It’s a page right out of science fiction: something living in each of us that has a big impact on our health, happiness and wellbeing — and it isn’t even human.
It’s a colony of bacteria and other microorganisms that resides in our gastrointestinal tract, called the microbiome. As you’d expect, it helps us digest our food, but it also plays a huge role in regulating our moods, boosting our energy and helping us fight disease.
Dr. Leena Johns, MD, Global Medical Director at MetLife, puts it this way.
“Picture the gut as a trash bin and the microbiome as the ‘plastic’ liner. We put all kinds of harmful things in that bin that we don’t want to leak out, like undigested food particles, toxins and ‘bad’ bacteria. The microbiome is a physical barrier — a living liner — that prevents bad things from getting into our bloodstream and circulating throughout the body. If these reach the bloodstream, they can cause inflammation, disease, and problems not just in your gut, but in your brain, heart and possibly any other organ.”
According to Dr. Johns, there are many ways to keep the integrity of this “liner” intact, so that it keeps the good stuff in and prevents the bad stuff from reaching the rest of your body. Try these simple steps today:
1. Hug Someone. Stress wreaks major havoc on the residents of our gut. Sensory touch, like hugging, can be an effective de-stressor. The brain releases oxytocin as a response to hugging, the “nurturing hormone” of nursing moms (although everyone produces it throughout the body). Oxytocin is a natural anti-inflammatory that heals the heart from the harmful effects of stress.
2. Give Back. Levels of oxytocin also increase when you do something that decreases your stress level and makes you feel good. So spending a day volunteering at a food bank is good for your community and your gut.
3. Catch a comedy. Whether it’s stand-up, a classic or the latest streaming hit, watch something that makes you laugh. Laughing is another great way to release oxytocin in the body.
4. Get Dirty. Getting your hands in fresh soil introduces your immune system to the trillions of microorganisms on plants and in the ground, which makes you more resistant to disease. Gardening also eases stress and gets you outside in the fresh air – two important factors in a healthy gut.
5. Watch your meds. Antibiotics and painkillers can destroy the good bacteria in your body, creating hormonal imbalance and weakening your immune system. Before you reach for a pill, stop to consider whether it’s absolutely necessary.
Best of all, Dr. Johns says you can improve your gut health in as little as 24 hours. Take these simple steps today, and enjoy long-term improvements to your overall health and wellness.