Thanks to its essential role in nearly every body function, your gut is truly at the core of your overall health. That’s why keeping it healthy is of the utmost importance when it comes to keeping your body and mind in tip-top shape. You may already be familiar with many of the important ways that your gut impacts the rest of your body, but did you know that there is a strong connection between your gut health and your appetite? That’s right! Your gut, and the microbes that live there, are able to influence your appetite and your food preferences, including something we all struggle with—cravings.
We’ve all been there. We’ve all found ourselves suddenly craving a particular food, usually of a processed and unhealthy nature, even when we aren’t truly hungry. While a number of things can initiate these sudden urges, one potential cause that is often overlooked is rooted in your gut. We know it sounds weird, so let us break it down for you.
A Review of the Gut Microbiome
In order to understand how your gut can influence your food cravings, there are a few basic things you need to understand about the gut.
First, there are trillions of microbes like bacteria that reside in your digestive tract, which are collectively referred to as your gut microbiome. There are hundreds of species of bacteria that can reside in your gut microbiome, and many of them are helpful and essential for certain body functions while others are considered pathogenic, meaning they can have a negative impact on your health.
The second thing that you need to understand about the gut is that it is closely connected to the brain via the gut-brain axis. This connection is complex, and researchers still have a lot to uncover about it, but here’s what we currently know. The gut-brain axis is bidirectional, which means it’s a connection that allows your gut and your brain to communicate in both directions.
Physically, the connection is formed by the vagus nerve, which is the longest nerve in the autonomic nervous system. The vagus nerve is often referred to as a communication superhighway for your body because it allows information to be carried between your brain and your internal organs, including those that make up your digestive tract.
In addition to the vagus nerve, there is a biochemical aspect of the gut-brain axis that shouldn’t be overlooked. This connection uses your body’s circulatory system as a means to transmit information back and forth using things like hormones and neurotransmitters. Not only does this allow the brain to send biochemical signals to the gut, but the gut can also produce a selection of its own neurotransmitters that can then be used as a means to send signals to the brain.
So, what does this all have to do with your food cravings? We’re glad you asked!
How the Gut Microbiome Influences Your Cravings
For starters, scientists have found that the vagus nerve plays a role in appetite management, and it works both ways. When signals from the vagus nerve are blocked, feelings of hunger are thought to be more easily controlled which can assist with weight management. Similarly, researchers have also found that stimulating the vagus nerve may lead to increased appetite and excessive eating. While the role the vagus nerve seems to play in appetite is impressive, the specific microbes present in your gut are likely playing a bigger role in determining the foods you crave.
The bacteria in your gut feed on food compounds as they travel through your digestive tract, and just like humans, each microbe has its own food preferences. In fact, some gut bacteria can only survive if certain food compounds are present in your diet. With that being said, even microbes that are considered to be “generalists” because they can feed off of a variety of different food compounds have been found to have preferences. For example, Bifidobacteria thrive when able to feed on dietary fiber while Bacteroidetes tend to have a preference for fats.
In order to survive, your gut bacteria need a steady stream of their preferred nutrients, and if they aren’t receiving enough it can send them into survival mode. When a microbe’s survival mode is triggered, one of two things can happen—they can either initiate mechanisms that damage our gut in some way, or they can secrete proteins that initiate cravings.
When a microbe’s survival mode is the latter, its goal is to get you to eat food that contains its preferred nutrient. It does this by releasing proteins that are amazingly similar to the hormones your body uses to initiate hunger, and, thanks to the gut-brain axis, these proteins can be sent to your brain to tell your body that you’re hungry. But that’s not all these microbes do to manipulate our diets.
Researchers have also found that the bacteria in your digestive tract also have the ability to alter your taste buds as well as produce neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. This means that the same microbes that are telling you that you need to eat are also influencing your food preferences. So those microbes that love to snack on sugar are likely working hard to ensure that your taste buds are encouraging you to keep chowing down on those sweet treats. On top of that, when you do indulge in these cravings, those same microbes can also release “happy hormones” like serotonin and dopamine, which tell your brain that you feel good when you eat those sugar-filled snacks. It’s truly a vicious cycle that can be difficult to stop, especially if you aren’t even aware that it’s happening.
Repair Your Gut and Curb Your Cravings
If you’re worried that your gut may be controlling your food cravings a little too much, then don’t worry because you’ve already taken the first step toward rectifying it—you’re aware of the problem! Now that you know what is going on, you can take steps to reboot your gut and foster a healthier, more diverse gut microbiome by implementing what we call the four R’s of gut health.
Remove items that are not supporting a healthy, diverse gut microbiome, including foods that are processed or known to cause irritation in your body. Foods that contain excess sugar, sodium, refined carbohydrates, and unnecessary chemicals or additives don’t provide your gut with proper nourishment and should be cut out of your diet.
When you start removing items from your diet, you’ll want to replace them with healthy whole foods that will fuel your body with the nutrients it needs to restore itself. Your gut microbiome actually responds to the food you put in your body. When you consume a whole-food-based diet and avoid processed foods, your gut microbiome begins to work for you. Plus, the more variety you can include in your diet, the more flexible your microbiome becomes.
This is also a great time to add a little apple cider vinegar or additional digestive enzymes to your daily routine. A little apple cider vinegar mixed with water can aid your digestion while enzymes will work to help your body break down and absorb nutrients from the foods you eat.
Once you’ve made some diet changes, it’s time to add in the good to restore what may be missing from your gut’s ecosystem. This includes supplementing with a quality probiotic and eating a variety of fermented foods, which are known to be probiotic-rich. Why are probiotics so important for reinoculation? It’s because they can seed your gut with beneficial bacteria, helping to restore and maintain balance in your microbiome.
Last, it’s time to start repairing. Many of the shifts described above, like consuming more whole foods and taking a quality probiotic, will actually help with the repair process, but there are other things you can do as well. For example, adding more gut-supporting foods like homemade broths and stocks from grass-fed bones, aloe vera, and fermented foods to your diet often helps with the repair process.
Additionally, effective stress management is important here. Remember that ever-important connection called the gut-brain axis that we talked about? Well, your mind plays a crucial role in regulating the composition of your gut microbiome as well, and ongoing stress can slow your progress. Try meditating, doing guided deep breathing, journaling, and practicing gratitude as often as possible to help your gut become as healthy as possible.
Get Your Gut Health Essentials
Your health and your gut need all the help they can get to keep your cravings at bay. You can be proactive about giving your gut the support and nourishment it needs by taking steps to start rebooting and repairing it today. And if you’re looking for a simple and convenient way to continue supporting your gut on a daily basis, look no further than Essentials from New Earth.
These daily gut-support packets contain all the probiotics, digestive enzymes, and superfoods your gut needs to heal and thrive. And the best part is you can put it to the test risk-free with our 90-day money-back guarantee.
At New Earth we are on a mission to positively impact the health of every body and soul we come in contact with. We specialize in producing third-party certified, organic whole food supplements including a variety of probiotics, and digestive support. Our supplements feature a rare, yet highly nutritious superfood, Aphanizomenon flos-aquae (AFA). Also known as organic Wild Microalgae®, AFA is a unique type of microalgae that is available in many forms including tablets, capsules, and powders all designed to help you on your journey to holistic wellness. The best part? We offer a 90-day money-back risk-free guarantee on all of our products. Visit our website to learn more.