Our gut is often referred to as our second brain. It’s why we get a ‘gut feeling’ about something when we’re making difficult decisions, those butterflies in our stomach when we’re nervous, or the ‘kick in the guts’ when something bad happens.
Our brain and gut are connected by the nervous system and research is uncovering how changes to the gut microbiome can affect us emotionally, physically and in our behaviour. A healthy gut is important for a healthy you.
What is the human microbiome?
As scientists continue to unearth the importance of gut health to our overall wellbeing, the digestive wellness sector has become the biggest driver of growth in the global food and health market.
As consumers become more self-educated online this market is developing and diversifying quickly. What was once considered a little left-field is now finding social acceptance in the mainstream (think kombucha, kimchi, kefir). When someone five years ago said they were gluten-free, eyes may have rolled. But not now.
How consumers try to improve health
In terms of digestive wellness, many consumers are confused about exactly what gut health foods they should be consuming. As with many aspects of their life, they’re doing their own research and making decisions based on those findings.
Of the 3000 surveyed across the world by New Nutrition Business, 24% think bread is good for us, while 38% believe it is bad. When asked about dairy milk, nearly 47% see it as good for digestive wellness, compared to the 31% who see it bad. When asked about meat, 27% said it is good for digestive health.
When the brain meets the gut
Our brain and gut are connected by the nervous system, and each can influence the other.
But they’re also connected through our immune system and by trillions of neurotransmitters – chemical messengers that can boost and balance signals between nerve cells. Some neurotransmitters produced in the brain help control feelings and emotions (like fear and anxiety), and the same neurotransmitters are also produced in the gut.
Knowing this highway is running between the gut and brain means it’s easy to understand that what you eat and drink can affect how you feel physically, emotionally, mentally and even how you can behave.
Dairy and digestive wellness
Dairy has a role to play in good digestive wellness due to it having many nutrients including calcium, potassium, and vitamins A, and B12.
Significant research is being done to learn more about how nutrition for infants and young children may impact the gut-brain axis. Smarter Lives is funded by New Zealand’s Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, and led by New Zealand research institute, AgResearch with commercial support from Fonterra.
It is investigating how foods influence brain function through the various connections between the gut and the brain.
The Smarter Lives research programme will build on existing research and unlock how we can influence the two-way communication between the gut and the brain and help optimise cognitive development in formula-fed infants.