By Nicki Chandraraj
There may be periods in all our lives when we have to deal with significant stress and we can start to feel anxious, out of control or overwhelmed by the situation. At times like this, it can feel almost inevitable that we reach for foods that will offer us comfort or a quick sugar boost to lift our spirits. However, there is no escaping the fact that what we put into our mouths and fuel our bodies will have a tremendous effect on our mood and our ability to focus, cope with stress and our sleep quality.
The gut and the brain are intricately connected and are constantly signalling to each other via nerves, hormones and immunoregulatory networks. There is compelling emerging evidence that these gut-brain connections are the reason why what is happening in our gut has a major reflection on our mental health, our mood and our general wellbeing.
A troubled gut can send signals to the brain, just as a troubled brain can send signals to the gut.
Why should I care about the bacteria in my gut?
The bacteria in our gut, our ‘microbiome’, are present in huge numbers and are vital for food digestion, but alongside play a key role in our mental wellbeing. Any imbalances which develop in gut bacteria can trigger signals to the brain which can contribute to low mood, anxiety and depression.
Beneficial gut bacteria thrive on natural, plant-based fibre which is an important energy source for them. They limit the growth of more harmful bacteria. They break down the fibre to create short-chain fatty acids which play an important role in reducing inflammation in the gut environment. When you have a balanced and healthy gut microbiome it helps provide your body with an important source of protective anti-inflammatory agents.
It also plays a vital role in the production of mood-lifting ‘happy’ hormones and neurotransmitters such as Serotonin and GABA, which are essential in mood regulation; reducing anxiety, switching off stress reactions and calming the mind.
Fundamentally, your diet can help your gut bacteria protect your mental wellbeing because eating the right foods will feed the important good bacteria. When our gut microbiome becomes challenged by processed diets, heavy in sugar and additives, or foods exposed to pesticides or other harmful chemicals, antibiotic medications, or stress, this can be enormously damaging to the friendly, helpful bacteria, and also to the health and integrity of the gut lining itself.
What is ‘Leaky Gut Syndrome’?
When the gut microbiome becomes disturbed, it can result in a situation where the gut lining becomes more permeable. This means that integrity of the lining is reduced. So rather than the usual ‘high-security’ filter system, safely separating the gut contents of food digesta and bacteria from the blood, larger food molecules and even some bacteria may be able then to leak into the blood circulation and trigger ‘Leaky Gut Syndrome’.
This is very significant having been implicated in the development of inappropriate immune responses. There is evidence to suggest this may be linked to the development of autoimmune diseases, where the body’s own immune system becomes confused and begins to attack and destroy healthy tissues, as in rheumatoid arthritis, autoimmune thyroid disease, etc
In order to thrive, we need to become much more mindful of the foods we are eating. At every meal or snack, every bite of what we are eating constantly influences how we feel and how our bodies function.
The great news is we hold the power to heal, and we can start to improve our mental healing and resilience through our nutrition:
* Try and cut back on processed foods like take-aways, cakes, biscuits, crisps and ready-meals
* Try adding in more portions of colourful vegetables, fruits, nuts, wholegrains and lentils – ‘Pre-biotics” to feed the good bacteria
* Consider ‘Pro-biotics’ – improving your gut microbiome balance with good bacteria by adding in fermented foods like kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut etc
So many people remain underdiagnosed and untreated for prolonged periods of their lives, suffering and losing hope of truly feeling well again; however, our bodies are capable of great healing given the right nutrition and support.
Sometimes there may be a need for more specialised investigations and treatment interventions to help optimise gut health and mental health issues; our experienced and caring team of practitioners are here to help these cases.