How often do you stop and listen to what your body is trying to tell you?
Do you recognise the butterflies of excitement in your stomach, or nerves sending you to the bathroom? Do you push on through with the help of caffeine, sugar or alcohol to get you through your days?
Our digestion doesn't always get the attention it deserves. We might think of the brain inside our heads as responsible for our feelings, drive and ability to get things done, but we are an orchestra of organs inside our bodies that are equally running the show. The quality and frequency of our ‘poo’ can give us many clues about our digestive health, and with nearly half of the population struggling with digestive discomfort (think heartburn, bloating, pain, constipation and diarrhoea) and over 3 million people coping with irritable bowel syndrome, there is much to improve and a huge amount of stigma to be broken down.
But our digestion has far-reaching effects beyond the toilet bowl. It affects our skin, liver, sex hormones, immunity and mental health through the gut-brain connection. Here in the North East, we have some of the highest rates in the country for mental health diagnoses. With nearly a million people taking time off with stress, anxiety and depression, we need more tools in the toolbox to help ourselves and our workplaces.
Why is your gut so important?
Through 500 million neurons, our gut makes 90% of serotonin, associated with happiness and promoted traditionally through antidepressants. Often, when anxious, our calming chemical ‘GABA’ is low, which can help put the brake on all that nervous energy. And cortisol, our long-term stress hormone can play havoc with our digestion long-term, allowing toxins to build up which in turn interferes with our ability to focus and concentrate and leads to fogginess, where we just can’t quite think straight, or remember where we have put our keys.
The microbiome is finally starting to become mainstream, boasting 2kg of bacteria, fungi and viruses containing more genetic code than the human body. All of this, when working in harmony, helps to keep us well.
Medications, stress, toxins, lifestyle choices and even our childhood exposures all play a part in the health of this colony, hence the probiotics on our supermarket shelves. It’s a rapidly moving area of research, and we fully expect to see a new class of ‘psychobiotic’ to be developed, where certain strains are shown to improve mental health in the not-too-distant future.
What can you do to support your second brain?
So how do we look after our second brain? Food choices are a great place to start, and you can feed your microbiome with prebiotic fibres such as vegetables, berries, beans and pulses, nuts and seeds.
Omega 3 fats are also essential to calm down inflammation as we age and strive to support both brains, so add in 2-3 portions of fish per week, or flax and chia seeds if you're vegetarian. Giving your gut a rest of 12 hours overnight can also aid repair, so if late-night eating is impossible to avoid, perhaps consider whether you can you have a later breakfast. Knowing that diet can reverse depression can be empowering even when life events have caused stress and low mood, there is always a partial solution at the end of our forks.
Nutritional therapy uses the principle of functional medicine in order to help understand the root cause of imbalance in the body and mind. Our bodies are complex and the reductionist approach in our modern medicine can sometimes miss the complex interplay of overlapping symptoms. Remembering that 60% of chronic diseases have a lifestyle component. So, what are you waiting for to improve your health?
To find out how professional, empathetic nutritional guidance can help you, get in touch today.