Trust your gut

The bacteria in your stomach helps to keep you healthy

By Dr. Matthew Lapp, Columnist, The Times

CTColLogoMattLappHave you ever had that sinking feeling in your stomach, as if something big were about to happen? How about the last time you saw someone you love, or someone you don’t?  Those butterflies that were trying to get out were examples of the affect that our gut can have on our state of mind, or our intuition, about our situation.

Did you know that the digestive system has more neurons than the nervous system?  In fact, the enteric nervous system, has over one hundred million neurons, uses more than  30 neurotransmitters, and can operate independently of the brain and nervous system.  This has led scientists to dub it “the second brain.”  In addition, 95% of the body’s serotonin is found in the gut and over 50% of our body’s dopamine is found there as well. 

Both of these chemicals are major influencers of our mood and well-being, thus, many studies are now aiming to figure out how the gut may influence our overall state of mind and disposition.  A new field of study has even emerged, called neurogastroenterology.  (Say that five times fast…)  For example, one common treatment for depression is to prescribe selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).  These drugs work by keeping more serotonin circulating in the blood, thereby allowing more to reach the brain and improve mood.  Since a large majority of serotonin is usually stored in the gut, these drugs often have a detrimental affect on the GI system.

Our gut is also home to trillions of bacteria.  Some of this bacteria can be harmful to us (think e.coli), but the majority of the bacteria is actually beneficial to a host of other systems including our nervous system, immune system, and our mood.  In 2008, the Human Microbiome Project was launched to catalogue all of the bacteria found in the gut and all around our bodies.  Since then, major discoveries have been made with regard to the huge network of bacteria living in and on us at all time.  The most striking finding has been that the bacteria are actually necessary for us to live at our best.  In fact, over 70% of our overall immune response can be credited to the gut and the bacteria living there.  And, when certain bacteria aren’t present, we may suffer from various illnesses or poor health.

One example is that of autism.  Many studies have confirmed that people with autism almost always have altered gut flora and inflammatory digestive systems.  One doctor, Natasha Campbell-McBride calls this Gut and Physiology Syndrome (GAPS) and has created a nutrition program aimed at counteracting some of this inflammation in order to restore or improve proper gut function.  Many people, all over the world have benefited as a result.

In addition, researchers have traced issues like ADD/ADHD, dyslexia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, asthma, allergies, autoimmune disorders, eczema, and even osteoporosis back to issues with gut bacteria.

The good news is that we can actually improve our digestive health and thereby improve the bacterial composition of our digestive system and body as a whole.  Our diets are a major influencer, and typical components of a “Western Diet” i.e. fast food, high carbohydrates, high sugar, highly processed foods are all deterrents of good bacterial growth and optimal digestive health.  Instead, choosing foods that are higher in fiber, contain live cultures (like yogurt and fermented foods), and eating a good variety of food can all improve overall gut health.

Some people choose to take a probiotic supplement, a dosage of bacteria in pill or liquid form, to get their good bacteria.  This can be very helpful for rebuilding the gut bacteria, especially if you’ve taken any antibiotics recently.  But, some studies have shown that eating “live” foods, like saurkraut, kimchi, and other fermented foods actually have a wider variety of beneficial bacteria and may be a more cost-effective method of getting your daily dosage.

It’s especially important for mothers who are expecting or who are breastfeeding to make sure they are getting plenty of good bacteria and maintaining a healthy microbiome since the baby’s first exposure to bacteria will come from the mother via the birth canal.  The entire immune system is built upon this foundation, so it’s important to get a good start!

Although there are many chemicals, toxins, and challenges we may face on a daily basis, we have an opportunity every day to improve our mood, our immune system, and our overall state of well-being by improving the relationship we have with our gut and our microbiome.  By doing so, we may just ensure a happier, healthier life for years to come.

Drs. Allison and Matthew Lapp are the owners of Salus Chiropractic Studio in Thorndale. For more tips on living a health, happy life, visit them on Facebook at

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