Have you ever wondered why you get butterflies in your stomach when you feel nervous or stressed?
It is thought that as well as nutrition and lifestyle choices, our state of mind may actually impact our digestive system. Interestingly, it seems that the deal works both ways: The gut-brain axis is based on the fact scientists are increasingly convinced that what happens in our digestive system and what we eat may have a major impact on our state of mind!
But how, you ask? You may not realise it, but you are not 100% human. In fact each of us is harbouring 10 times as many bacteria as human cells, that’s right, there are trillions of microbes living on every surface of the body, most of which are found within the intestines. [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK7670/] These gut microbes have been shown to have a special relationship with the brain; communicating via the nervous system and interacting with the immune system. [http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/121-a276/]
A Brain Research Manager for Clasado Research Services explains:
“The bacteria that reside in the gut appear to play an important role and are able to communicate with the central nervous system notably through neural, endocrine and immune pathways. By influencing the balance and types of bacteria present, studies show that it may be possible to lower stress, affect cognition / brain processes and mood.”
So, it would seem sensible to keep a healthy gut environment! In order to do this, we need to look after our bacteria. The microbes in the gut can be loosely categorized into two groups: good bacteria – the types that stimulate the digestive process, aid in the absorption of nutrients and prevent growth of harmful bacteria and bad bacteria – a common source of infection.
Just like weeds compete with flowers for space and nutrients in a garden, ‘bad’ bacteria compete with ‘good’ bacteria inside the gut. If the gut environment is healthy, bad bacteria struggle to flourish.
Let’s take a look at how to keep that gut environment happy:
- Look after your bacteria: You may have heard of probiotics and prebiotics and the foods that contain them which are designed to look after the ‘good’ bacteria in the gut, but how do they work and what’s the difference? Probiotics are ‘good’ bacteria that can be directly ingested, but because our bodies break them down, they don’t always reach the lower intestine where they could have an effect. Prebiotics are a special type of selective food for for the ‘good’ bacteria in our gut. Prebiotics are very stable and can reach the lower intestine intact. Studies have shown that certain prebiotics can significantly increase the good bacteria population in the intestines. [http://www.clasado.com/research/prebiotic-properties/research-5/]
Take a look at some of the ways you can incorporate these into your diet:
- Balance the mind: the gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to emotion, stress and anxiety. Studies have shown that there are some useful tools which can help. Meditation trials at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore have demonstrated that mindfulness meditation can help ease psychological stresses like anxiety, depression, and pain. [http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/mindfulness-meditation-may-ease-anxiety-mental-stress-201401086967]
- Ease digestion with yoga: there are several poses which are thought to help relieve wind and encourage digestion. Here are a few to try!
By balancing the mind with regular sleep and exercises like meditation, yoga, and jogging, we can boost the health of our gastrointestinal tract and promote the growth of good bacteria. With the right diet, you can feel the positive mental effects of a healthy gut. So why not take charge of your health by cultivating the vibrant garden within you, and start living a happier, healthier, and less stressful life today?
* Nutrition is a key contributor to good mental health, but it’s just one piece of the puzzle. If you’re struggling with symptoms of a mental health disorder, talk to your doctor.