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Health and Wellbeing

The importance of gut health

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Health and Wellbeing

08 Mar 2018

The importance of gut health

The gut and the brain

A lot of clients come to me struggling with symptoms of anxiety and depression, wanting strategies to better cope with some of their daily struggles.

Many of these individuals might also be on medication and/or be leading stressful lives fuelled by plenty of coffee and meals on the go.

With some of these individuals, my conversation includes a discussion about their gut! Why? Because research is now well and truly pointing to the fact that your mental health is very linked to the health of the microbes in your gut.

In addition to the brain in your head, embedded in the wall of your gut is your enteric nervous system (ENS) which contains 500 million neurons and is thought to be largely responsible for your “gut instincts”, responding to environmental threats and sending information to your brain that affects your well-being.

Lifestyle factors that affect gut health

Many people are well aware that taking antibiotics or eating highly processed and artificial food has a negative impact on your gut health but did you also know that the use of over-the-counter products and medications, such as mouthwashes, aspirin and antacids can reek havoc in your gut also? The same can be said for sanitation products such as antibacterial soaps.

In addition to this, a lack of exercise (and its association with things like obesity and diabetes) has been shown to result in a decrease in good microbial populations in your gut.

Diet also plays a key role in gut health, with diets high in saturated fat resulting in an increased number of pro-inflammatory gut microbes which can result in discomfort and even the intestinal disorder irritable bowel syndrome.

Another lifestyle factor, stress, has a major impact on our gut. Put simply, when you’re experiencing elevated stress levels, your brain goes into flight-or-fight mode, which can impact the blood flow to your gut. This is why it’s common to experience a lull in digestive and immune health in tandem with episodes of heightened stress.

Lastly, a lifestyle factor that certainly alters gut health is the disorganisation of your Circadian rhythm, occurring because of travel, shift work, having small children or insomnia.

Easy ways to improve gut health

Diet – Adding beneficial bacteria to your diet is essential for maintaining proper balance and achieving optimal physical and mental health and you can do this simply by introducing these into your diet:

Fermented foods - Healthy choices include fermented drinks such as kefir (buy this at passion foods in South Melbourne, the organic food stores at South Melbourne market or Broad Bean Organic Grocer in Southbank), various pickled fermentations such as Kimchi (buy this at any of the Asian food stores within South Melbourne market); and

Strategic supplementation – Natural anti-inflammatories like polyunsaturated fats (evening primrose oil and fish oil), turmeric, and probiotics to name a few, can help promote a good gut health (consult with your local pharmacist to see which supplement might be right for you).

For more information, support or if you have any questions, comments or ideas for future columns feel free to contact me anytime.

Exercise – High intensity interval exercise has some great benefits for the gut.  It gives the best bang for your buck in terms of cardiovascular and gut benefit. Try practising 30 minutes of high intensity exercise three times a week (either at home, in the park or at a fitness club like F45 in Southbank or free Zumba at Boyd Community Centre).

Meditation – The effects of stimulating the relaxation nervous system, even by listening to a 20-minute guided meditation, can be far-reaching.  Jump on YouTube and do a guided meditation in the morning or evening.


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