Let's talk about something completely different. It may even sound a bit strange. But there's actually truth to it: eating a relatively balanced and healthy diet may impact the success of one's trading (and other facets of life, of course).
What is the deal with diet?
The old saying goes "you are what you eat". Though it may be more accurate to say you are what you digest and absorb. Nevertheless, what and even when we eat play a central role in how our body, and of particular focus in this article, our brain, functions.
There are a variety of reasons why:
Nutritional efficiency or deficiency
Gut microbiome composition
Drivers of inflammation or reduction thereof
And many others
For the purposes of this article we're going to focus on the gut microbiome composition. If this content is helpful I can certainly look at covering other areas.
What is the gut microbiome?
Our gut microbiome lives in our lower intestine and hosts about one hundred trillion cells. These cells make up about 3-4% of our body weight, and have a greater genetic diversity than and exceed the total quantity of our human cells by ten fold!
Crazy, right? But it gets better. It's been said that we only use 10% of our brain. To some extent that's true. But only when we're talking about allocation of energy toward our conscious mind.
The brain always uses 100% of its energy, and the vast majority, about 90%, is allocated toward our autonomic systems that regulate digestion, immunology, breathing, heart rhythm, and others.
Of that autonomic energy, 90% is devoted to regulating the gut and immune system (which are inextricably bound together). So, in effect, 81% of our brain's energy goes to our gut!
The gut also has an enormous amount of connectivity with the human brain through what's called the vagus nerve. This nerve is the longest, most complex cranial nerve in the entire body.
The gut's composition tells our brain, in essence, what we're craving. Yes, it really isn't the other way around. Quite often the composition of our gut microbiome has a very powerful impact on what we want to eat, and even when we want to eat it.
This is also why there's the phrase "gut feeling", because in fact there is a real gut feeling that is channeled up to our brain from our gut, and part of that has to do with the microbiome and how it sends chemical signals through the vagus nerve.
So how does the gut microbiome impact my trading?
Approximately 90% of your body's serotonin is produced in the gut, and and bacteria in the gut regulate half of that production. Serotonin is a key neurotransmitter that is associated with healthy sleeping and mood regulation. Both of which are key to successful trading. This serotonin is produced by a form of gut bacteria called enterochromaffin.
Adding to that, the gut also produces a crucial short chain fatty acid (SCFA) called butyrate. This SCFA helps to down regulate inflammatory responses. Because inflammation reaches all the way to the brain, and many suffer from some form of it (acute or chronic) and some level of it (mild, medium, or unmerciful), the level of inflammatory proteins in our bloodstream actually play an important role in mental health.
That is to say, neuroinflammation can increase feelings of anxiety, depression, make our reaction to stress worse, and otherwise complicate mood. So less of it, and ideally none, is what we want to strive for.
How does the gut produce butyrate?
The gut ferments soluble fiber into butyrate and other SCFAs. This happens through gram-positive Firmicutes bacteria such as Faecalibacterium, Eubacterium, Roseburia, and Anaerostipes.
This bacteria, in turn, feed on foods high in healthy prebiotics such as apples, barley, chicory root, flaxseed, garlic, jerusalem artichoke, oats, onions, and others that are high in soluble fiber.
Feeding these healthy bacteria doesn't just promote a healthier mind, it also helps to improve our gut microbiome composition, which helps with whole body health. These same SCFAs are also crucial to serotonin-producing entereochromaffin cells.
What else influences the gut microbiome?
A lot, as it turns out. From the very first moments of your life, through to how you're fed (and what you eat later in life), your stress levels, any drugs, where you life, and your age and even gender.
The very first encounter with another microbiome that influences that of our own is when we're born, and how we're born. Passing through the birth canal gives an infant exposure to a host of healthy bacteria that influence various microbiomes, such as the gut and skin. As does exposure to breastfeeding.
Similarly, stress has a big impact on our gut because every cell in our body is impacted by cortisol release and the impact it has. Chronic stress is about as bad for us as smoking about five cigarettes a day, raising the risk of a heart attack by 27%. Of course traders have significant amounts of chronic stress, but it doesn't have to be that way if we're careful about how we manage our positions, our trading discipline, and our risk.
Stress also harms us on a cellular level, both in our human and non-human cells (such as the constituency of the gut microbiome). Chronic stress reduces gut microbiome diversity, and increases epithelial permeability, promoting the potential for a condition called dysbiosis. Further, stress negatively impacts digestion, which can further harm our gut.
Diet is key as we can optimize it for better health and in particular gut microbiome outcomes. Adding soluble fiber is helpful, as is eating more fermented foods. Reducing intake of sugar, alcohol, and processed foods is also quite helpful. In fact, eating well for 3-4 weeks helps to increase the diversity of our gut microbiome, as well as the population of healthier cells. As a result we'll begin to crave healthier food over time as those same cells want to be fed!
Drugs have a huge impact, especially antibiotics. Antibiotics are the worst enemy of our gut, because the kill so many of the gram positive bacteria. Especially broad spectrum antibiotics. Taking probiotics and eating fermented food during and after treatment with antibiotics certainly helps to reduce these complications, which may include dysbiosis (or an imbalance in healthy and unhealthy bacteria and other cells, favoring the latter).
Age is also a factor, but there's not a lot that we can do about it other than trying to slow the rate at which our cells age. Something we can perhaps discuss in another article.
By and large, diet is the largest factor to consider and the one we have the most control over. Improving our diet can improve our gut microbiome, which can in turn help to encourage a healthier mind and body--body of which are requisite to be at our best for trading and all of life's other endeavors.