Healthy gut equals healthy brain

There is a mass of new information emerging, relating many lifestyle factors and modern foods to excess internal inflammation. When we have inflammation in the body, it can trigger many health issues, from acid reflux, indigestion and abdominal bloating, to aches and pains and even brain disease. New research is focusing on the health of our digestive systems and specifically the quality of the bacteria that live in the digestive tract and it is looking increasingly like reducing inflammation and attaining true health starts in the gut.

This is such an exciting time for nutritional science, especially in the field of the microbiome (gut bacteria) because it is gradually being understood to influence so much of our health, not least our brain health and this is largely due to how our gut health can trigger or calm inflammation all around the body including within our brain.

A healthy microbiome can directly affect our mood, depression, anxiety levels, duration of concentration and, as explained previously, the development and progression of very serious illnesses such Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, type 2 diabetes and even autism, obesity and eating disorders!

“it is looking increasingly like reducing inflammation and attaining true health starts in the gut”

This, to me, is utterly staggering news, so let me spell it out. The quality of the bacteria in our gut has been shown to be directly associated with mental health illnesses, weight problems and whole host of deadly diseases. Clearly, it is, therefore, imperative that we all look after our magical gut bacteria as best we can.

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There are many factors that can influence the quality of our gut flora, many of which are in our direct control. Negative Influences include the more obvious and well known antibiotics, alcohol, sugar and gluten (actually grains in general). Less well known, the contraceptive pill, anti-inflammatory medications, environmental pollutants, genetically modified foods, lack of sleep, too much stress, highly processed foods, chlorinated water, cooking oils ……. and so, so much more.

Hence, we have to put some effort in to really supporting our gut health. This is simply done, but needs to be done daily and for the long term as the gut bacteria are up against it all the time.

The key ways to support a healthy gut and therefore a healthy brain …..

  •  Plenty of fresh veg – the fibre in vegetables are known as pre-biotics, providing food for our good bacteria.
  •  Fermented Foods – foods containing live bacteria and lactic acid serve to create the ideal environment for our good bacteria to thrive, while suppressing growth of the nasty ones. Fermented foods also take live bacteria in to the gut. The most commonly eaten fermented food in the UK is probably live yogurt, which is a good start, but actually contains relatively few desirable strains of bacteria. This is largely because commercial yogurt is not allowed to ferment for long enough. If you can make your own and leave it to ferment for at least 12 hours, you will get a far more useful fermented food. For greater quality and quantity of good bacteria, aim to eat raw sauerkraut or kimchi (Korean fermented veg), water kefir or dairy kefir (I will explain all next time, including how to make it yourself) and kombucha (fermented tea).
  • Eat whole foods, greatly minimise processed foods (aim for no more than 4 ingredients if you are buying packaged foods) and cut the sugars and the grains.
  • Get more sleep!
  • Manage your stress and prioritise a least a few minutes a day to stop and BE.
  • Take time to eat – focus on your food when eating, take some deep breaths before starting to eat and the chew, chew and chew a bit more.
  • Being too clean is NOT helpful – greatly reduce use of household bleaches and stop using had sanitizers.

This is seriously serious stuff and the great thing is, if we choose to put in a little time and effort to feed our gut bacteria well, we can greatly influence the health of our future. Now that’s empowering!

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Stephanie is a Clinical Nutritionist MA(Hons) BA(Hons) BSc(Nut.Med) with a background in counselling psychology and nutritional medicine. Based in Hazelmere, Surrey and SW London Stephanie addresses the psychological and physiological aspects of health to develop personalised health and well-being programmes for her clients. Stephanie specialises in body image and weight / eating issues; digestive health; blood sugar and stress imbalance.