Gut instincts – it’s something we are all familiar with; an odd phenomenon where the body’s reaction can override the brain’s logic. For quite some time it has been accepted that what is going on in your brain directly affects your gut. For instance; Have you ever lost your appetite or become nauseous after receiving bad news? Have you ever had a good or bad feeling in the pit of your stomach about an individual before getting to know them or even meeting them in person? Gut reactions are based on instinct and your thoughts/mental state can have a direct effect on your gut.
Have you ever considered the health and state of your gut could influence your mind?
Recent research has lead to the birth of “the second brain,” an affectionate name for our gastrointestinal tract. The trillions upon trillions of bacteria residing in our gut have been found to have a profound effect on our mental state by affecting our brain chemistry, neural development, emotional behavior, stress response and mood. They regulate our digestion, metabolism, extract and make vitamins, program the immune system, build and maintain the gut lining, block harmful bacteria from proliferating and even produce anti-microbial chemicals to protect against a variety of pathogens(1).
Now why might this be important, especially for Flight Crew members?
Our gut bacteria (or microbiome) is determined by many factors but mostly influenced by the foods we eat. Did you know we have 100 times more contact with the outside world through our gut than through our skin!(2). When you eat, you essentially feed your gut bacteria and the foods you eat determines the type/quality of bacteria that thrive. These bacteria “talk” to the brain through its own nervous system know as the enteric nervous system (the governing body of our gut).
For example, depression was once thought of as solely a chemical issue within the brain (often due to a lack or inadequate amount of serotonin) but we now know that serotonin is found in abundance in the gut. In fact, the gut microbiome makes up 99 percent of the DNA in your body and actually influences the expression of your 23,000 genes! We are changing our gut bacteria with poor food choices, thus changing the signals being sent to our DNA. This increases “free radicals, oxidative stress, and inflammation”(3). As flight crews, we are already bombarded with radiation during flight, so we need all the help we can get through our diet for protective benefits.
By improving the quality of the foods we eat to a whole foods diet based on plants, we are promoting healthy gut flora, which over time, sends messages to our brain to begin craving healthier food. Some of the benefits are improved mood, energy, focus and digestion to make you a safer pilot. Better gut flora also improve immune function to keep you flying and your sic-ation for real vacation!
So what are a few simple ways you can change your gut for the better?
Reduce, or better yet, eliminate your fast food/processed food intake! Download the Fit Flyer App (IOS) for delicious recipes that are easy to prepare, hold up to the demands of a 4 day trip, are comprised of restorative, health promoting whole foods and easy to make!
Join our Shred 10 Event on Facebook starting in May! Join others in a 10 day challenge to eat clean, lose weight and jumpstart the month! Like our page to stay in the know.
Incorporate as many whole foods into your diet as possible – skip anything in a package! Also, read the ingredient labels to cut out the offenders of processed ingredients like refined grains, sugars, oils, preservatives, stabilizers, colorings, etc.
Take a probiotic.
Carpenter, S. Phd (2012, September). That Gut Feeling
Gregor, M. MD (http://nutritionfacts.org/)
Mercola, Dr (2015, May 17). Gut Microbes and Brain Health