Your Second Brain – Why it Matters
The human body works in amazing ways, and each organ cannot function with the other. Whilst we are not trying to become doctors and nutritionists, it is helpful to obtain a basic understanding, so that we can use this knowledge to improve our overall health.
You have probably heard of Bacteria and Microbes. Most people will have a knee jerk reaction to them, but in fact, their very existence is vital to our wellbeing. In this context, bacteria exist in our digestive tract, and is also commonly known as Gut Microbiome. There is roughly 4 lbs of bacteria in our gut. There are approximately 100 billion bacteria in every gram of intestinal content.
Microbes, which include fungi and viruses is all around us. More microbes exist in one human hand than all the people on this planet added up together. Our body alone has about 100 trillion microbes. However, less than 5% of microbes causes diseases.
Are All Bacteria Bad?
For the rest of the blog, we will focus on bacteria. The Bacteria in our gut help us digest our food, which in turn provide energy for our body to function. There are Good and Bad Bacteria in our gut. The two generally maintain an equilibrium when the body is healthy and not inflamed, and the bad bacteria is kept in check. When we are born, we have a fixed set of microbiomes, but this can be influenced by the food we eat. These bacteria also influence our behavior via 100 million neurons in our gut, hence the name Second Brain.
We mentioned the importance of the equilibrium between the Good and Bad bacteria. When the Good bacteria is no longer able to keep the Bad ones in check, this tip over can cause many health issues, including:
- Crohn’s disease or other ucerative colitis (inflamed bowels)
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Cholesterol and heart diseases
- Kidney diseases
- Emotional issues, affects how brain processes information from our senses like sight, sound, taste and texture, which in turn can lead to issues like autism, anxiety, depression and chronic pain
Let me cite an example linking food and the above. If you eat protein like red meat or eggs, our bacteria produce a chemical that our liver will turn into TMAO (trimethylamine-N-oxide). High TMAO is known to cause high cholesterol, heart and kidney diseases).
The other linkage we often hear about is between the Gut and Autoimmune Diseases. We will save this discussion for another time, but this is certainly something that is worth understanding more about.
How to Improve Gut Health
Since we have established the important link between a good diet and gut health, let’s look at the foods that make a difference. (Remember we always advocate that food is the best medicine for our bodies).
- Plant based foods are generally more alkaline and is welcome by the gut
- Eat more fibre
- Avoid processed foods
- Probiotic – these are the good bacteria which boosts our Immune System and Gastrointestinal Health. Probiotic foods include yoghurt, aged cheese, fermented vegetables like kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha and so on
- Prebiotic, or foods that contain probiotic properties, like bananas, onions, garlic, leek, asparagus, artichoke, soy beans and whole wheat foods
- Synbiotic, which is mixing probiotic and prebiotic foods together, will prolong the lives of the probiotics. For example, eating a banana with yoghurt, or stir fry asparagus with tempeh.
A final point I would like to bring up is how gut health can be determined. As I alluded to earlier, autoimmune diseases are linked to gut health, but many do not present symptoms till conditions are formed, and often that delay in diagnosis becomes detrimental for treatment. Most health checks in Hong Kong do not include a (comprehensive) stool test. Perhaps this is something you should consider for longer term health maintenance.