When was the last time you had “butterflies” in your stomach, or had a “gut feeling” about something or someone?
Far from being an illusion, these responses are real - in fact they are hard-wired into the fundamentals of your nervous system, and what is often termed your “second brain”, the gut.
Having myself been a microbiologist for more than two decades, the importance of a healthy gut has always been a particular interest of mine.
Our gut, which is also sometimes called the intestines or the alimentary canal, stretches from our throat to our anus and measures about nine metres from end to end. The gut is a muscular tube which gently propels food through the body’s processes of digestion, extraction of nutrients and finally, expulsion.
The reason that the gut is often called the “second brain” is because embedded in the walls of the tube that is our gut, there is a vast mesh of around 100 million neurons – more neurons, in fact, than are contained within the spinal cord. This is called the enteric nervous system (enteric means anything to do with the gut). Interestingly, the gut’s neurotransmitters mainly send signals to the brain rather than receiving them.
Together, this extensive network of neurons and neurotransmitters embedded within your gut respond to your feelings and also to the intestinal microbiome (which is our constantly-changing gut bacteria balance which has evolved with us since birth). This highly-complex ecosystem helps us digest and extract nutrients from our food, and also helps us fend off disease-causing bacteria, as well as fighting off viruses.
This entire ecosystem within us, of bacteria and the extensive neural network work together to operate our gut, coordinating their activity – right down to generating the muscle contractions which propel waste through the last part of the gut, and out of the body.
To keep us healthy and well mentally and physically, the enteric nervous system and our intestinal microbiome need to be healthy and plentiful. And this happens when we eat the right balance of foods to support our gut.
There is a rapidly growing weight of evidence to support the idea that your gut’s health strongly influences your mood - which in turn influences your thinking and also impacts your overall wellbeing. The large collection of bacteria within the gut communicates with important neurotransmitters embedded throughout our enteric nervous system. Hence the phrase ‘’that gut feeling’’.
The “gut feeling” or “butterflies” are innate parts of our psychological stress responses. In a stress situation, your gut is as influential to your mood as your brain. In a situation which triggers our “fight, flight or freeze” response, the body prepares to enable the potential to run, and so our gut sends signals to the brain, which consequently releases a flood of chemicals, and our prehistoric response systems still kick in to make us run faster by becoming lighter – I think you see where this is going…
If you grew up in a very clean environment, frequently took antibiotics and ate junk food then you are more likely to have an unhealthy microbiome. Similarly, if you smoke and drink a lot of alcohol then your microbiome will be negatively affected.
Studies indicate that people with unhealthy gut microbiomes are more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcerative colitis, stomach ulcers etc… It’s also worth knowing that if you have an unhealthy microbiome you are more likely to put on weight.
So it’s really helpful to our mood and wellbeing to be mindful of what you eat, focusing on eating healthy foods that nourish and increase your microbiome (just to remind you, that’s the bacteria in your gut). The best way to do this is by eating healthy food rich in probiotics and prebiotics.
Its important to distinguish between these two types of food, so let’s just look into this for a moment:
Prebiotic foods are foods that our existing good gut bacteria can feast upon and multiply.
Some of the most useful Prebiotic foods include:
Oats, fresh fruits, especially bananas, apples, vegetables and legumes, asparagus, garlic, onions, leeks, and artichokes.
Probiotic foods are a fast way of increasing good bacteria by introducing them directly into the gut, allowing us to support a healthy gut ecosystem in which our bacteria can thrive.
Probiotics products most familiar to us include yogurts cultured with a variety of strains of healthy bacteria (but watch out for the ones with additives like sugar). We are all familiar with supplements- capsules or tablets containing good bacteria that are taken on a daily basis, offering a variety of bacterial strains and amounts to suit individual needs. Very popular right now are fermented foods, such as Kefir, Sauerkraut and Sourdough bread, which are all useful sources of probiotics.
Together, prebiotic and probiotic foods help keep your “second brain” full of the vibrant bacterial diversity it needs to function at its best. The two different kinds of foods work together to provide you with many benefits.
But isn’t it just about eating a healthier diet, you might say? Well, partly yes, but only partly. It’s important to remember that a lot of the processed foods we eat today are laced with additives, chemicals and preservatives which may actually damage your gut biome, causing us to feel less well and become less healthy.
Further, it has been proven in many scientific surveys that the foods we eat today have significantly smaller percentages of the vitamins and minerals they had in previous decades. This is most often to do with fast land turnaround, use of chemicals in fertilisers and pesticides and a move to ever more intensive farming practices. All of these contribute towards the diminishing value of those foods to our gut. Which is why these days it is recommended that everyone makes intaking both probiotic and prebiotic foods a regular part of your diet.
So I hope that you can see that by taking control of your diet you can help keep your enteric nervous system healthy, enabling you to feel the positive benefits in many ways.
