If I asked, ‘how smart do you think you are?’ you would almost certainly think I was referring to your brain capacity. But we have another, super smart body part – the gut.
Recently, it has been reckoned that the average human gut has more brain cells than the average cat has in its whole brain. How amazing is that? And this smart gut might be playing a part in keeping you overweight. Now that doesn’t sound too clever but the gut, whilst quite smart, doesn’t always know what is good for you but is more interested in maintaining its current equilibrium. But this really works in our favour over time for if we change this equilibrium, the clever gut start working for the would be slimmer self. So, let’s explore the facts.
The internet has gone ballistic over this exciting branch of science but as we all know; the internet isn’t always the place to look for quality information unless you are looking at our website of course. So, what do we need to know?
Your gut contributes more to your immune system than almost any other organ whilst producing hormones that affect and regulate too many things to list here. Living inside your gut is your own private microbiome; a couple of kilograms of miniscule microbes living within you but not actually being part of you. In his book, The Clever Guts Diet, by Dr Michael Mosley which we highly recommend, he narrows the tasks of the microbiome down to roughly 3. Number 1 task he says is to regulate weight by deciding how much energy is taken from food, controlling hunger signals and cravings. Number 2 task he posits is to protect us from intestinal invasions. Certain conditions such as Type 1 diabetes and some inflammatory diseases are affected by or tempered by our microbiome and task number 3 is to digest food that the rest of our body cannot. If Dr Mosley is to be believed and we most certainly do believe him, the microbiome and your gut is extremely important. If after reading our short series on the subject you want to learn more, I highly recommend reading the aforementioned book.
Your microbiome is itself made of different parts – it’s not all bacteria. These different parts include fungi, viruses and protozoa – something like a living forest. This biome is being seen by scientists more and more as an organ in its own right although strictly speaking, it lives in you and works with you, but it isn’t really part of you. After all, every time you go to the bathroom you deposit a significant part of it straight down the toilet.
And does this have anything to do with psychology? Absolutely! There are possibly numerous connections between the gut and the brain but probably the most influential is the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is the longest nerve in the human body and stretches all the way from your brainstem to the depths of your gut.
As early as 1921 the role of the vagus nerve was being tested and by prominent Nobel scientists such as Otto Loewi. In a series of articles on the vagus nerve in Psychology Today, Christopher Bergland suggests the vagus nerve is the prime driver for the parasympathetic nervous system. This may now be out of kilter due to the onslaught of modern life and cultural changes that our bodies haven’t yet evolved for.
In this series here at Waetugo we will examine in more detail how the gut microbiome can affect your physical health and weight, your mental health and then our own suggestions for improving your microbiome and turning it into a cauldron of life supporting goodness.