Gut Instincts: More Than A Feeling?
The Connection Between Mind and Gut
Have a think about common sayings such as “butterflies in my tummy…”, “I’ve just got a gut feeling..” or “trust your gut”. It’s as though people have always known about a link between what we feel in our gut and what we experience in our mind.
Science backs up our “gut instincts” on this connection. This is a large and complicated area of research but here are a couple of pointers:
Chemicals (known as neurotransmitters) that affect your mood are impacted by gut health. For example approximately 85% of serotonin, referred to the “anti depressant” neurotransmitter, is made in the gut. If your gut isn’t functioning properly, chances are it’s not producing serotonin very well, and this can contribute to symptoms of depression and anxiety.
There are up to 1000 bacteria living in your digestive system (your “microbiome”) that have far reaching effects on the body including impacting brain function. Research has shown higher levels of “good” bacteria reduces inflammation and is linked to improved mood and stress coping ability.
A well functioning, healthy gut, it is often reflected by clear thoughts, high energy levels and good resilience to stress. Maintaining digestive health also helps to reduce the risk of chronic health conditions such as heart issues and diabetes. Conversely, poor gut health often affects the way you feel and can result in lowered mood, anxiety, fatigue, and poor sleep.
How to Increase Awareness of the Gut-Brain Link
A great place to start is to have a think about how your digestive system and your thoughts, emotions and mood may be linked. You can do this by looking for clues during the day and just observing what’s going on in your body and mind.
Sometimes you might notice that your gut doesn’t feel right after eating certain foods, or after you feel stressed or nervous. Common symptoms may include bloating, abdominal pain or discomfort, heartburn, constipation, diarrhoea or excess gas.
Similarly, you might notice that your mood or thoughts are affected by your digestion. For example, you may experience “brain fog” after eating certain foods, or you may find that caffeine or alcohol trigger anxiety symptoms or affect your sleep. You might notice that when you eat well your mood is improved, or that when you drink lots of water you feel energised and clear headed.
An Introduction to Improving Gut Health
Nourish your gut
One of the best things you can do for your gut is to eat a diet full of diverse, colourful foods including:
Plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.
Good quality protein such as fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes.
High quality fats including nuts, avocado, olive oil (not heated to high temperatures) and flaxseed.
Fermented foods such as yoghurt, kefir, kimchi, kombucha and sauerkraut, and prebiotic foods including onion, garlic, asparagus and banana.
Reduce gut damage
Reduce things that can damage your good bacteria in your gut including excess alcohol, drugs, smoking, and junk food such as fried food, soft drink, and processed foods.
Stress can have damaging effects on our gut and make digestive symptoms worse, so looking at ways to manage stress is a great way to look after yourself.
Aim to get your body moving each day; regular exercise helps reduce stress levels.
Make time for things that you find enjoyable and relaxing each week.
Stay connected to friends and family as our social behaviour has been found to improve our stress coping mechanisms, and always reach out if you need extra support.
Something’s Still Not Right…
Gut-mind health is often a tricky area to navigate, which can be extremely frustrating especially if you feel like you’re doing all the right things or you don’t know what is causing your symptoms. If this is you, it may help to book in for a naturopathic consult to dig deeper into what’s going on.
Common symptoms that point to gut-brain imbalances include:
Brain fog and persistent fatigue
Food intolerances and allergies
Chronic bloating, abdominal discomfort and other digestive symptoms
Changes in bathroom habits that are affecting your daily life
Mood issues, anxiety and reduced stress coping ability