Thanks to everyone around the world who showed up for my live presentation about LOOPING THOUGHTS: How they affect You and How to Break their power over You.
We had great feedback from the audience and I am pleased to say that you can now find the recording of this event on my YouTube channel, so that you can watch whenever it suits you.
I hope you'll make time to watch, and that you'll find it as useful as our live audience did.
Click this link to go to LOOPING THOUGHTS
Hello everyone! I hope that you are managing to enjoy the Summer despite some of the uncertainty we are all coping with right now.
I’m excited to invite you to a free online presentation designed to help deal with the increased levels of anxiety many people are experiencing at present.
On Tuesday 27th July I'm offering a video presentation (on Zoom) about LOOPING THOUGHTS.
Watch to help yourself, or to help support your friends and loved ones - there is so much we can do to help ourselves.
We all have looping thoughts.
Join me at the event to find out:
This is an online (Zoom) presentation I will be giving at 6.00pm UK time on Tuesday 27th July. (If you're in the USA, that’s 10am PT and 1pm ET, and for most of Europe it’s 7pm your time).
Tickets are free but you need to register at www.ticketsource.co.uk/whats-on/online/online/looping-thoughts-how-they-affect-you-and-how-to-break-free-from-them/2021-07-27/18:00/t-apgxng
So all you need to do is click the link and book yourself in!
I do hope you’ll join me.
If you ask people to describe communication in a sentence, they may tell you it’s about what you say when you are speaking. While this is partly true, it’s an incredible fact that only around 10% of our communication is verbal. It’s the other 90%- the non-verbal communication- that can make or break successful communication.
So what do I mean by non-verbal communication?
Nonverbal communication, or NVC, is the application of physical behaviour, expressions, and mannerisms to communicate nonverbally. It’s not WHAT you say, it’s HOW you say things - whether you make eye contact, if it’s too much or too little, your body language, posture and your gestures all add up to powerful statements which can either support- or contradict- the words that you are using. And remember, even when you are not talking, you are still communicating. NVC tells us if someone is being sincere, if they are truthful, if they are listening to us, and if they care.
Now, what makes this relationship of verbal to nonverbal communication particularly interesting is that our minds consist of two distinct parts - 10% which is the conscious and 90% which is the subconscious. This is interesting because the words we speak come from our conscious mind and all the nonverbal behaviour comes from the subconscious. And how telling that the percentages correlate- 10%-verbal/conscious mind and 90%-nonverbal / subconscious mind.
What does this mean to us? Well, often a mismatch between what is said and how the speaker is behaving can highlight a disparity in truth or sincerity. You’ve probably heard of recruiters using body language to “tell” if someone is being truthful in an interview situation, and indeed many clues as to mismatching communication can be observed.
Nonverbal communication comes direct from your subconscious, which is where emotions and feelings live. Therefore, when faced with a mismatch between what is aid and the nonverbal communication supporting the words, people often choose the NVC as the most “honest” response.
When NVC matches the verbal communication, then you are in a position to build trust, kinship, understanding and closeness. However, when there is a mismatch, this sows uncertainty, confusion and mistrust.
So let’s look at the key strands of NVC –
Facial expressions - as humans we spend a large proportion of communication time looking at others’ faces, and therefore it is probably the most important area of NVC to be aware of. Expressions are a universal language which effortlessly overcome verbal language barriers – when we think of expressions of fear, happiness, sadness, rage and others we can instantly recognise these. Silent films were played in every part of the world, because there was no language barrier - it was all about what audiences saw. When we recall mime artists, we are reminded that the human face can express countless feelings and emotions, often in very subtle ways. Eye contact also comes into play here, of course.
Eye contact – this is one of the most important as the majority of people are visual learners. There is an optimum balance of eye contact for good NVC- too much and it feels like a staring contest and can make people feel uneasy, too little and you may appear disinterested and disengaged. Eye contact is important to be able to “read” others, too.
Gestures – people have a range of gestures they use, often for emphasis of some sort. It’s important to gauge the way others respond to our gesturing. As well as the difference within cultures, there are huge gestural differences from other cultures, and this should be borne in mind- especially when on holiday or on business trips abroad. You may not mean to cause offence, but take care to ensure you don’t!
Deportment – the way that you carry yourself says a lot – how you walk into a room, how you sit, the way you hold your head, your posture and stance, all affect the impression that you radiate, and influences how others interpret what you say and what you do.
Physical space – it’s not just how someone stands, it’s where – are they too close, invading your personal space, or are they too far away, perhaps causing you to have to raise your voice or move towards them?
