While we explore and obsess over what’s gluten-free, what the latest superfood is, what the best diet plan is etc., we may overlook the place where all our digestion takes place – our gut.
Our gut is the only organ in our body that has as many neurons as our brain. Everything that happens in our gut supports the function of our brain. Needless to say, the health of our gut is important.
We looked to understand the inner workings of our bodies a little better and took a few tips from Guilia Enders, author of Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ.
What Happens In Our Gut
What actually goes on in there and how does it work? Enders began her fascination with this misunderstood organ when she looked more closely at her bodily functions that one may typically shy away from (yes, we are talking about number two).
And another ‘embarrassing’ thing our bellies do is rumble. Typically, we associate tummy rumbles with hunger. However, funny rumbling noises aren’t actually caused by hunger.
Interestingly, it’s just our small intestine doing its job at eagerly cleaning our gut. In order to do so, it creates a strong muscular wave to move everything leftover after digestion. In turn, sometimes, making a sound.
Your Gut and Your Brain
It’s widely understood that our brain commands all the functions of our body. However, Enders explains that only 10 per cent of the nerves that connect the brain to the gut delivers information from the brain to the gut. She uses the example of stressful situations when our brain transmitters will signal to the gut to reduce its work because more blood and energy is needed elsewhere.
Contrastingly, 90 per cent of the nerve fibres that connect the gut and brain deliver information the other way around, from our gut to our brain. This highlights how important the gut is. Because our gut is our largest sensory organ, it performs a function as the most important advisor to our brains.
Some of the information it collects includes the quality of our food and nutrition, the level of hormones in our blood and the efficiency of our immune cells. All of this information is packaged up and sent to our brain.
The parts of the brain that it doesn’t reach are areas such as the visual cortex because otherwise, we would see colours as we digest our food! The areas of the brain that it reaches are areas that involve emotional processes and self-awareness.
So when we’re cultivating a greater sense of awareness of how our bodies are feeling at any given time, the gut contributes to this process.
A Healthy Gut
So how do we maintain a healthy gut and keep our gut clean? Enders educates that real cleanliness is not about the killing of all bacteria because 95 per cent of bacteria on this planet aren’t harmful to us. Most bacteria can actually help.
The key is about having enough good bacteria in our gut and keeping it balanced. It would be impossible to always avoid bad bacteria, and our immune system also needs bad bacteria to recognise what is bad for our bodies.
- Don’t be embarrassed about the funny noises your tummy makes, your gut is doing its job in making sure all your food is being digested properly.
- When you’re listening to your body, cultivating self-awareness, and scanning your body mentally, remember that sometimes your mood or how your body is feeling could be related to something you may have eaten. This helps in not always externalising your emotions.
- Improve your gut bacteria by eating a diverse range of whole foods, including vegetables, fruits, legumes and beans. And avoid artificial sweeteners.