Dubai: Have you ever wondered why fear or anger induces acidity, constipation or diarrhoea? That is simply because our gut is lined with more than 100 million nerve cells.

Scientists call our gastro-intestinal (GI) tract the enteric nervous system. Any emotional distress has a direct impact in inducing distress in our GI tract. The trillions of micro-organisms in our gut — yeasts, viruses and bacteria collectively called the gut flora or the gut microbiome — act upon our enteric nervous system, triggering physical reactions when we are emotionally distressed.

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Leading nutrition gurus have labelled our gut as our second brain. Having a healthy gut is akin to having an alert mind and healthy body, they say.

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Poor gut health can trigger illnesses

Poor gut health does not just mean an upset tummy, but it has a direct impact on many other health issues of the human body such as influencing immunity, triggering emotional stress that can lead to chronic lifestyle illnesses such as cancer and Type 2 diabetes.

Dr Samir Al Awadhi, head of gastroenterology at Rashid Hospital explained: “The gut has an extensive network of brain-like neurons and neurotransmitters wrapped in and around it. These neurons directly communicate with your brain according to a new research. In fact, there may potentially be a gut-brain connection. Research points out that your gut microbiome [the huge colony of micro-organisms that reside in our gut] plays a vital role in the synthesis of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, which has a strong influence on mental well-being. Therefore, keeping your gut microbiome healthy will not only help keep digestive issues at bay, but may also be essential to keep your mind healthy.”

Dr Samir Al Awadhi

Dr Al Awadhi emphasised that there was a strong need to maintain a good gut as a healthy gut significantly helped prevent a host of digestive diseases.

An important part of maintaining gut health is feeding the body with food that will promote healthy gut flora and avoiding food that will lead to unhealthy flora.

The good cop-bad cop ratio in our gut

Dr Mustafa Sabri, Consultant Gastroenterologist at Rashid Hospital, says: “A significant part of good gut health depends on microbiome. Your GI tract hosts an estimated 100 trillion micro-organisms. Do you know that is approximately ten times the total number of cells in the rest of the human body? This is the gut microbiome. Some of these bugs are beneficial to your health and well-being while others are harmful. When the ratio of good bugs to bad bugs is about 80 per cent to 20 per cent, it helps create a healthy gut. When the ratio shifts the other way, it can head to digestive issues.”

Dr Mustafa Sabri

Dr Sabri says that in order to keep the bad bugs at bay, try to eat less processed food, manage your stress levels, avoid food loaded with sugar and high fructose corn syrup, stick to natural sources of sugar and always consume sugar in moderation, avoid artificial sweeteners, and check your Vitamin D level. Ensure you lead an active life and that you get at least seven hours of sleep.

Ways to boost good gut bacteria

There are two simple strategies to improve good gut bacteria. Firstly, avoid food that disrupts the gut flora and try and maintain a lifestyle pattern that will improve microbiome levels.

Dr Sabri added: “Eat healthy food and avoid food with high sugar content and artificial additives. In addition to maintaining a healthy diet, try to exercise regularly and maintain a proper sleep schedule that will balance the circadian rhythms of the body and not disrupt the metabolism of our body. These lifestyle practises will help promote better health and well-being.”

Include prebiotics and probiotics in your diet

Prebiotics are food items that are high in fibre that help the gut to assimilate nutrition and healthy flora. These include root vegetables, apples, artichokes, asparagus, beans, cabbage, onions and leeks.

Also include probiotics in your diet. These are naturally fermented or pre-digested food that contain live healthy bacteria and when ingested greatly augment the gut flora. These include food such as Kefir, Kimchi, Kombucha, unsweetened yoghurt, pickles and sauerkraut. Probiotics are also available as over-the-counter nutritional supplements that can be bought at the local pharmacy.

By increasing the intake of pre and probiotics, one can streamline digestion and have a happy gut, which greatly contributes towards overall health.

If you are mindful of your gut, it can naturally take care of you brain — emotional and physical health in the long run.