Got Guts? How to Love Yours
The microbiome is the new frontier of human medical research and promises to answer great mysteries in health research, with over 10,000 papers published last year alone. The more scientists discover, the more they find that our microbiomes have a massive impact on our immunity and mental health.
So, could your gut health be a factor in feeling lethargic, unable to focus at work, or stressed out?
Perhaps more importantly, what practical steps can you take to show yours some love?
What is the ‘gut’?
Your gut runs from your mouth to anus and is supported by your stomach, liver, gallbladder and pancreas. It performs a crucial role in the digestion of food and absorption of nutrients and houses 70% of your immune system. The cells lining your gut produce 90% of your serotonin, the neurotransmitter that contributes to feelings of wellness and happiness.
What’s the microbiome?
Your gut is inhabited by trillions of little visitors: bacteria, yeast, fungi and parasites that together are known as your microbiome. Each person’s microbiome is radically different - far more unique than fingerprints or even DNA. And the health of your microbiome is crucial to your wellbeing.
The gut-brain connection
Have you ever felt sick to your stomach because of nerves or stress?
This is the gut/brain connection in action. The brain and the gut are physically connected through the vagus nerve, one of the longest nerves in the human body, which runs from your brain all the way through your gut and controls mood, immune response, digestion and even heart rate.
Connected in this way, what’s happening in the microbiome alters what’s happening in your brain and has an impact on your mood and how you manage stressful situations. For example, the microbiome influences the production and storage of serotonin. Low serotonin levels have been linked with depression. Research released earlier this year has shown that people with depression are less to have certain gut bacteria. This is not to say bacteria causes depression, but lack of certain strains can contribute to its onset.
What does this mean for me?
The science is still very young, but we do know that good gut health is beneficial for immunity and mental health and that you can alter it through lifestyle factors.
As Innerfit’s nutritionist, Kirsty, says: “Think of your microbiome as an English country garden. You want a variety of different plants (beneficial microbes) and not too many weeds (less beneficial microbes) for optimal microbiome health. We need our microbiome to be diverse and balanced to work well. If our microbiome becomes imbalanced, for example, due to decreased diversity of beneficial microbes, this can affect our overall health and wellbeing, in particular, our mental health”.
Fend off stress and boost your mood by nourishing your gut with naturally-occurring probiotics, which can be found in fermented foods such as kim chi, kefir, yogurt and sauerkraut. Gut bacteria feeds on fibre so it’s important to get enough fibre in your diet. A diet that’s diverse, colourful and full of fresh vegetables will contribute to the diversity of your microbiome. Making healthy swaps like choosing oat cakes over crisps will also help you get sufficient fibre.
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