Women of Color & Gut Health

March 12, 2019

Vanessa Leveille

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A decade ago we were barely talking about gut health, and now, with the availability of information at your insta-fingertips it seems everyone is talking about gut health. As we are both digging for, and sharing information about gut health, we are realizing that there is much more to it then we once thought. And that the bacteria in your gut actually has a lot to do with how healthy and well you are. But what exactly is gut health, and why is it important for you to know about it. More importantly, what do Brown and Black Women need to know.

I first learned about gut health three years ago when I enrolled in an integrative nutrition program, yep… that’s right, years of schooling and I only learned about it post-grad! In fact, it’s important to know that this information, and much about nutrition, is not heavily addressed in medical school or many clinical counseling programs.

Hippocrates once said, “all disease begins in the gut.” He said this thousands of years ago, and it turns out, he was right! According to Dr. Lisa Ganjhu, clinical assistant professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center, the gut also known as the gastrointestinal system, the gastrointestinal tract, digestive system, or the digestive tract, “is a group of organs that includes the mouth, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, small intestine, colon, and rectum. The gut serves many essential roles in sustaining and protecting the overall health and wellness of our bodies, starting with the intake and absorption of nutrients and water. According to Dr. Ganjhu, it is this digestive process that provides the building blocks the body needs to live, to function, and to stay healthy”. The gut doesn’t act alone though, in keeping the body healthy, it’s part of an axis system⏤the gut-brain axis. The gut and the brain spend an absorbent amount of time communicating back and forth. The gut (all of those aforementioned collective organs) provide information to the brain, and the brain then helps us decide what’s next for the body. In digestion, for example, the brain will let the body know what to do with the foods we are eating. As Dr. Ganjhu put it, if you were to eat a fatty meal, the gut and brain will jointly decide that the body should hold on to that food a little longer for energy than a less fatty meal. It also tells the body when to move the food to other parts of the gut system.

As a mental health clinician, I am interested in how the gut and brain communicate because we know that mood and state of mind is a huge factor in how well we are. The gut-brain axis plays a significant role in our stress level and other mood and anxiety based disorders. The gut is responsible for signaling to the brain when a stressor is present, and the brain does the same thing with the gut; it’s a constant back and forth of information sharing. The gut is not only responsible for sharing information, but it is also responsible for producing about 90% of our body’s serotonin, a hormone that regulates our mood and emotions. This takes the phrase, “feel it with your gut” to a whole other level.

If the gut is responsible for regulating our moods, and we know that Chronic stress can be hard on your whole body, including your gut, then it makes sense that we are taking this close of a look at our gut health. For Brown and Black women, this information is especially important for us to know given our statistics on health outcomes. As I have mentioned before in other blog posts, we are at the bottom of many major health outcomes, and are at higher risk of depression. While women (of any background) are twice as likely to experience anxiety and depression, with a higher risk of relapse, compared to men, brown and black women are at a higher risk than their white counterparts. Brown and black women are also less likely to seek treatment for related anxiety and depressive disorders, and problems arising from stress… we’re changing that though, right?! Yes, we are!!

Since we are seeking treatment, whether it’s formal talk therapy or support from holistic wellness practitioners, we are becoming more aware of the steps that we need to take to improve our wellness. Yet, still, our diets are usually the last thing that we look at. What you eat is absorbed by your gut, and if, as we have learned, that the gut is responsible for how we feel and how healthy we are, then we need to seriously consider our diet. It’s no longer the case, that “it’s all in your head”, it’s really all in your gut. If your gut is right, balanced and thriving, you’re guaranteed to feel better.

More than ever, brown and black women need to be looking at their diet and lifestyle habits because it is impacting us at alarming rates, and keeping us sicker than we are healthier. It isn’t about being a specific size, but more about our qualities of life, about the vitality and health of our bodies and about our emotional and mental health. Diet isn’t a weight loss tool, but the cure for everything.

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Women of Color & Gut Health

The gut is responsible for signaling to the brain when a stressor is present, and the brain does the same thing with the gut.

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