Physical contact - touch can be a very powerful NVC. It can suggest or emphasise a connection (a hug), support or affection (holding someone’s hand), aggression (pushing with force), warmth (a pat on the back) or lack of impact (a weak handshake). Cultural differences must again be brought into consideration here, especially when dealing with other genders than your own. People may prefer not to engage in Physical communication which involves touch as it may be against their religious beliefs and it is important to be aware and respectful of this. If in doubt, ask!
Sounds - this is not what you say, but how you say it. There are a number of strands to our understanding others- including how they say things – forcefully, loudly, softly, with emphasis on certain words, their intonation, together with the many different sounds and noises that we instinctively make during communication - by that I mean the “mm”-s and “uh-huh”-s and “ah”-s that infer some kind of understanding, agreement or questioning.
We must always remember the power of our communication - it can bring people closer to you, make people feel at ease and respected, or it can make others feel confused, hurt, alienated or upset. Much of communication is about interpretation, which you cannot often control. However, by learning to be in control of your own communication you can convey the correct message in the most effective way - and in doing so, better encourage the responses you wish to see from others.
Did you know that you and I are mostly water?
The average male adult body is approximately 60% water, while the average female body is around 55% water. And our brains are over 70% water!
Yes, water - you can see right through it, you can’t taste it - we take it so much for granted. And yet water’s powers are extraordinary in the way it allows our bodies to function.
Even at a cellular level, one of the fundamental components of our cells is water. Water enables the cells to do their work in assisting the body and brain with its many functions and processes, transporting vitamins, minerals and chemicals more efficiently.
Too little water - or dehydration - can significantly impact upon the body and brain.
Often the body tries to signal to us that it is in need of water, but we don’t – or can’t -listen. The feeling of being thirsty is an indicator that we are already dehydrated! Also, on many occasions the feeling of hunger is actually an indicator that you are thirsty and not really hungry. The same part of your brain is responsible for interpreting hunger and thirst signals, which can result in mixed signals which the brain struggles to distinguish between the two different types of intake- solid food and liquids.
The amazing thing is that we would all be so much healthier if we all just drank a few extra glasses of water every day! Yes, it’s as simple as that!
So let’s look more closely at the many and powerful benefits of water.
Water lubricates your joints, which makes movement easier and less likely to be painful or stressful on the joints.
Water aids your digestion through assisting the production of saliva, which helps to break down your food within the digestive system, allowing more efficient extraction of nutrients from your food and carrying those around your body.
A good level of hydration, like drinking a glass of water before each meal, will help to ease the passage of food through your digestive system and protect against slowdowns in your food processing cycle.
Water flushes out waste products and toxins from your body, which can make you feel healthier.
Water helps your cells to function effectively, growing, replicating and working to keep you well.
Water also helps in carrying oxygen around the body.
Water also helps with regulation of the body, such as respiration, keeping necessarily moist areas lubricated and also during illness with temperature regulation through perspiration, when the body needs to cool.
That’s all impressive enough. But let’s come back to my earlier point about our brain being more than 70% water. Water is vital for your brain – it uses water to help to create hormones and neurotransmitters. The oxygen-carrying ability of water is vital to help the brain function at its best. Water helps to flush toxins and waste matter from our brains too. And here’s an important point - when the brain recognises that we are dehydrated, it panics – it starts to create more of the stress hormone cortisol, which you seriously do not want hanging around in your body, doing harm.
It’s even more important to up your water intake as you get older, because the older we get, the weaker our thirst response becomes – that why it’s important to help older friends and relatives remember to intake enough fluids.
Not all the water we consume is in a glass. Some of the water is contained in your food, especially fresh fruits and vegetables.
So how much is enough? It is suggested that men should aim to drink 3 litres a day, women just over 2 litres.
Isn’t this all a bit OTT I hear you ask? So what if we don’t drink enough water? Well, actually being just a little – even 1%- dehydrated can impact your performance. So here’s the risk. When we don’t intake enough water, we are at risk of feeling unwell- whether that is temperature, irritability, digestion problems, dry and itchy eyes, headaches, joint or muscle pain, and more, as well as poor cognitive functioning. Not where you want to be if you’ve got a busy life which already takes it out of you!
So in short, drinking water helps you avoid headaches, moods, constipation, joint pains, toxic waste, feeling sluggish, illness, bad chemical build-up, fuzzy thinking and much more. A few glasses of water help you and your body to feel better, work better and play better. So what are you waiting for? Drink up!
Water is good health - on tap!
Here are my three top tips to top up your H2O.
Drink water before, during and after exercise.
Have a glass of water before every meal (as a side benefit, this will help you feel fuller, so if you are looking to manage your weight, this helps).
Next time you get a mild headache, before reaching for the paracetamol, try drinking a couple of glasses of water- often your headache will disappear, without the need for pills.
Juan Carlos is a therapist and author with over 22 years' experience as a diagnostic scientist.
All blog entries are Copyright ©2019-2021 Juan Carlos Gouveia, except quotations and where stated.