So many people come to me with either diarrhoea or constipation and they think that what they are experiencing is normal. Most of us don’t talk about our bowel movements after all! So what am I aiming for when it comes to toilet visits for “number 2s” as they were always called in my childhood? Once a day is good, twice a day even better but once a week is not good nor is 5 or 6 times a day and you don’t need to put up with bloating either.
It’s World Digestive Health Day, on May 29th. There is so much in the press about gut health these days and it’s really important that we understand quite how significant our gut health is on our overall wellbeing, not just our physical bodies but our mood and mental health. So let’s look at how we can nurture our digestive system and get good gut health!
It’s a topic we’ve focused on at length in my Healthy Habits Club members group. In fact, they could have probably written this article!
Scientists, who once dismissed the notion, are now investing significant resources into studying the connection between gut bacteria and mental health.
The gut is your second brain
Your gut, often referred to as the “second brain,” houses the enteric nervous system (ENS) comprising nerves and neurotransmitters similar to those in the central nervous system. With over 100 trillion bacteria residing in our gut, it’s a bustling community that influences your thinking and behaviour.
Excitingly, ongoing human trials explore how these microbes can improve mental health and potentially revolutionise treatment options.
What we can do for good gut health
While researchers delve into the intricacies, we can take proactive steps to support our gut and therefore our physical and mental health through optimal digestion.
Relaxation is key as digestion functions best in a restful state. Eating mindfully and allowing ample time for digestion facilitates the absorption of vital nutrients for a healthy body and brain. Just sitting and taking a few slow breaths before we eat can change the way we digest the food in front of us.
Stress is another factor to consider. When we experience nervousness or anxiety, hormones and chemicals released in our bodies impact the digestive system, potentially affecting the microorganisms in our gut—the remarkable microbial universe aiding digestion.
Then, of course, you probably already know that your food choices significantly impact gut health and consequently, mental wellbeing.
So I’d recommend that you focus on incorporating the following elements into your diet:
- Fibre: Foods high in fibre, such as beans, legumes, oats, nuts, fruits, and vegetables, decrease inflammation and oxidative stress by nourishing gut microbes.
- Vitamin D: Regulating the microbiome and reducing gut inflammation, Vitamin D can be obtained from sources like egg yolks, tuna, and salmon.
- Protein: Consumption of protein stimulates serotonin production, improving mood and reducing depression. Good protein sources include eggs, milk, yoghurt, meat, fish, pulses, nuts, and seeds.
- Omega-3s: These fatty acids lower cholesterol, enhance memory and cognitive function, and reduce sugar cravings. Omega-3-rich foods include walnuts, flax seeds, salmon, sardines, and mackerel.
- Probiotic-rich and prebiotic-rich foods: Probiotic foods, such as sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, and kombucha, introduce healthy bacteria to your gut, while prebiotic-rich foods, including dark chocolate, nourish your existing good gut bacteria.
- Water: Hydration is so important for digestion, but I would recommend you only sip water with meals to avoid diluting stomach acid. It’s a good idea to have a glass of water while preparing or waiting for a meal to up for water intake and help your digestion. By focusing on nourishing your gut, through mindful eating and incorporating these nutrient-dense foods, you can positively impact your mental health and overall wellbeing.
You don’t need to wait for further scientific advancements, you can start now and support your digestive health to cultivate a healthier body and mind.