What’s our gut-brain axis?

by | | Mini Blog Series

Research has shown that the trillions of microorganisms that make up our gut microbiome can play an important part in contributing to an improvement in both our physical and mental health.

Our gut microbiome collectively weighs about the same as our brains and is often referred to as being an extra organ in our bodies. Our guts and brain communicate with each other through our vagus nerve. Messages are constantly flowing back and forth between the two helping to control things such as your heart rate, digestive and immune systems.

Our microbiome is made up of thousands of different species which are pumping out thousands of different chemicals a minute to help us fight infection and allergies.

Much of the serotonin that our bodies produce is done so in the gut. This neurotransmitter has a positive effect on both our physical and mental health. Serotonin gives us the power to influence our mood and the ability to control our thinking. It helps us to cope, motivates us and helps us to feel positive about ourselves.

It’s thought that a lack of serotonin may be responsible for mental health conditions such as depression. If we suffer from anxiety, then we build up an oversupply of stress hormones such as cortisol which cause an imbalance in our brain chemicals.

The latest research has shown that a healthy gut biome can help to alleviate anxiety symptoms.

How can I improve my gut health?

  1. Increase the amount of fibre in your diet.

Our diet is the number 1 factor that influences the composition of our gut microbiome. Whereas highly processed and sugary foods have a negative effect on our gut health, fruit and vegetables have a positive influence on it. It is thought that you should look to consume around 25-30 different types of plant sources each week. While this may seem a lot you may be surprised to know that coffee, herbs, spices, nuts and seeds all count as plant-based foods. Eating fermented foods such as yogurt, pickles and sauerkraut are also thought to have a positive effect on gut biome.

  1. Add aerobic exercise into your routine.

As well as improving your cardiovascular health, aerobic exercise is known to help improve your biome health by changing the composition of the bacteria within it. A study of more than 400,000 people in Sweden found that regular exercise may reduce the risk of anxiety disorders by as much as 60 percent.

  1. Only eat within a 10-hour window

Dr Tim Spector a professor of genetics engineered a study of over 130,000 people who only ate during a 10-hour window. Results showed that over a 2-week period, participants improved their energy levels and felt happier. Our gut needs time to recover from digesting food.  Resting it for 14 hours gives time for different microbes to come out and act as a repair team to clean up our gut wall and reduce inflammation.

Perhaps you might be interested in reading other articles from my mini-blog series:

Nutrition for mental health

How does caffeine affect our sleep?