We are all taught to follow our "gut instinct" or listen to our "gut feeling" all the time. Ever wonder where these phrases come from?
Why is our gut so important? Why should we listen to it?
That is because our gut, a generic term for our gastrointestinal tract, is an amazing organ. It does much more than just digests the food we eat. In fact, a healthy gut plays a very important role in our total well-being as well as that of our children – impacting their physical growth, brain development, natural defences and their mood.
Once you understand the role of the gut in our total well-being, you would give it a lot more attention and care, rather than focusing on it only when your child has "tummy troubles".
Here are 5 amazing facts about our gut to help you better understand the importance of good gut health and why you should proactively nurture it for your children right from the beginning.
#1 Your gut has 100 million nerve cells
A 100 million! Now that is a huge number!
These 100 million neurons1 are located along the gut and form the nervous system of the gut, making it our "second brain". Did you know that the gut and the brain talk to each other constantly?
- Top-down (from brain to gut): Emotions influence functioning of the gut.
- Bottom-up (from gut to brain): The gut sends messages to the brain to influence physical and mental well-being.
When it comes to your child, the gut is playing a tremendous role in providing the brain with building blocks such as DHA through digestion and absorption. In addition, it also communicates with the brain to deliver satiety, health and comfort messages.
Remember, a child feeling comfortable from within would be more ready and receptive to the stimuli around him.
#2 Your gut microbiota weighs more than your brain
The microorganisms that live in our gut, or our gut microbiota weighs around 2kg – which is more than the weight of the brain2.
In our bodies, the microorganisms outnumber human cells by 10:13, and 95% of the bacteria are located in our gut!
This explains why so many regulatory mechanisms of our body, such as nutrient absorption, immunity building and brain communication, take place in the gut.
#3 70% of immune cells are located in your gut
The gut can easily be nicknamed the "immune centre" of the body. With 70% of immune cells located in the gut4, there is no question that a healthy gut is important for day-to-day natural defences.
These immune cells are further supported by healthy gut microbiota (or friendly bacteria) to protect children against infection. The friendly bacteria form a layer covering the wall of the gut, thus acting as a barrier to prevent infection-causing germs from growing on the gut wall5,6.
The friendly bacteria also support the development of immune system so that it will not react in a hyperactive manner against safe substances, and thus help manage allergies7, especially in children, whose immune systems are still immature.
#4 90% of the serotonin, the “feel-good” hormone, is secreted in the gut
Did you know that 90% of our body’s serotonin – the “feel good” hormone that enables brain cells and nervous system cells to communicate with each other is secreted in the gut8?
Serotonin has many functions, and the serotonin secreted in the gut is primarily responsible for regulating the bowel movement – which has an impact on our total well-being and mood.
If the child's bowel movements are regular then it influences his comfort and well-being, promotes better sleep, which help his day-to-day mood and prepare him to engage with the world.
#5 The gut’s surface area is 50 square metres, while the skin's surface area is only 2 square metres
We just assumed that out of all our body parts, our skin has the largest surface area. However, at 50 square metres, the gut’s surface area is 25 times more than that of the skin, which is only 2 square metres9.
So while the skin remains a highly exposed zone of the body, the exposure to external world is much more important from the gut than the skin.
1 Goyal RK, Hirano I. The enteric nervous system. N Engl J Med. 1996 April 25; 334(17):1106-15
2 Bäckhed F, Ley RE, Sonnenburg JL, Peterson DA, Gordon JI. Host-bacterial mutualism in the human intestine. Science 2005;307:1915-1920
3 Grice EA, Segre JA. The human microbiome: our second genome. Annu Rev Genomics Hum Genet. 2012;13:151-70
4 Furness JB, Kunze WA, Clerc N. Nutrient tasting and signalling mechanisms in the gut. II. The intestine as a sensory organ: neural, endocrine, and immune responses. AM J Physiol. 1999 Nov; 277 (5 Pt 1): G922-8
5 Matamoros S, Gras-Leguen C, Le Vacon F, Potel G, de La Cochetiere MF. Development of intestinal microbiota in infants and its impact on health. Trends Microbiol. 2013 Apr;21(4):167-73
6 McDermott A, Huffnagle B. The microbiome and regulation of mucosal immunity. Immunology. 2013;142:24–31
7 Parfrey LW, Knight R. Spatial and temporal variability of human microbiota. Clin Microbiol Infect. 2012 Jul;18 Suppl 4:8-11
8 Baganz NL, Blakely RD. A dialogue between the immune system and brain, spoken in the language of Serotonin. ACS Chem Neurosci. 2013 Jan 16; 4(1):48-63
9 Helander HF, Fändriks L. Surface area of the digestive tract – revisited. Scand J Gastroenterol. 2014 Jun; 49(6):681-9
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