The link between our gut bacteria and general wellbeing is an exciting and growing area of nutrition research. Our supermarkets have seen an explosion of "gut-friendly" products in recent years which contain bacteria that can rebalance our gut microbiota.
Bacteria - friend or foe?
Around 80% of our immune system is located in our gut. This means that the health of our gut can strongly determine how we feel, both physically and mentally.
The modern diet of highly-processed, sugar-rich foods has skewed the delicate balance of "good bacteria" (probiotics) within our digestive tracts. Sugary and starchy foods feed harmful bacteria which, if left unchecked, can wreak havoc on our health.
Perhaps more worryingly, as only 28% of UK adult consume less than the recommended 5-a-day fruit and vegetables (2018), we are starving the "friendly bacteria" which rely on fibre-rich foods (probiotics) to function and multiply.
Given this chronic state of dysbiosis, it's no surprise that we are seeing a strong and consistent increase in autoimmune conditions like celiac disease, type 1 diabetes, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.
Simple dietary changes can play a huge part in rebalancing our internal flora, and preventing and addressing such conditions.
The gut-brain connection
The term "gut feeling" is founded on our gastrointestinal system being intricately linked to our brain function: serotonin, our "feel good" hormone is produced within the digestive tract. So by nourishing our bodies with serotonin-boosting foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats we can naturally lift our mood.
Conversely, when the body is exposed to chronic stress or anxiety, the digestive system slows in response to increased secretion of the hormone cortisol (and engagement of the body's "fight or flight" response). This can decrease appetite or make us crave energy-dense and nutrient-poor foods and drinks which can make us feel even worse, and of course deprive our gut of the nutrients it needs.
So once again, good nutrition is a vital tool in our wellbeing arsenal, particularly as we face a global pandemic and an unprecedented mental health crisis. Favour natural or minimally processed foods, and boost your friendly bacteria by taking a probiotic e.g. Actimel, Yakult, kefir, natural yoghurt. Fermented foods such as kombucha and sauerkraut and also great options and are dairy-free.