Digestive Health Part I: A “Brain” & Its Bacteria


In order to understand how to keep your digestive tract at its healthiest, it’s important to first understand its complexities. While some of this may seem a bit “science-y,” it will help when making decisions concerning the health of your gut. This is the first part of a two-part series on digestive health so next time we will dive into some details on what you can do to give your gut all the love it deserves!

Aside from our brain, the gastrointestinal tract is one of the most complex parts of our body. Out of all organs that can be transplanted (no, a brain has never been transplanted – creepy!), the intestines rank at the bottom of the list in terms of frequency. Not only does the 30-foot organ make this a daunting task, but so does the complexity of the gut’s muscles, nerves, and microbiome. Let’s look into some of these a little further, shall we?

Gut & Nerves

You’ve probably heard the term “second brain”, but have you ever wondered why your gut would be compared to something that controls every action, thought, feeling…? A huge chunk of our nervous system is dedicated to the gut to control its function all while communicating with the brain about what’s going on in there. Multi-tasking at its finest! The nerves associated with the gut are so abundant that they form their own named system: the enteric nervous system. In fact, some sources suggest that the gut has 5x more neurons than the spinal cord. Impressive, huh? 

The enteric nervous system is its own entity because it possesses its own reflexes, unlike complex nerve systems in other parts of the body. It has influence over hormones and neurotransmitters, as well. The little critters in the gut’s microbiome have influence on our levels of serotonin, that chemical that makes us happy. Anxiety and depression can have a huge relationship with the health of the gut. With all these things at play, the phrases “gut feeling” or “going with your gut” might not seem so far out. 

Gut & Microbes

The microbiome has been a hot topic in recent years for good reason. These little critters were once thought to outnumber the body’s human cells. While this estimate has been discarded, the new thought is 1:1 microbe to human cell. So, half of our body isn’t “human”? If you want to think about it like that, you’re technically not wrong. Microbes virtually live on every part of our body, inside and out. The term microbiome is all-inclusive to this, but we’re zeroing in on our gut for obvious reasons.  

Keeping this half of our being happy and healthy is crucial to enjoying the highest quality of life. Metabolic functions, immunity, and hormones are all heavily influenced by the critters that reside in our gut. I think we can all say we are interested in keeping those things in good function, so giving your microbiome some TLC is a great way to do so. In terms of the gut microbiome composition, environmental factors like diet (hello!), geographic location, new microbes, or medications like antibiotics play huge roles in whose living in there, and who isn’t. 

With this understanding underway, stay tuned for a follow-up blog post on some ways to nurture your microbiome, and ultimately, your whole self!

Every body is different. For specific help with your digestive health, seek the help of a Registered Dietitian! Get started with a FREE nutrition consultation!

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Written by Whitney Ament, Nutrition Intern at Elite Sports Clubs

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