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Healthy Gut, Stronger Brain (Student Guest Blog)

I'd like to introduce Stephanie, our dietetic intern and future dietitian who is helping us understand a fascinating topic called our gut-brain axis.

Better yet, I will let her introduce herself:

Hello everyone, my name is Stephanie La Puglia. I am a dietetic intern at NutraSourceRD with a concentration in wellness. I graduated with my BS in Nutrition and Dietetics from Long Island University. I was granted a once in a lifetime opportunity in the summer of 2019 to travel to Tanzania. During this trip, I encountered many people that changed my perspective on nutrition. The children of Tanzania guided my decision to concentrate on wellness and community nutrition. I hope to guide others towards optimal health while falling in love with food.

Without further ado here's Stephanie's phenomenal article on how eating for our gut can benefit our brain:

"You know that feeling when the roller coaster is creeping up to the tippy top and suddenly STOPS, and you start to feel “sick to your stomach”? You’re experiencing a “conversation” between your brain and the gut, also known as the gut-brain axis. Many people don’t know a healthy “gut” goes hand in hand with proper brain function.

Think of your gut as a factory, there are thousands of people all performing different tasks, but all employees are needed to get the job done. Your gut works in the same manner. The gut is home to the microbiome (the factory building), immune cells, neuropeptides (the receptionist), microbial metabolites (the supervisors that protect the floor), and enteroendocrine cells (laborers creating the product). Talk about an overpopulated home. Scientists believe the gut microbiome weighs up to 5lbs. Each of these “workers” keeps your body at optimal health. If the microbiome (factory building) becomes demolished in any way, the other “workers” can not properly perform their job. Like any typical environment, good and bad microbes (workers) cohabitate within the gut microbiome. Keeping the “good” microbes nourished will ensure a healthy and strong atmosphere. Therefore you can understand why any temporary changes to the microbiome can result in negative health effects.

The vagus nerve is the main nerve responsible for regulating internal organs such as digestion and interconnects the brain’s function to the gut. Several studies have shown chronic activation of the vagus nerve caused by the gut microbes leads to many mental health disorders such as anxiety, panic disorders, and depression. Why would this happen? All external substances such as food, supplements, drugs, and bacteria enter the body through the digestive tract, all of which can potentially impact the gut-brain axis. Just like you, good and bad bacteria need the energy to survive. Ask yourself, what do the gut microbes like to eat?

One thing to note, the gut is unsatisfied when you consume a particular food. You’d be surprised what good bacterias consider “toxic.” When you hear the word toxicity, most people think of drugs, but the good bacteria evaluates greasy, fatty, non-nutrient dense foods as toxic. If you don’t maintain a balanced diet, the good bacteria will begin to die off, and the bad bacteria will start their invasion. Once the attack begins, issues of gut integrity can occur. The gut is like a sponge; without the good bacteria to protect its environment, it will become more permeable, allowing more waste to travel through the bloodstream. The waste traveling through the body will create changes in one's mood, immune function, and inflammation.

Now the problem is when someone is experiencing an anxiety attack, or in a depressed state, comfort food seems to be a go-to for most. But, if most comfort food is harmful to the gut microbiome and the unhealthy microbiome is causing distressed mental states, how do we break the vicious cycle?

Have no fear, here is adequate information to rejuvenate that gut.

Tips to a healthy gut

The gut needs proper nutrients to preserve the microbiome's integrity, by maintaining a colony of good bacteria ; prebiotics and probiotics are critical components to ensuring a healthy gut.

  • Eat adequate amounts of diverse fiber

  • Consume more whole planet foods

  • Prebiotics & probiotics

Incorporating these three healthy times will ensure for a happy, healthy gut and an even stronger mind!

Prebiotics work as a food source for the good bacteria, whereas the probiotics are live microorganisms that ensure that the good bacteria overpopulate the bad. These two components are like yin and yang. The best sources of prebiotics are found in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes.

Natural forms of prebiotics are known for being high in functional fiber. Fiber is essential to digestive health, aids bowel movements, softens stool, and decreases cholesterol levels. According to the RDA, Women should aim for 25 grams of fiber per day, while men should target 38 grams. The average American only consumes about 15g per day.

During your next meal, try to have it consume all three food groups; protein, carbohydrates, and fat. I promise, your gut will thank you.

Food for thought: 2020 has been one for the books. COVID-19 has indeed taken over the world and changed our definition of norm. Understanding how a healthy gut correlates to many other body functions should encourage us to better care for our bodies. The western diet does not provide enough nutrients for optimal health, and a compromised immune system can make us more susceptible to so many diseases like COVID. Let's take back the reins on our lives and begin to treat our stomachs like precious cargo and make a strong gutted America!"

Written by: Stephanie La Puglia, Dietetic Intern

Well explained Stephanie, well explained. We are always pleased to bring fresh and new articles to the public and our patients. Please share and like our posts if you found this read informative!

Until Next Time,

Jackie Iannone, CEO, MS, RDN, CDN

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