UNDERSTANDING GUT HEALTH
The gut has gotten a lot of well-deserved attention over the past decade because of its important role in maintaining general health and wellbeing. It has now been established that there is such a thing as a brain-gut axis, and that there is a relationship between mental health, including stress and depression, and gut symptoms like experienced in irritable bowel syndrome.
The Science Behind Gut Health, According to a Nutritionist
London-based nutritionist, Clarissa Lenherr shares her knowledge and gives us some much-needed tips for a healthy gut!
The gut-brain connection: We have more bacterial cells in the body than we have human cells, and as part of our microbiome, they are corner-stones for physical and mental health. The gut microbiome is involved in creating immunity, in auto-immune disease and the biggest part of our immune system is located in the gut.
Clarissa: "The gut-brain axis is this fascinating connective pathway that resides between the brain and the gut, and is facilitated by millions of nerve cells. Our GI tracts are lined with over 100 million nerve cells which come together to form our ENS, the enteric nervous system. This network of millions of neurons, sends and receives messages, from our brain to our guts, and vice versa, via our internal highway known as the vagus nerve.
The vagus nerve, the longest of our twelve cranial nerves, runs from our brains to the top of our stomachs. The bacteria that sits in our guts directly affect the function of the cells that sit along the vagus nerve.
Thus if our guts are unhappy, they have a direct access line to our brains, allowing them to report into the brain and tell them about their unhappy state. And it goes both ways."
Clarissa, on the microbiome:
"The microbiome is a collection of bacteria, funghi, yeasts and even pathogens! It contributes to a variety of processes in the body including:
- Contributing to immune function (70% of the immune system is located in the digestive system)
- Responsible for crucial neurotransmitters norepinephrine, glutamate, dopamine and GABA.
- Breaks down our food for absorption
- Synthesises key vitamins such as Vitamin K and B Vitamins
- Plays a role in our hunger and satiety levels"
Gut and mental health: Taking care of your gut health can help improve our weight and metabolic state, it can improve immune function and mental health and prevent the development of anxiety and depression.
Clarissa: "Over 90% of Serotonin, the “feel-good” neurotransmitter that contributes to not only mood but also appetite, sleep, memory and libido is created in our GI tract. Therefore, when we have a compromised digestive system our guts aren’t as efficient at creating serotonin. Low levels of serotonin can impact our mood, making us feel low and in the long-term potentially anxious and even depressed.
Additionally, when our digestive systems are not digesting foods effectively, or absorbing nutrients, this may lead us with poor nutrient intake. Low levels of B vitamins, Iron and vitamin D can lead to fatigue and lowered mood."
A Doctor's Tips to Improve your Gut Health
The science clearly suggest that supporting your gut health is as important as getting enough sleep and exercising regularly, here are some of our best tips to help you get started:
Do eat: There are certain foods that are particularly good for your gut-health. These can benefit the “good bacteria” in your gut and help reduce the number of “bad bacteria”. We have between 300-500 different bacteria in the gut and they are part of our gut-microbiome. Good foods include all kinds of fruits and vegetables, berries, whole grains, chia seeds, nuts and seeds, olive oil, garlic, ginger, yogurts and fermented food like sauerkraut or sourdough bread.
Don’t eat: There are certain foods that you should limit to a minimum or totally stay away from if you can. These include most processed foods, especially processed meat like salami and hams that are linked to an increased risk of developing colon cancer. Alcoholic beverages and sugary drinks are also extremely damaging to your microbiome and general health. Lastly stay away from refined sugar and simple carbs like white bread or pasta.
Probiotics & prebiotics: Probiotics are beneficial live-bacteria and you can get them either through your diet or as a dietary supplement. Research has shown that taking probiotics might be able to help reduce depression. You can get probiotics through foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, tempeh, certain cheeses or you can get it as a supplement as either tablets or powder. Invivo, Biocol Labs and The Nue Co all have excellent probiotic formulas. Prebiotics are food for the good bacteria in the gut microbiome and include asparagus, bananas, oats, honey, maple syrup, legumes and Jerusalem artichokes.
Get enough fiber and drink water: Getting enough fiber can reduce constipation and help reduce the risk of colon-cancer as it decreases the transit time of the stool in the large intestine. It is recommended to eat between 25-40 mg per day. Many fibers can also act as a prebiotic, a so-called “superfood” feeding the good bacteria in the gut. Make sure to drink plenty of water. Constipation and fatigue are often caused by dehydration.
Regular exercise: Research has shown that getting regular exercise can help improve your gut-health. 20-30 minutes per day can help combat constipation and improve the gut-microbiome.
Reduce stress: If you are feeling stressed there is a good chance that you are also having gut-health issues as stress has a very bad influence on the gut. This is partly explained by the so-called brain-gut connection which has been the focus of much research the last decade. Reduce stress but make sure to make breaks in your day and fill them up with calming activities like walking, reading, getting a massage or meditation. Meditation is one of the most effective ways to reduce stress. For more tips on how to reduce stress find our stress tips online.
About Clarissa Lenherr
Clarissa Lenherr is a registered nutritional therapist and is passionate about educating people to discover and celebrate nutritious food, enabling clients to utilise and benefit from food and lifestyle choices in order to reach their optimum state of wellbeing. Clarissa practices personalised nutrition, advocating the “no one size fits all” approach. With this in mind, she works closely with clients to implement personalised nutritional strategies which fit into each client’s unique lifestyles and goals.
TheDrug.Store collaborates with Clarissa as part of our expert team. She is among our top nutritionists that we refer clients to. You can book a consultation with Clarissa here.
Join Dr Julie Moltke and Nutritionist Clarissa Lenherr on April 1st for a Webinar on Gut Health, register here!