Precise and diverse, the balance of bacteria found in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract allows humans to digest food and absorb nutrients. While the impacts of GI bacteria composition on human function are rarely explored, new research suggests that the complex microbiome found in an individual assumes more power than previously thought.
Depression, cancer, eczema—what if these and countless other serious conditions could be traced to digestive health? A plethora of recent animal and epidemiological studies “link gut bacteria to conditions as diverse as autism, anxiety, and Alzheimer’s disease”, yet science has invested disproportionate attention in the pivotal field (Science).
Currently, medicine recognizes extreme imbalances in bacteria such as H.pylori, C Diff and e coli—yet even subtle deficiencies and abundances of common bacteria can have a profound impact on the immune system and the mind. Without specific testing, over “30 to 40 percent” of people are “burdened with functional bowel problems” and unaware of the debilitating effects mild digestive discomfort (and often no symptoms at all) has on one’s health (Johns Hopkins).
Likewise, a variety of digestive disorders are tethered to GI health and bacteria levels; for example Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Celiac Disease. Interestingly, symptoms of such ailments are consistently listed as brain fog and “mental health problems such as depression and anxiety” a observation illustrated in what Science has fittingly named the “psychobiome” (National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases).
However, the idea of a gut-mind connection proves established in the sense that the brain can send signals to the stomach to produce digestive enzymes when one is hungry—yet, the connection works both directions, meaning, an unhealthy gut can negatively affect our minds. Whereas doctors once attributed a disease as a byproduct of stress and mental disorders, recent data testifies to the contrary. With over “100 million nerve cells lining” the digestive tract, scientists often refer to the GI system as a “little brain” or the “enteric nervous system” (ENS) allowing a multitude of signals to be sent to the brain. (Johns Hopkins).
Utilizing this correlation, science has the opportunity to treat psychological and physical illnesses with remedies addressing a root cause. Restoring bacteria levels enables healthy digestion, absorption of nutrients and a stronger immune system, allowing medicine to not only treat but prevent various diseases such as cancer. Hypnotherapy also proves a promising option which utilizes the mind to send signals to the GI tract, and has the potential to limit use of unnecessary medications—which ironically lead to the decimation of gut bacteria, exacerbating conditions.
Maintaining GI health may be the key to preserving comprehensive health, if something feels off, trust your gut—take good care of it too.