Still top of the wellness agenda, everyone from nutritionists to medics are continuing to expound the importance of a well-functioning gut. But did you know it’s just as important for mental health as it is digestion? With new research suggesting your gut may be affecting your mood, we did some delving...
What’s the latest?
Studies have revealed our digestive tract isn’t just filled with bacteria, but also a whole host of nerves. In fact, the gut has been shown to have its own ‘brain’ (also known as the enteric nervous system), which contains around 500 million neurons, and this is where up to 95% of the body’s serotonin (the naturally occurring chemical that makes you feel good) is produced. However, if the delicate balance of bacteria that produces the serotonin gets disrupted, it can lead to reduced levels, which can affect mood.
So the brain and the gut are connected?
Absolutely. This is also known as the ‘gut-brain axis’ – i.e. your brain, gut and hormones related to stress and anxiety are all linked. This explains why we feel butterflies in our stomach when faced with certain situations, for example, and even goes as far as to explain the connection between stress and IBS. On one hand, heightened emotions (such as stress) can cause a chemical change in the body, which can affect the digestive system. On the other hand, the uncomfortable symptoms IBS can cause might lead to feelings of stress, anxiety or depression.
Got you. What can you do to boost your gut health for better mood?
Make an effort to include natural probiotics in your diet, which will help to promote the growth of beneficial strains that can help to support increased secretion of the brain chemicals that have a positive influence on mood. Try miso, sauerkraut, apple cider vinegar, yoghurt and tempeh as well as prebiotics (which feed the good bacteria) such as leeks and garlic. At the same time, don’t skimp on healthy fats and protein – these are sources of important amino acids which convert into mood-enhancing brain chemicals – and make an effort to eat mindfully. Chewing properly and taking your time over your food will bring the body into a ‘rest and digest’ state.
Any easy meal ideas for a happy tummy?
Nutritionists say you can’t go wrong with a breakfast that includes full-fat Greek yoghurt, which is brimming with naturally beneficial bacteria, and some fat and fibre in the form of chia seeds, sunflower seeds and low-sugar fruits such as blueberries. When it comes to lunch, make a bee-line for avocados, which are packed with monounsaturated fats to contribute to a healthy blood flow, which in turn leads to a healthy brain. An ideal gut-boosting supper could include some salmon, which is an easily digestible protein high in omega-3 for optimal brain function, as well as pulses and green veg for added fibre.
What about probiotic supplements?
If you aren’t overly keen on fermented foods or feel your body needs a boost, then it could be beneficial to take a daily probiotic supplement. Aim for a supplement with at least ten billion cultures and one that includes both Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria – try OptiBac For Every Day Extra Strength, from £22.99