Why Gut Health is the Cornerstone to Good Health and What We Can Do to Improve it?
Our gut instincts are real because getting butterflies when we’re nervous happens due to the fact that our nervous systems and our digestive systems are intertwined. The complex array of nerves in and around our gut is often called our second brain.
The enteric nervous system runs through our digestive system, has around 100 million neurons and is connected to our brain via our vagus nerve. Our brain talks to our gut and our gut talks to our brain. There is a two way communication, meaning that our thoughts can influence our gut bacteria that reside in there, causing low-grade inflammation and gastrointestinal distress. Research has demonstrated that probiotics can modulate our mood, in particular increasing lactobacillus, bifidobacteria and akkermansia can improve brain health. In fact 90% of communication runs from our gut to our brain, and only 10% from our brain to our gut.
The vagus nerve actually plays a huge part in regulating our hormones, enzymes, satiety and much more. There are two sides to the nervous system: the sympathetic ‘on the go’ side and the parasympathetic ‘rest and digest’ side. This is why it’s important that we give our digestive systems a chance to rest, and also why when we’re stressed, fearful, anxious or worried, this can impact our digestive system too, and so trying to remain calm, doing breathing exercises and hypnotherapy can be really beneficial for our nervous system and also for our gut bacteria, which play such a huge role in our overall health.
Latest research has even discovered ‘post-biotics’ which are essentially the by-products (metabolites) of probiotics which can send messengers to our brain. There is also evidence to suggest that our microbiome translocates from our gut and travels to breast milk to colonise beneficial species within the breast milk ready for feeding!
In functional medicine we work on a 5 R’s approach to improving gut health. Here is a quick summary of that approach:
Remove any foods that your immune system may be reacting to. This could mean running a food sensitivities test, or trying an elimination diet. Your body is often in tune with what these foods are if you listen.
Replace some missing components from your digestive system. It might be that you’re not producing enough stomach acid, or that you lack certain enzymes that break down either protein, carbs or fat, or that bile acid is not following correctly from your gallbladder.
Addressing these issues can be done using functional testing and supplementation in some cases, and to address the root cause of the dysfunction.
Re-inocculate the gut flora. Probiotics aren’t for everyone, and if you’re healthy you shouldn’t need to supplement them. But when they are used to target certain low levels of beneficial bacteria or an overall imbalance in the beneficial versus harmful bacteria can have a hugely positive impact, not only on gut function but also in immune regulation and brain and mood disorders.
Repair the gut lining. This is an essential step BUT the first steps need to have been put in place before this can happen. The lining of the gut is only 1 cell thick and it regenerates itself around every three days. The constant onslaught of foreign particles that it needs to assess potential pathogens and toxins means that it can easily have micro-tears in it.
Re-balance – This final step is key, because as we’ve said, it’s a two way street between our minds and our guts. Adjusting our lifestyle for less stress by doing small amounts of meditation, breathing, walking in nature and having fun will all help to heal us from the inside.
And here are some of my key tips on nutrients for better health
Foods to Avoid
- Refined carbs and high sugar
- Processed foods
- Trans fats and rancid oils
- Low quality animal products
- Low fat myth
Foods for Better Gut Health
Firstly, ensure you are eating plenty of oily fish as these contain EPA and DHA which are vital for brain function and can help to boost your mood. At least two portions per week is ideal.
GREEN LEAFY VEG
Alongside this, increase your intake of green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, broccoli and watercress. Dark greens contain magnesium which is important for many functions of the brain, and these nutrient dense foods also help to beat anxiety and depression due to their wide complex of nourishing nutrients and fibre which feed the good bugs for better gut health.
EAT THE RAINBOW
Don’t only eat green, eat the rainbow! This includes things such as strawberries, blueberries, sweet potatoes, and apples. Vibrant colours mean that these foods contain phytonutrients which are high in antioxidants such as vitamin C, E and K, which help to fight free radical build up in the body and in turn have beneficial effects on our brain.
As discussed, inflammation is a big driver for brain related issues and so it makes sense to include anti-inflammatory foods such as fish, vegetables, berries and turmeric. These foods also contain polyphenols which…
NUTS AND SEEDS
While I don’t advocate snacking, I would recommend the occasional handful of nuts, either with your food, or as a snack on the side. These contain beneficial nutrients such as zinc and selenium. Zinc can support our natural defence system and low zinc can lead to low serotonin, which is a risk factor for increased depression and anxiety.
BEANS AND PULSES
Whether you’re vegan or carnivore, include some beans and pulses! One cup of chickpeas, for example, provides 85% of your daily B6, which is required to make serotonin, and helps to create melatonin which regulates our body clocks. Low B6 can cause trouble concentrating, and can cause irritability, nervousness and sadness. So, adding mixed beans to a chilli will give you a boost of vital nutrients.
Animal protein does have it’s benefits and so I would recommend (for those that eat it) beef because it contains omega 3, iron, folate and B12. B12 is very important for producing crucial brain chemicals which regulate our mood and iron supplies the brain with red blood cells which helps with better overall function. In addition to this, eggs are a brilliant powerhouse of nutrients, for example, eggs contain choline which is needed to make neurotransmitters and cell membranes which are key for learning and memory.
Finally, enjoy a green tea and a square of dark chocolate!
Green tea may improve brain function, reduce anxiety and improve memory as it contains a collection of bioactive compounds such as L-thianine which works together to increase GABA, which positively influences our mood.
Dark chocolate contains potassium, fibre, magnesium, zinc, iron and flavonoids. The flavonoids can increase energy, focus, mood and memory. A square or two of dark chocolate a day can increase feelings of calm and contentment and help to beat depression.
I’ve had huge success in my clinic with clients who have a range of IBS symptoms who by following these steps, and using a layered approach to healing the gut, they have experienced better emotional wellbeing too.
I hope you’ve found this useful. If you would like to book a free call with me, then you can contact me HERE.