Going with your gut? Worried sick? Can’t think straight when you’re ‘hangry’? These phrases have recently been revealed to make perfect scientific sense.
Words: Jane Druker
Think back to when you last sat an exam or went for a job interview. “That nervous tension probably stopped you eating and gave you a fluttery feeling in your tummy,” says Bio-Kult nutritional therapist Claire Barnes. We’ve all been there.
And now scientists agree there is a crucial connection between your gut and your brain, which they refer to as the gut-brain axis. This involves the neurotransmitters in your gut travelling along your nerves and through your immune system to your brain, creating a two-way street of communication.
“It’s not just your nervous system but also your hormone and immune system that’s affected by a healthy diet,” explains Barnes. “Your gut is key to both your physical and mental health,” says The Naked Pharmacy founder Kevin Leivers.
Mental and emotional stress, as well as biochemical stress, such as eating a poor diet or avoiding exercise, is communicated directly through your gut-brain axis, which explains why stress can literally make you ill.
It’s all about the diversity of your microbiome
‘Microbiome’ is the name given to the micro-organisms living in our gut and body, including bacteria, yeasts, fungi and viruses. These small but mighty microbes are both personal and unique to us. Their types and quantities can change over our lifespan, and we need diversity for good health.
“Our microbiome communicates directly with our immune system. Research finds that the diversity of your microbiome may support your immune function, improve your brain health, help you maintain a healthy weight and affect your mood as it produces serotonin and oxytocin, which help you feel happy.”
Up your intake of prebiotics and probiotics
Ideally, you need to feed your gut with food rich in healthy bacteria. This isn’t complicated and you shouldn’t need to supplement your diet. “Following a diet high in fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts, wholegrains and seeds should be enough for your intake of prebiotics, which healthy bacteria thrive on,” says Dr Megan Rossi, a specialist in gut health. Probiotics, on the other hand, are live cultures that increase your healthy gut bacteria – you can find these in yogurts and fermented foods.
You’re not just what you eat, but what you absorb
Not all food is created equal – it’s what your gut absorbs that counts. This means the lining of your gut has to be in robust health to function properly, including reducing any inflammation. A healthy gut microbiome will take in vitamins and minerals more effectively as well as boosting our ‘happy’ hormones.
So your brain and tummy are more closely linked than we ever realised – and that’s a gut feeling you can’t ignore.
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