The idea of eating for gut health has taken the wellness world by storm in the last few years. But gut health in general is a relatively new science. While researchers have long understood the importance of the microbiome, which contains over 100 million nerve endings, they're just beginning to understand how it communicates with parts of the body, namely, the brain.
A new study validates this oft-debated gut-brain connection, identifying a "neural circuit that allows [the gut] to transmit signals in mere seconds," explains Science. "The findings could lead to new treatments for obesity, eating disorders, and even depression and autism—all of which have been linked to a malfunctioning gut."
Duke University neuroscientist Diego Bohórquez made this latest discovery after injecting a rabies virus, which is transmitted through neuronal synapses, into the colons of mice. The mices' enteroendocrine cells, located in the gut, sent signals through the vagus nerve, which travels directly from the gut to the brain stem. In other words, he was able to confirm a direct connection between the gut and the brain, further underscoring the importance of good gut health and sticking to a healthy diet.
In fact, a number of studies have determined that people with psychological disorders like depression have different species of bacteria in their guts as compared to people without psychological disorders, explains Ruairi Robertson, BSc, PhD, to Healthline. By extension, "a small number of studies have also shown that certain probiotics can improve symptoms of depression and other mental health disorders," she says.
This all lends legitimacy to the importance of eating with gut health in mind. Robertson suggests abiding by the nine dietary and lifestyle tentpoles to ensure a healthy microbiome.
Take antibiotics only when necessary
"Antibiotics kill many bad and good bacteria in the gut microbiome, possibly contributing to weight gain and antibiotic resistance. Thus, only take antibiotics when medically necessary."
Eat a diverse range of foods
"This can lead to a diverse microbiome, which is an indicator of good gut health. In particular, legumes, beans and fruit contain lots of fibre and can promote the growth of healthy Bifidobacteria."
Limit your intake of artificial sweeteners
"Some evidence has shown that artificial sweeteners like aspartame increase blood sugar by stimulating the growth of unhealthy bacteria like Enterobacteriaceae in the gut microbiome."
Eat fermented foods
"Fermented foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut and kefir all contain healthy bacteria, mainly Lactobacilli, and can reduce the amount of disease-causing species in the gut."
Eat prebiotic foods
"Prebiotics are a type of fibre that stimulates the growth of healthy bacteria. Prebiotic-rich foods include artichokes, bananas, asparagus, oats and apples."
Eat foods rich in polyphenols
Eat whole grains
Consider a probiotic supplement
"Probiotics are live bacteria that can help restore the gut to a healthy state after [microbial imbalance]. They do this by 'reseeding' it with healthy microbes."