The intestine is a neglected but fascinating organ. On the one hand, the intestine is something like the central training camp of the immune system. This is where our defence cells learn to distinguish good from bad intruders. 70% of all immune cells are located in the intestine, and almost 80% of all immune reactions take place here. If the intestine is healthy, we are better protected against diseases.
Complex intestinal brain
The intestine also has an astonishing nervous system, the intestinal brain. More than one hundred million nerve cells control the complex movements of the intestine. On the other hand, the intestine constantly collects information about our body condition and is closely connected to the brain via the nervous system. If something is wrong in the intestine, we don’t only feel physically bad, but also psychologically. That this is true can be seen in our vernacular language, which has known for a long time: love goes through the stomach, anger can hit us in the stomach, I wet myself, or you have butterflies in your stomach. All these linguistic references illustrate the connection between the intestine and the nervous system.
Gut influences our mood
Up to now it has been assumed that illnesses such as depression occur largely in the head. Yet, there is more and more evidence that the whole body, and especially the intestine, has a strong influence on our mood. For example, Norwegian researchers have shown that in the intestines of depressed patients some bacterial species are more common, while others are almost completely absent. In addition, an American study has shown that participants who ate lactic acid bacteria for one month reacted more calmly to emotionally disturbing images. In the digestive tract, a large number of calming and mood-lightening hormones are produced. If the intestinal flora is disturbed, this also negatively affects the production of these messenger substances.
Intestinal flora influences health
When looking at the intestinal flora we find: A healthy intestine contains up to 100 trillion bacteria. This is about the same amount of cells an adult is made up of. They colonise our intestines, split our food up, live off this food and at the same time make it digestible for us. Not only is the number of bacteria important, but also their diversity: in a healthy intestine there are about 1000 different species. The greater this diversity of the so-called micro biome is, the healthier we are. Stress, unbalanced nutrition or medication can quickly disturb this delicate balance and we become more susceptible to disease. Antibiotics also destroy a large part of the healthy micro biome each time they are administered and can cause a large number of secondary diseases.
Conclusion: The intestine is responsible for our immune system, has its own brain, accommodates a multitude of small helpers, produces hormones and can influence our mood. This should be reason enough to invest in a healthy intestine.