[pull_quote_left]The gastrointestinal system has a huge network of nerve cells that influences our overall well-being and can affect emotions and mood. Maintaining a healthy gut is incredibly important, and you may explore some of the easiest ways to do so this week[/pull_quote_left]

I am sure you are familiar with the feeling of butterflies inside your stomach, especially when you are nervous. This is due to the network of nerve cells that lines our gut. The gastrointestinal (GI) system is also important for our emotions, mood and well-being. If you have symptoms of gastrointestinal problems, you may feel down. Due to this huge network of neurons and their ability to affect our well-being, scientists call the gut our second brain.

The nervous system that lines our gastrointestinal tract is called the enteric nervous system, so called the second brain. This neural network resembles a tube shape that covers all organs from the mouth to the anal area. End to end, its length is about nine meters, and consists of more than 100 million neurons. Technically, when added up, the size may be equal to or even bigger than the brain itself.

This huge assembly of neurons in the enteric nervous system allows us to literally feel the inside of the gastrointestinal tract, including its contents. This is how you feel a pill get stuck in your esophagus, cold water in your stomach or feces in your colon. To work properly, the enteric nervous system doesn’t need to receive any signals from your brain; it handles all the dirty work of your intestinal system by itself. This huge neural network does its job by using more than 30 different neurotransmitters, similar to our brain. Surprisingly, more than 90 percent of the body’s serotonin, our happiness hormone, is found in the bowels. This is why people who are prescribed antidepressant medications called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) provoke gastrointestinal issues as side effects. You may also recall that these medications are used for treating obesity. Additionally, many people suffer from a disease called Irritable Bowel Syndrome. As per current knowledge, it is believed that this disease develops due to excess serotonin in our intestines. Symptoms of this disease generally increase with mood changes, and this is why some also call it the mental illness of our second brain.

Maintaining a healthy gut and avoiding inflammation is very important. In today’s world, gastrointestinal discomfort is as common as having insomnia – it is something that is in our lives regularly. Many suffer from different ailments everyday such as heartburn, bloating, occasional gas or constipation. With only a few healthy lifestyle modifications, you can help your second brain perform correctly.

The gastrointestinal system works all day, can be irritated all day and processes unhealthy food all day. So, as a first goal for a healthy GI tract, you should stay hydrated all day. You need water for your GI cells, but you also need it to wash away all of the stuff that passes through. I am sure you all wash your hands after using the toilet right? Well, do the same for your gut. Getting enough water is as good as eating enough fiber for your gastrointestinal system. The less you drink the slower your bowels move, thus the more constipated or bloated you become. Especially after exercising, you need to drink more; for this purpose, electrolyte-rich water may be a better option.

Secondly, the most important thing to do for your gut is to move. That being said, physical activity speeds up digestion by increasing bowel movements and blood flow to your gut. Medical professionals generally recommend you take 10,000 steps per day for a healthy life, and the same principle applies to your gut. Aim for 30 minutes of exercise not less than four days a week. It generally doesn’t matter if you choose to walk, swim or cycle.

The next most important thing to do for a healthy GI track is to eat a high-fiber diet. Examples of high-fiber foods include whole grains, vegetables, legumes and fruits. You should aim for about 30 grams of fiber every day, which is more than double of what you probably get every day. A high-fiber diet helps keep food moving through your digestive tract, making you less likely to become constipated. Moreover, high fiber diets also protect you from other diseases including cardiovascular problems. When you set a goal to eat more fiber-rich foods, be aware of their soluble or insoluble fiber contents. It is important to consume other types of fiber as well. The greatest example of food that has almost the same amount of soluble and insoluble fiber are apples. It is said that a person who has an apple in his or her stomach won’t die that day. Soluble fiber draws water to your stools and keeps their shape so that they don’t become watery.

Additionally, stay away from fatty foods as they are harder to digest and slow the digestive process. Staying away from fatty and fried foods will do more than to let you fit in your jeans, believe me. Try to switch from whole or reduced-fat dairy to low-fat or non-fat, and replace butter and margarine with olive oil.

Finally, you should incorporate probiotics into your diet. Probiotics are live microorganisms, generally bacteria, which are similar to the beneficial microorganisms that are naturally found in the human gut. They help keep the body healthy by combating the effects of a poor diet, antibiotics and harmful bacteria that cause GI ailments. They are very good at regulating the amount of other healthy bacteria in your gastrointestinal system as well, and help to normalize your bowel movements. Probiotics from supplements or a diet with yogurt will increase your probiotic intake. The best of its kind is the Turkish yogurt that saved the life of King Francis, you can find more data on yogurt in my article titled “Yogurt the Magnificent.”