Do you struggle with anxiety, depression, low mood or brain fog? Do you feel bloated and tired? Are you struggling with your weight?
Are you wondering what is going on & not knowing what to do?
The answer could all be in your gut!
Hippocrates, the father of medicine, stated that “all disease begins in the gut” and increasing scientific evidence is showing a clear connection between our brain and our gut.
Looking after our gut and taking care of our gut bacteria (our microbiome) could THEREFORE be the key to improving not only our mental health but many other problems.
So what is this link between your gut and your health?
Our gut houses 100 trillion of bacteria, part of the so-called “microbiota”: our microbial genes outnumber our human genes by 100 to 1 so we are in fact more microbial than human! Our gut bacteria are influenced by what we eat, our environment and our lifestyles. Healthy gut bacteria allow the production of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) which are all essential for brain function.
Intestinal permeability, also known as “leaky gut”, allows large molecules (such as bacteria, undigested foods, toxins…) to go through the tight junctions of our gastro-intestinal tract. These then reach our bloodstream and trigger an immune reaction causing inflammation. As discussed in previous blogs, the gut and the brain are connected via the vagus nerve in a bi-directional way. This means that an inflamed gut leads to an inflamed brain, setting in motion all sorts of issues such as headaches, fatigue, low energy, poor mood, anxiety, depression, bloating, weight gain, pain, skin issues, infections, allergies, poor memory and concentration, stress and sleep disruption.
But what causes this permeability? The number one culprit is an inflammatory diet: gluten, dairy, sugar, alcohol and processed foods can all cause inflammation of the gut. Other factors can be repeated course of antibiotics (which as well as killing the “bad” bacteria, indiscriminately also kills the “good” ones) and long-term use of medications such as NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). Stress can also damage our gut lining by increasing levels of cortisol, as well as food intolerances/allergies, infections, radiation and chemotherapy.
What can be done to improve your gut flora?
There is a number of things that can strengthen our gut lining by feeding our beneficial gut bacteria (our gut flora). A healthier microbiome leads to a healthier mind and reduces all the symptoms associated with a leaky gut-leaky brain.
- Reduce stress: stress has a direct impact on the diversity of our microbiome, therefore finding strategies to reduce it is essential. There are many strategies to reduce stress and this will be a very personal choice but something as simple as going for a gentle walk outdoor everyday can reduce cortisol levels and bring a sense of calm. Other options can include: yoga, meditation, tai chi, breathing exercises, cooking, singing, laughing, spending quality time with friends & family, listening to music, running…
- Increase exercise: exercise boosts levels of “good” bacteria, thus strengthening our microbiome.
- Swap alcohol for water: alcohol leads to inflammation in the gut by destroying our beneficial bacteria. It is therefore recommended to keep intake at a minimum and opt for water or non-alcoholised drinks instead.
- Eat a diverse anti-inflammatory diet rich in fibre, fruits & vegetables and healthy omega-3 fats (found in oily fish, nuts, seeds, olive oil) and low in refined/processed foods (cakes, cookies, ice cream, white bread/pasta/rice, sugary foods).
- Include fermented foods (probiotics) such as full-fat yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut/kimchi, kombucha, miso, tempeh and pickled foods in your diet.
- Eat prebiotic foods such as asparagus, garlic, artichoke, legumes, onion, leek…to feed your beneficial gut bacteria.
- Eat foods rich in vitamin C, like citrus fruit, plum, cherries, kiwi, dark leafy greens and red/yellow peppers to increase collagen production. Collagen helps to repair the gut lining and is often found in low levels in people with gut problems.
- Ensure good sleep: poor sleep also affects the composition of our microbiome and leads to a raft of health issues. Putting in place a daily sleep routine as well as implementing relaxing activities prior to bedtime can help to bring the calm conducive to good sleep.
- Supplements: there is a number of supplements available which can help. However, these are very individual therefore it is recommended you consult a nutritionist to decide on the right one for you, depending on your specific symptoms and circumstances.
So looking after our gut can have positive impacts on many health issues and especially mental health problems.