All of us need to eat in order to receive the vital nutrients that give us energy and sustain life. Unfortunately, this means that we expose our bodies to outside elements that are both beneficial and harmful. An apple, for example, can deliver water, fiber, and vitamins your body needs, but it could also be a conduit for chemical pesticides and fertilizers, mold, parasites, or harmful bacteria. Even if food is natural, organic, and perfectly healthy, you still need to digest it in order to glean the nutrients and expel the waste. This is where your gut flora, or the microbiome of essential bacteria in your digestive tract, comes into play.

You may be wondering why the gut flora is often referred to as a second brain. It is because your brain and your gut are inextricably linked, with each influencing the other. Not only does the health of your microbiome inform the health of your entire body, but there is also communication between bacteria and the brain via the nervous system, a process known as the gut-brain axis. And all of the signals sent between the two are designed with one goal in mind: survival. Note that you don’t necessarily have to be healthy to survive. You do, however, have to adapt. And the gut is often the first wave of defense because it is where outside elements, good or bad, are introduced into your body.

And from there your two brains – the one in your head and the one in your gut – work together to absorb and distribute nutrients, expel waste, and cope with the rising tide of toxins that are in our environment and that are introduced through consumption. Have you ever heard of a nervous stomach? This is your brain and your gut interacting, creating a physical response to mental and emotional stress. And when the microbiome is out of balance, the result could be inflammation, immune response, and corresponding feelings of fatigue, anxiety, or depression, just for example. In other words, your gut flora could be inextricably linked to all kinds of ailments that are seemingly unrelated to your digestive tract. On the upside, balancing your microbiome and maintaining gut health has the potential to improve the health of your entire body.

So in addition to helping you properly digest your food, the gut flora plays a crucial role in how your body functions as a whole and how it adapts to survive its environment and the items you consume. And just as it can be damaged by outside elements, so too can it be healed by the choices you make. When your gut flora is balanced, you will enjoy optimal health. When your microbiome is compromised, your health is sure to follow suit.

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