How many times have you been told to trust your gut feelings?
Whether it comes to a new job, splitting up with you partner or buying a property, our gut feelings have a lot to answer for.
Although we can sometimes put it down to sixth sense or our instinct rather than a logical rationale, there’s more science behind how our gut impacts our feelings, moods and emotions than we realise.
Often know as our second brain, scientists have discovered that the gut also houses our unique gut microbiome (GM). These are created within the first 1,000 days of life and our gut microbiome ( GM) quickly develops into a sophisticated neural network, transmitting messages to our brain from hundreds of millions of bacteria.
The brain regulates basic physiological and mental processes such as mood, memory and learning and it manufactures around 95% of the body’s supply of serotonin. Read more on this happy hormone in one of our earlier blogs.
People say ‘you are what you eat’, but actually, you are what you digest and even if you have the ‘healthiest’ diet, if you don’t have a good gut lining, you’re not going to extract the nutrients efficiently.
Eating a balanced diet such as the Mediterranean diet and avoiding inflammation-producing foods may be protective against mental health conditions such as depression and it’s important to note than when it comes to gut health this relates to the functioning of your entire nine-metre-long digestive tract. This is the vessel which delivers your food from beginning to end and this involves digestion and absorption of food, as well as our gut microbiota which are incredibly powerful – we couldn’t survive without them.
Gut health can be affected by inflammation, stress, anxiety and of course a poor diet.
When we’re mentally stressed because our brain is telling us we are, this can alter the communication between the gut-brain axis and can trigger physical stress along your intestine, resulting in gut symptoms such as diarrhoea, constipation and abdominal pain. Similarly, gut symptoms can be rather distressing, which can trigger the brain via the gut-brain axis.
So it’s important to try to maintain a healthy and happy home for our gut microbes to flourish and the following suggestions can help.
Try to focus variety of plant-based foods – studies have shown that we should aim for 30 different types of plant-based foods a week, full of gut-loving fibres like vegetables, fruit, legumes, grains, nuts and seeds. Look to increase your intake of traditionally fermented foods which contain live cultures such as kefir, sauerkraut, yoghurt and kombucha. All of these live cultures promote the growth of good bacteria.
Your brain and your body like routines and have rhythms and quality rest and relaxation is important not just for your physical, brain and mental health but also for your gut health. Try to limit caffeine after 3pm and if you find yourself feeling anxious at night, try to write down all of your worries before you get into your wind down routine, this will clear your mind and reduce stress.
If you are stressed or depressed this can affect the function of the gut such as decreased appetite or diarrhoea, and this is because areas of the brain that control anxiety and depression also receive nerves that control gut function and hence there is reciprocal interaction. Try deep breathing exercises, watch your caffeine intake and try to get your endorphins pumping with some walking or exercise.
Exercise helps to regulate your pooping habits and increase the diversity of your gut microbes, which is linked to better overall health. Sustained exercise is key, so move your body regularly, getting your heart rate up for at least 30 mins most days. Why not take up a new form of exercise like yoga or tai chi?