Being that this month is all about men’s health awareness we thought it only befitting to dedicate a blog post to guys and their gut! Moreover, there are certainly gut related symptoms that I hear more commonly from my male clients, many of which are not necessarily about digestion.
In fact, these typically include lack of focus and memory, low mood and/or heightened anxiety, inflammation that can present in injury as well as poor immunity. So, taking a few of these into account let’s delve a little deeper and the intrinsic role of gut health in helping to address and optimise these areas…
This gut-brain connection is not only extremely powerful but one that is bi-directional in that the gut, and the trillions of microbes that live in the gut (aka the gut microbiota) also communicate back to the brain in various ways. This is why the gut is often referred to as our ‘second’ brain and it is the only organ that can operate independently of the main brain. It essentially has its own intelligence system which depends a lot on the health of the many microbes that reside in the gut.
Gut microbes use the same types of language as the brain in the form of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, famously dubbed the ‘happy’ neurotransmitter and dopamine which is associated with pleasure and reward. Low levels of these positive neurotransmitters are associated with low mood and heightened anxiety.
Gut microbiota that can have a direct and indirect role in how these are produced in the brain. A little-known fact is the vast majority of serotonin (around 90-95%) is produced in the gut and mostly depends on special cells called enterochromaffin cells (EC’s) that sit in the lining of the gut and essentially get ‘switched on’ by gut microbes. In addition, gut microbes can directly synthesise serotonin and whilst this peripheral serotonin cannot move into the brain it has a direct positive influence in the gut. Brain dependent serotonin is also under some guidance from gut microbes since they control the availability of the precursor amino acid tryptophan which is converted into serotonin. Tryptophan needs to be taken in through the diet and it can be found in a wide variety of protein rich foods such as turkey, chicken, eggs, oily fish, peanuts and pumpkin seeds.
MANAGING INFLAMMATION FOR OPTIMUM PERFORMANCE
The gut has an intrinsic role in helping to manage inflammation in the entire body. Inflammation typically presents with one or a combination of heat, pain, redness, swelling or compromised functioning. Think about an injury that becomes sore, red, swollen and potentially difficult to move - this is a clear example of inflammation. However more subtle signs of inflammation could include persistent fatigue, joint pain, lack of focus/concentration and even low mood/heightened anxiety.
One important substance that the gut microbiota produce is called butyrate, which is a short-chain fatty acid that supports a strong gut barrier and crucially helps controls inflammation in the gut, body and brain. Gut microbes make butyrate by transforming dietary fibre from food and this is why it is important to give them the necessary fuel.
To support a healthy response to inflammation it is vital to nourish the gut microbiota with plenty amounts and diversity of dietary fibre which can be found in all plant-based carbohydrates including vegetables, fruit, whole grains and nuts & seeds. And variety is really the key focus here as that supports a more heterogenous and healthier gut microbiota.
BUILDING A STRONG IMMUNE ARMY
Since 70-80 % of the immune system is located in the gut and this relies on a healthy and strong microbiome it is crucial to consider their thriving existence to maintain a healthy immune response to fight off pathogens and viruses. Moreover, the gut microbiota teaches and trains the immune system to react appropriately to potential threats. Therefore, the more exposure to microbes, the more diverse and varied the gut microbiota becomes which creates an immune system that is better ‘educated’.
Being outside in nature and getting your hands in the dirt is one obvious way to get up and close with bacteria but we can also ingest beneficial microbes through fermented foods. These would include live yogurt, cheese, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir and kombucha and/or a liquid formula like SYMPROVE. These can help to add in more of the good gut bugs and ultimately cultivate a more enriched gut microbiota and a stronger more resilient immune system.
DIET IS THE KEY VARIABLE
What separates the men from the boys, so to speak, in terms of gut bugs is really the food and fibre that you feed your gut microbes. Remember that whatever your gender, research and studies consistently link diet as key along with other lifestyle factors such as managing stress and medications (antibiotics being a big one) as to how well your gut microbiome can thrive. Feed your gut microbes with plentiful fibre sources, fermented foods, take time to move and equally to relax and you’ll help to support a gut microbiome that is firing on all cylinders.