I wanted to start off by apologizing for the hiatus I have taken. After the death of a family member my desire to write diminished, and then I got caught up with life, trying to survive by myself in a whole new hemisphere – but I have landed on my feet now and viola, I am inspired to write.
I left in the middle of a series of posts about food cravings. You might recall me, justifiably, calling your brain a selfish bitch. This post is about how the tiny ecosystem in your gut might also be contributing.
Before you put me in a stray-jacket for suggesting that singled-celled organisms might be controlling your thoughts, and you protest “They can’t do that!” let me tell you a few things they can do…
While your genetic code takes a human lifetime to be passed down to the next generation, these tiny microbes only take hours. Their ability to reproduce so fast also increases their opportunities to evolve as rapidly as our external environment is changing. For millions of years they have been co-evolving alongside animals, just as they are continuing to do on us – their survival is partly dependant on us and they also return the favour.
When one of these critters living on our bodies does something that we like or that we feel benefits us, we call them ‘good bacteria’ and when they do something we don’t like or cause our bodies to respond in an undesirable manner, we call them ‘bad bacteria’.
What are a few things they do that we like and don’t like?
Well for starters, they can help us digest our food.
How much impact can they possibly make on digestion? Well cows – who eat a grass diet – don’t actually have much of an ability to get any nutrition from the grass on their own. Instead, they depend on the bugs living in their four-chambered stomach, to produce the enzymes they need to digest this high-fibre diet. I know what you are thinking, “but we aren’t cows” and while that’s a fantastic observation, just know that they do a similar thing for us.
We’ve known for a long time now that the bacteria in our gut also produce vitamins essential to our health. For example, vitamin k which is a nutrient needed for blood clotting is produced by our bacteria in our gut. Without this vitamin you could bleed to death from a tiny cut, and there is increasing attention towards the idea that a lack of it may be linked to colitis. So digesting our food and producing vitamins we need, so far these pests aren’t so bad.
Until of course you’re standing at the check-out aisle flirting with the hottest human you’ve ever seen–you can’t even believe your luck. Then suddenly, oh no is that gas? Damn it, you knew you shouldn’t have had that milk in your latte this morning! As a bead of sweat drips down your face you think, “maybe I can hoooold…” oh there it goes, and it’s a stinker. The smell wafts through the store, while all eyes turn on you, you look back and your future husband has already b-lined it straight out the door and into his car where he is safe from your obnoxious fumes. You can thank your gut bacteria for that chemical warfare too.
Besides toxic chemicals, they can release hormones. Hormones are the power chemicals that lead to all kinds of reactions within the body. Even our ability to feel an emotion is governed by hormones; dopamine makes you feel happy and motivated; serotonin can lead to euphoria and reduced appetite; and of course there are others such as the hormone leptin, which is released by the lining of your stomach when your stomach has been filled. Leptin travels to your brain signalling that you are full and you should stop eating. Without leptin you would never feel satisfied, you would continue to eat everything within site. To complicate matters a little bit, it’s now known that bacteria can interfere with hormones, one of those said hormones being leptin. Uh oh
Thousands of different species inhabiting your body and calling it their home, while they are all fighting for the greater portion of real estate and for their chance to dominate. Their desire to let each other cross borders seems to be even less tolerant than ours. Each one doing what it takes to survive and reproduce as fast as they can. All these passengers are at an ongoing dinner party, while we are playing the host, they eat what we serve them. Unfortunately the diet each species needs to thrive are not all alike. The choices we make at each and every meal determines which species gets a fighting chance and which ones are at a major disadvantage.
When you put together all these facts about these little guys, the notion that they might be influencing your food cravings becomes a little easier to digest.
Ultimately you are in charge though and your food choices matter. A high fibre plant based diet will lead to greater numbers of some species, while a diet low in fibre and richer in meat sources could lead you to house a whole other group, on the same note a highly refined junk-food diet has the capacity to sway the power towards a whole other group all together. It is likely that the foods you are a custom to eating are the exact foods the predominate species in your gut need to continue to survive. You can trust me when I say that for billions of years if bacteria have shown us one thing at all, it is that they will do absolutely whatever they need to do to survive. These microbes are under no moral obligations to play fair, and the fact that you want to get beach body ready ranks a whooping no where on their priority list.
Moral of the story?
Play it safe and eat real food, it shows that over time, you actually start to prefer this lifestyle and your body learns to adapt to crave these foods.
I hope you enjoyed this post and much as I enjoyed writing it. Comments shares and likes are very appreciated and the feedback, positive or negative, helps me determine what more I should share.