Keywords: Gut health, microbiome, Quality of Life, Gut-brain communication, cognition, mental health
I would like to express my opinion on the relationship between gut health (GH) and quality of life (QOL) based upon my own experiences that I discovered while training for weight loss. GH was a primary factor in nutrition. Nutrition and exercise are essentially the two arms of a successful weight loss effort, and the end result leads to a high QOL.
First, I will need to define both these terms. GH is the state of optimum physiologic function of the gastrointestinal tract distal to the esophagus. The functions include, but are not limited to, digestion, absorption, immunity and peristalsis. The significance of all four will be discussed later comprehensively.
Secondly, QOL has been defined by WHO as an individual’s perception of their position in life in the context of culture and value systems in which they live in and in relation to their goals, expectations, standards and concern. I would like to adjust the definition for simplicity by saying that QOL can be defined as an individual’s feelings of positivity towards their health and well-being, physical and psychosocial..
Let me preface this by saying that, focusing on GH is the easiest and smallest step towards increasing QOL. Therefore, I urge that it not be taken lightly; the phrase ‘losing weight’ holds a negative connotation in society and conjures up ideas of self-restriction, voluntarily staying hungry and denying oneself of basic human need to eat and be comfortable. Each endeavour can be broken down into smaller and smaller actionable steps and GH is the first, baby step towards a better life. These are my own feelings, and I am proud of my discovery.Regardless of age, level of competency, etc., GH is a universal factor in improving QOL.
The overarching theme that I found, linking all the areas of life together, was a sense of control. To me, a gain in control in one area naturally seeped into another area. It paved the way to effortless discipline which I found rewarding to my personal growth. As I will discuss one by one, those areas included personal finance, time-management, self-care, independence, self-confidence, and freedom from diseases.
My diet began with the knowledge of nutrition. This encouraged me to watch what I eat, and learn to cook on my own so that I was in control of the caloric quantity and nutritional value of the food I ate. The only fluid I drank was water. Water is the medium for all metabolic activities. The goal of diet and exercise is to increase the metabolism of the body, so that stored energy is released. In that sense, drinking water and nothing else does not feel limiting, but feels rewarding knowing that with each positive step taken, the body’s basal metabolic rate (BMR) is being increased. By way of self-reinforcement of eating high quality food and burning it off by increasing physical demand, the subconscious desire for unhealthy food decreases over time.
Surprisingly, this saved a lot of money that was spent on foods to snack on and any other drinks. I learnt the skill of cooking my own food to watch my intake. I enjoyed being and feeling healthy, and did not want to harm my progress. It required no extra will power to deny comfort foods, I did not feel lazy to cook my own meals, it gave me control over my time and energy. Many diets I had done in the past had foods black-listed; now without trying, three quarters of the foods I would buy turned out to be useless to me. I valued efficiency. I valued my personal journey. I learnt that personal growth is what adds value to what you’re doing, not the place or the weather. As and when I lost weight, I enjoyed my life more, but moreover, I enjoyed that I did it by will. It gave me self-confidence that I am in control of my body. I think that is a crucial point: since all other concepts of identity are intangible and buried in psychology; autonomy over our body is the peak of self-assurance and defines who we are.
Each positive result reinforced and propagated that behavior. A control over my kitchen spending habits increased my curiosity as to where else I can be efficient. Not frugal, not cheap, but efficient. Now everything was about my needs and not wanting to buy any more or any less. Knowing that I will use it to my best abilities did not make me feel guilty about spending money, no matter what it was.
I applied it to time as well. I felt satisfied in carefully watching where I spent my time. Planning my meals added an element of certainty of what my day would look like. My knowledge about myself had grown more. I knew what my nutritional needs were, when was the best time to eat in order to schedule it with my exercises, how much food was left in the fridge. My daily life was in my hands, and it all started with watching what I ate.
Time-management led me to uncover new pockets of time to do more activities, coupled with the energy and increased stamina from my improving physical health, my days were longer, more eventful and I was energetic every moment. I learned the habit of rising early to go for a run. It did not feel difficult since upon waking up, I did not have a brain fog to deal with. I was ready to go. This ties in with cognitive flexibility, vitality and other areas.
GH is also greatly linked with ‘freedom from diseases’. A term that I coined together to give a sense of positivity. In my mind, diseases are not just problems to be solved. They are an intrusion in daily life. A healthcare provider is to diseases as a law enforcer is to crime. It is an everlasting chase. Therefore, I propose that GH be implemented to prevent diseases that flourish from the gut region. This way we can slash as many ailments as possible that come our way in daily life that arise from this.
When it comes to the gut, the ailments have a long-standing presence and inconspicuous effects on the body. I would like to name 2-3 that are extremely common. These all interplay under the umbrellas of following consequences: malabsorption conditions, stress-augmented conditions, inefficient macronutrient-processing problems and thereby hormone dysregulation, immunity status and allergies, and finally, low-threat, persistent, pervasive and pathological infectious diseases.
The alimentary canal, or tract, has two openings and is one of the few systems in the body that are exposed to the environment in such a way that an object from outside can pass through and interact with the internal milieu. Thus, physiologically, the need for protective mechanisms are critical. In that way, the body is very responsive to irritation of its primary defenses, which are the mucosal linings. A common microbe (H. pylori) causes inflammatory problems of a wide variety. Ulcerations are primarily taken very seriously by the body’s response system and cause pain and discomfort. Cyclical cellular damage and repair ultimately increases the chances of cancer.
Second, stress-augemented conditions. This pairs well with H. pylori infection, as stress is also known to cause chronic conditions related to inflammation and acidity which cause disruption to the mucosal lining. This brings us to a plethora of problems related to a disturbance in the functional zone of the mucosal lining. The prime function is absorption. Absorption of macronutrients is important as ever, however what is noteworthy is the pathway of Vitamin B12 absorption. It correlates directly with cognition amongst other functions. I have seen forgetfulness and mental sluggishness as common symptoms in the clinic in patients with low B12.
The next important molecule (that requires an entire hormone system to keep balance) is glucose. Glucose is the primary source of energy, and the body has multiple biological mechanisms set in place to ensure it never runs out of energy. To that effect, a disruption at the basic site of absorption causes many ripple effects within the body. Although the body is inherently capable of compensating for any dysfunctions, prolonged, silent, and tolerable disturbances to the body eventually manifest into diseases. The main site of slow-growing diseases is the gut. Therefore, GH is important in terms of providing freedom from diseases, as much as possible.
I think discussion on ‘freedom from diseases’ can get very expansive and I would like to stop here. Of course, there are inadvertent adverse effects on immunity and effects of infection that urge me to delve into more technical discussion. But the running theme is that the numerous small tweaks in the body and multiple tiny victories over small nuisances otherwise caused by poor self-care surmount to an overall state of well-being, eventually leading to an improvement in QOL. This is my motivation to emphasize the unique importance of GH, how small steps can lead to a better life.
This is my personal experience, and I have decided to write about it, not so much because of how well the content is, but to showcase that writing just about anything constitutes as practice. Such forms of writings also have their own place within medical journals, where people provide their view, not necessarily based on hard science.