Over the past few years the power of our microbes has become more evident. With over 90% of the cells in our body are non-human (that is bacteria and other microorganisms) with the majority is this diversity found in our digestive system. As more research is being performed this link between the balance of non-human cells in our body is showing up that they have a dramatic role in our bodies ability to stay healthy – or make us chronically ill.
Our intestinal wall is our border from our inside world to the outside world, as a result of this a large part of our immune system is centred around our gastrointestinal tract. The intestinal wall is designed to handle a many types of interactions with foreign matter. When a potential threat is sensed in the gut, large, far-reaching inflammation occurs. This inflammation can travel directly from your gut to your brain, especially through the vagus nerve.
The vagus nerve is the longest nerve stemming from the brain. This nerve is connected to several parts of the gut, including the stomach and intestines. The vagus nerve also touches other organs important for digestion, like the pancreas.
The vagus nerve is a two-way information highway that connects 200-600 million nerve cells between our intestines and brain. Many of us have felt this gut-brain link. Have you ever been too stressed to eat or felt butterflies in your stomach?
Interestingly, this perceived stress, anxiety, and nervousness isn’t just in your head; it can lead to inflammation in your gut and beyond. While it’s best to manage stressors to reduce stress-related symptoms, like depression, I’ve found that one of the most direct and quick ways to calm the vagus nerve is through dietary change. Just as emotions send messages to your gut, food sends messages to your brain.
How does food create inflammation?
There are many drivers of gut inflammation that leads to depressive symptoms. Processed foods, which often are the bedrock of the Standard Australian Diet (SAD), are foreign to our bodies. When we eat highly processed foods, our gut cells set off the alarm of inflammation. Further, many people are unknowingly eating inflammatory foods like gluten and dairy that cause allergenic reactions too mild for most people to notice. Sugar, artificial sweeteners, and casein proteins (found in dairy) have been shown to activate inflammation.
Food intolerance testing is one way of seeing which foods are reacting with your body and will assist your body in quelling the inflammatory response. Find out more about food intolerance testing here.