Love your gut, your second brain
Love Your Gut Week 2021, Registered Dietitian Jo Travers shares her tips on the gut-brain axis and how to nurture it for good gut health! Happy Love Your Gut Week 2021!
Advice from Registered Dietitian Jo Travers
Our gut health has the power to impact not only our physical wellbeing, but also our mental health and mood. This is due to a direct link between the gut and the brain, called the gut-brain axis.
The gut and the brain ‘talk’ to each other on a regular basis, using special chemical messengers produced by the billions of different bacteria that live in our gut. For example, among these we can find dopamine and serotonin – also known as happiness or ‘feel-good’ hormones. Although gut-brain axis communication is two-way, over 80% of the messages are actually sent from the gut to the brain rather than the other way round. So, it really does pay to give your gut some love!
As Jo Travers, Registered Dietitian for Love Your Gut Week 2021 explains: “The gut is connected to many of the body’s organs, whether it’s through digestive enzymes or the link to the immune system, and its connection with the brain is one we can absolutely use to our advantage.
“Although scientists are still working to fully understand this two way street, it appears that the gut is attuned to the signalling and functionality of the brain and vice versa, so if conditions are less favourable in either place, then this can affect the other.”
To help us give our gut (and brain!) the love and attention it deserves, Jo has shared her top tips on how we can begin:
Get enough sleep
Sufficient sleep is something everyone needs. Found yourself resisting sleep to watch another episode of that favourite box set? This unfortunately means you may be depriving yourself of sleep which in turn, won’t help communication between the gut and the brain.
The bacteria in the gut directly communicate with the central nervous system and disrupted sleep can affect the levels of bacteria in the gut.
Manage your stress levels
Because of the unique link between the gut and the brain, mental stress can affect what happens in the gut. We’ve all had “butterflies” when we are nervous and many people who suffer with IBS notice their symptoms getting worse if they are stressed.
This mental stress can actually alter hormones that work on the gut. By practicing meditation, or any relaxing activity, you can reduce stress and help your gut get back to normal functioning again.
Nourish the gut (bacteria)
There is some evidence that what you eat can affect how you feel mentally, via the gut-brain axis[v]. Fibre from plants feeds the bacteria in the gut that, in turn, produce chemicals to communicate with the brain.
The greater variety of plant foods you eat, the broader the range of useful bacteria your gut can support.
Include Fermented foods
Fermented foods like kombucha, kefir or other fermented milk products actually contain bacteria that can alter brain activity via signalling pathways in the gut-brain axis. The consumption of fermented food was shown to reduce social anxiety[vi] in young women.
Polyphenols are plant compounds that are thought to be involved in the gut-brain axis. Polyphenols help gut health by encouraging the growth of useful bacteria like Bifidobacterium strains and inhibiting the growth of “bad” bacteria such as C. difficile. Eating foods that are high in polyphenols has also been shown to affect cognition.