Ever wondered why your stomach feels queasy when you are nervous or stressed? Or why you get butterflies when you are excited and happy? The answer might surprise you. It’s because your gut and brain are connected. Angela Leach, the Head Dietitian for FUTURELIFE®, says that your emotions can affect your gut and vice versa. “The neural, hormonal and immunological pathways between the brain and your gut move in both directions. It is known as the gut-brain-axis which is affected by the gut microbiome found in your gastrointestinal tract,” she says.
Angela adds that the gastrointestinal tract acts as a bridge between the inside and outside of our body by decreasing the chance for bacteria or pathogens in the intestine from entering our bloodstream. A health report from Harvard Medical School found that a person’s stomach or intestinal distress can be the cause or the product of anxiety, stress, or depression because of the interconnectedness between the brain and the gut. “Any changes that occur inside or outside the body can result in changes in our microbiome which then affect other bodily functions and of course, the brain. Diet, stress, infections, antibiotics and environment, influence these changes, which cause inflammation that can result in a leaky gut. This, in turn, impairs the central nervous system and influences stress, cognition, behaviour and pain sensitivity” she adds.
“There is no denying that various factors can play a role in how our gastrointestinal tract functions, impacting digestion of nutrients. We can help our bodies by increasing certain types of bacteria in our gut which will possibly improve our mental health and overall wellbeing,” she says.
We can achieve this by introducing probiotics into our diet. “Probiotics are highly beneficial, not just for gut function, but they can also improve your mental health. There are various strands of probiotics, but Lactobacillus helveticus, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, Bifidobacterium longum and Bifidobacterium bifidum, have proven to be the most effective strands for mental health,” Angela says. A study found an improvement in anxiety and depression symptoms when probiotics were introduced in the participants’ diet. Angela adds that a professional diagnosis is necessary for people suffering from these conditions, but there is proof that probiotics can positively impact mental wellbeing.
“The key is to make certain types of bacteria (probiotics), more readily available for your body to use. You can also include foods that are specifically beneficial for the gut-brain-axis. These include foods rich in omega-3 fats, high fibre foods, fermented foods like yoghurt, and polyphenol-rich foods, like green tea and olive oil, and tryptophan-rich foods like cheese,” says Angela. A great option is the FUTURELIFE® BRAN FLAKES which are high in fibre and contain probiotics. This combination can improve the function of the digestive system, which will ultimately improve mental health.
“The gut-brain connection is a fairly new area that is being explored, but evidence so far points to incredible results. There is no harm in increasing the intake of foods that are beneficial for the gut and brain because they will positively impact your health and overall wellbeing,” Angela concludes.