Written by Miguel Toribo-Mateas
I’m a disco queen. I love dancing and always have. If I had a pound for every time I danced to “La Isla Bonita” in my sister’s room – where the house’s turntable was when I was a teenager – brush in my hand, serving Latino realness in front of the mirror, I’d be retired in the British Virgin Islands by now… I would so love to have tonnes of scientific evidence for you so that this article could be about how dancing is amazing for your gut bugs, and how house music raises your Lactobacillus or your Bifidobacteria. Much to your disappointment (and mine!) that bombshell of a feature will need to wait… but that storyline ain’t that far-fetched… Dancing is a gold standard kind of physical activity. If you’ve ever spent a night throwing shapes in a nightclub and then checked your FitBit to discover that you’d done the equivalent steps to a 20-mile run, you will tend to agree with scientists on this one. Dancing **is** exercise, and recent studies suggest that exercise may benefit gut health, so the link between dancing and gut health is definitely there! Chiefly, it seems to do a good job of increasing the numbers of beneficial bacteria. Not only that, but it also improves the diversity of those bugs. This is what scientists call “microbial diversity”. Having a rich diversity of gut microbes is a brilliant thing because it makes your gut bugs stronger and, in return, this gives you a bit of a health boost.
The American Gut Project was a super cool citizen science piece of research that analysed the test results from over 10K poop samples and concluded that diversity is potentially the key parameter for measuring the health of the community of bugs that live in your gut. We call them the microbiome. Your gut is the forest that hosts 100s of billions of these bacteria, of which there are thousands of species that are affected not only by the food you eat but how much you move. And dancing is moving, right? Getting your heart beating faster – whether ballroom dancing or doing the floss, helps increase some bacteria called “Firmicutes”. Some Firmicutes have fancy names like Faecalobacterium prausnitzii (try to say that with a digestive biscuit in your mouth) and Roseburia hominis. These 2 are kind of microbiome rock stars because they produce this beautiful thing called butyrate, a fatty molecule (technically a “short-chain fatty acid”) that has anti-inflammatory properties not only in the gut, but also in other organs around the body, potentially even in the brain.
In fact, emerging evidence backs up a theory that short-chain fatty acids could be intimately linked with another funky lil guy called “brain-derived neurotrophic factor” (or BDNF for short), a nice fella that makes connections between neurons more fluid, helping preserve your long-term memories. BDNF also assists in the birth of new neurons and is one of the most important bits needed for the brain to remain flexible, a process that neuroscientists call neuroplasticity. A more neuroplastic brain tends to be a happier, more resilient brain. Do you really think it coincidental that those who dance regularly have higher BDNF levels have brains that are more likely to see the glass half full? I don’t think so! Another correlation between dancing and gut health! Also, did you know that those who get their heart pumping by moving are also more likely to have higher levels of the “skinny bug” Akkermansia muciniphila, which received that nickname because naturally slim people seem to have more of it than those who are more prone to be plumper around the middle? Amazing what a boogie can do for you.
Talking of which, I have created this very Spotify playlist especially for you all lovely The Gut Stuff readers. I hope you love it as much as I loved creating it for you.
These are just a couple of quick examples, but, for gut’s sake, I hope that they’ve convinced you of the relationship between dancing and gut health, and to encourage you to go dancing, prancing, grooving and to keep on moving into the festive season. And if a bevvy or two will help you let your hair down, at least you’ll be happy to know that as little as one glass of red wine a week has been seen to increase the diversity of the good bacteria in your microbiome. In fact, red wine drinkers have more diverse gut bacteria than other drinkers. But if you’re off the source for whatever reason, don’t despair. Studies done on non-alcoholic red wine have found similar benefits, so either go for that option (lots of places sell/serve it now) or stick to a handful of red grapes as a dessert or as a snack instead. Unfortunately, there haven’t been any studies on vodka sodas and the microbiome yet. We can only hope! Just remember to keep your fluids up, because dehydration causes similar havoc in the gut (making constipation more likely and/or worse) as it does in the brain. Only a tiny bit of dehydration (2% of your body mass) has been seen to severely affect cognitive function. One large glass of water per alcoholic drink will help you stay alert and fabulous whilst you still have a good time celebrating.
And if you do get carried away and end up dancing into the early hours, do bear in mind that lack of sleep has been seen to bring your microbiome diversity right down, and that this also makes you more susceptible to infections. So do make sure you drink responsively and that you schedule plenty of time for self-care. Your gut bugs will also thank you for that beauty sleep.
That’s it for me for now. I wishing you a minimally bloated, incredibly joyous Christmas and a wonderful 2020. Stay in touch!
Love Miguel ️
About the author
Miguel Toribio-Mateas is a neuroscience and nutrition clinician-researcher with a wealth of clinical and research experience on gut-brain communication. He doubles as bedroom DJ superstar, and is likely to be bringing some funky choons to you all very soon at an upcoming TGS event… so watch this space! You can learn more about Miguel’s background on his LinkedIn profile and/or enjoy his light-hearted take on gut-brain health on his Instagram. We recommend following for a wealth of information and interminable fun!