gut and Mind

Mayer's book offers insights into the deep connection between the gut and mind systems, including the star of the show — intestinal bacteria.

In-depth research into the functioning of the gut and its impact on the brain (and vice versa) provides fascinating information on the mechanisms of digestion. The connection between food, emotions and health is globally known, though it occupies a special place in Indian culture, given we treat our food and gods with equal respect. However, traditional diets have been modified to include convenience foods that are up to speed with today's urban lifestyle.

These transitions have done much to save time and improve taste but little to ensure a healthy body. How much do we really know about the symbiotic relationship between the gut and the brain? This book reveals this and more!

For example, did you know that the gut has its own individual "little brain" that regulates digestion? This brain programs the gut to act differently on different types of food and signals to the main brain to further fine-tune digestion. Our intestinal bacteria, a part of an information superhighway, keeps sending data about the gut to the brain. And how this information is processed and coded is of great interest, affected as it is, by a lot of factors.

A relaxed mother gives birth to a happy baby

One of the main factors that impacts this superhighway is, not surprisingly, our childhood. A happy childhood results in a different kind of code than what results from a stressful life. While one instance of stress often has our stomach in knots, just imagine what a lifetime of stress can do!

Stress affects the mother, which in turn, changes the bacteria that a child is born with. These bacteria affect the levels of hormones in our body, and we aren't talking about just the body-related hormones. There are some major brain hormones in there as well, including those related to anxiety and depression disorders. This certainly gives a new perspective to "food for thought", doesn't it?

Eat healthy, think better

Speaking of food, this is the number one factor (of course!) that affects our gut and health. But did you know that what you eat can also affect your memory and brain function?

The food that we consume right from childhood, including breast milk, has a major influence on the microbes in our gut and our overall health. Research has shown that a largely plant-based diet with some animal protein (for example, a Mediterranean diet) seems to be a major factor that contributes to a healthy life.

The human body is also extremely adaptable, though. Any changes in our diet result in changes in the overall picture of our intestinal bacteria. However, the extent of change that is possible is still unclear. For example, if you're an urban professional leading a largely sedentary lifestyle, changing your diet to a paleo vegan one would not necessarily change the gut bacteria to that of hunters. Don't despair, though. Switch to a healthier diet and you will benefit!

Take a chill pill at times

Dr Mayer describes cases where his patients had conditions such as anxiety and depression. Surprisingly, the patients also had severe, often chronic, digestive conditions. Treatment of one condition more often than not resulted in relief of the other.

The change in our diets after modernization has wreaked havoc on our digestive systems. Additives, sugar, preservatives, all these are not food for memory. In fact, there are studies on how these "modern" additions to food have brought about an increase in several mental diseases, including Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

Typical Indian diets rich in fibre, antioxidants, and micronutrients have (due to changing lifestyles, higher incomes, and more exposure to global cultures) given way to "fast-foods" that provide a lot of taste for the tongue, but very few nutrients to the gut.

This book provides the reader with simple guidelines on how to achieve gut health by regulating and managing food intake, which in turn modifies the gut bacteria. For example, limiting animal fat, avoiding too many processed foods, being mindful of what you eat, and maintaining a positive emotional state when eating are some of the steps you can take to boost your intestinal bacteria, your gut health, and your mental health.

These principles are pretty close to what's been propagated in traditional India, which means these will work well on the Indian gut. This is especially important, considering that Indian cuisine is typically spicy and tends to interfere with digestion.

Now that you're in the know about how important a healthy guy is, be mindful of what you eat to be your fittest self. In essence, to improve your mind, improve your food!

Disclaimer: This publication / editorial / article is meant for awareness/educational purposes and does not constitute or imply an endorsement, sponsorship or recommendation of any Products. Please consult your doctor/ healthcare practitioner before starting any diet, medication or exercise.