A diet that supports your unique needs makes you 😀.
But when you fall into certain habits, your gut may suffer. Eating a limited range of foods, especially foods that are highly processed and lack nutrients, will probably cause you to feel 😞. Or 🤒. You may even find yourself 😭. Or 😤. Or 😴.
Why does this happen? And how can you turn it around so you can start feeling 😊 again?
In the simplest terms, your well-being depends on what’s in your gut. If your gut is low on serotonin, for instance, your fight-or-flight response may not be able to kick in. This means that in a dire (although unlikely) situation, you might give up and become (not-so-fast) food for a mountain lion. Serotonin is just one of the important metabolites produced in your gut microbiome.
Although not everyone likes them, emoji do serve a purpose. (The same is true for vegetables.)
Vegetables and emoji have something else in common: communication. Emoji tell your friends what kind of “Oh, really?” you mean in your text: (This one—😲, this one—😟, or this one—🤔). Vegetables (and other foods) can tell your gut microbes which metabolites (we can think of them as building blocks) to produce. Your gut microbes and metabolites make up your gut microbiome. They communicate and interact with each other and all systems of your body.
It may be difficult to envision all the critters (i.e., microbes like bacteria, fungi, and viruses) that live in your gut, so let’s imagine them as many different types of emoji. Here are my favorites: 😱, 😩, 👍, (and) 😉.
Now, imagine your gut microbiome as a city bustling with emoji. Think of these little personalities inside you hard at work building up your microbiome city based on the materials you provide through your diet and lifestyle. If you eat too much of one thing, you are allowing your citizens to produce the blocks to build only one type of building. With your current lifestyle choices, can they generate parks, farmers markets, schools, and art galleries—or just street after street of drive-through restaurants? If you help them create too many fast-food locations, your town may be in trouble.
When we think about how our city is doing, we should ask ourselves, “Which types of microbes can thrive and multiply in the conditions I’m providing? Will my townspeople be able to kick out intruders like disease and feelings of anxiousness? Will serotonin hang around for the block party or wander away?” A gut that has been damaged by a steady stream of salty snacks and stress probably won’t provide diverse emoji or a healthy town. However, with the right kind of support from your diet and lifestyle, your gut emoji can flourish. Your city will thrive.
Providing the Right Materials
For optimal gut health, you must give your gut the right things in the right quantities. This is why it’s extremely helpful to have your microbiome tested so you’re not just guessing what will benefit you. In general, however, there are some things you can do to get back on the right track.
Don’t be swayed by fad diets or food trends. A healthy gut microbiome isn’t created by just consuming vegetables and fruits, or just one type of protein. A healthy microbiome is built with a varied, nutrient-dense diet. You want to be able to digest and utilize nutrients from all types of foods. This keeps you and your inner town functioning. Don’t forget to hydrate!
Meditation and Rest
Stress seems to be everywhere, and your state of mind and your gut are intrinsically connected. Nurture your inner emoji with daily meditation or mindfulness. Practice a good before-bed routine and allow yourself at least eight hours of sleep.
Exercise keeps your digestive system moving and may even ease your stress. It is another crucial component that keeps your town healthy and ready to fend off marauders.
Reestablishing a Healthy Town
Some things, like poor diet, chronic stress, illness, or antibiotics, can be the equivalent of a tornado hitting your city. And just like rebuilding after a disaster, reclaiming your gut health takes time. You will be able to feel positive changes as you resume gut-friendly habits, and soon you will be able to retest to see how your healthy habits are working inside your gut. With a restored balance, your gut can go from 😢 to 😁, which will make you feel 🙌 all over.
Want to learn more about metabolites and the emoji in your gut? Check out my TEDxFargo talk below.
Dr. Erika Ebbel Angle received her Ph.D. in Biochemistry in 2012 from Boston University School of Medicine. She holds a B.S. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Erika is the Executive Director and Founder of Science from Scientists, an award-winning, National non-profit which sends real, charismatic scientists into classrooms to improve the attitudes and aptitudes of 3rd-8th-grade students in Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM). She is also the CEO and co-founder of Ixcela, a biotechnology company aimed at developing tests and interventions to improve gut microbiome efficacy and health.
Star Trek photo credit: Enterprise-D_crew_quarters.jpg: Derek Springer from Los Angeles, CA, USAPatrickStewart2004-08-03.jpg: Cdt. Patrick Caugheyderivative work: Loupeznik [ CC BY-SA 3.0 ]