According to New Scientist magazine, “Your gut bacteria weigh more than your brain”, so that’s a hell of a lot of microbes swirling around! And, in recent years, neuroscientists have been becomingly increasingly aware of the mind gut connection.
It now seems that there is a connection between anxiety and depression, and the presence of certain bacteria in the gut.
The Mind Gut Connection
A study conducted on laboratory mice showed that switching the gut bacteria of an “anxious” mouse with those of a “normal” mouse, completely reversed their personalities. The “normal” mouse became anxious and vice versa. This clearly seems to demonstrate that there is a link between the microbes living in the gut and behavioural signs of stress.
Furthermore, a study conducted at University College Cork showed that mice fed a probiotic solution demonstrated fewer signs of stress and anxiety. Probiotics are live bacteria which help promote gut health and are often found in yoghurt (among other things). And a similar study was conducted – this time on humans! – in which a group of women drank a yoghurt drink containing probiotics over a period of four weeks. At the end of the study, scans showed there had been changes in the areas of the brain that process emotions.
It seems clear, then, that what goes on in our gut has a definite effect on how we process and experience emotions and stress.
So what can you do to calm your tummy and your mind?
Here are a few things you can do to help bring balance to your gut and, hopefully, boost your mood.
1) Include more probiotics in your diet.
The best probiotic may be Lactobacillus Rhamnosus, which is known to release GABA, an anti-anxiety neurotransmitter. However, it can be difficult to find this outside of a science lab!
- Natural yoghurt is a great source of probiotics – avoid anything highly flavoured, or with added sugar, and look for the word bifidus on the label (a type of probiotic). Similarly, Kefir – a fermented dairy product – contains high levels of lactobacilli and bifidobacteria.
- It is also possible to buy probiotics in pill form over the counter. Look for ones that contain: Bifidobacterium infantis 35624, Lactobacillus plantarum 299V or Bifidobacterium bifidum MIMBb75 (bifidus). These are particularly good for bloating and gas, if you are susceptible to stomach pains.
2) Include prebiotics in your diet as well.
The bacteria in your gut need a good environment in which to thrive and work effectively. They need to feed on prebiotics – otherwise known as non digestible fibre. Try to get at least 38g of fibre a day in your diet. Here are a couple of great sources of fibre:
- vegetables like garlic, onion, leeks, chives, and scallions are all great prebiotic sources.
- If you’re a porridge fan, rejoice! Whole oats are another good source of prebiotics. They also increase healthy gut bacteria and improve blood sugar control.
- Flaxseed and wheat bran both promote healthy gut bacteria and can be added to oatmeal or baked goods for a tasty fibre addition.
3) Eat enough healthy fats.
Fats have suffered from poor marketing and demonisation from the health and fitness world for many years. However, it seems as if the tables are finally turning and people are waking up to the importance of including enough fat (of the right kind) in our diets. In order to promote gut health, we need to be including lots of lovely Omega-3 fats in our diet. These come from:
- Coconut oil and extra virgin olive oil, and grass-fed butter.
- Oily fish, such as salmon and mackerel.
- You can also take an Omega-3 supplement such as cod liver oil.
4) Reduce your sugar intake.
Scientists at Oregon State University discovered that mice fed a high-sugar diet experienced certain changes in their gut bacteria which actually decreased their brain function. It causes a decrease in the ability to adjust to changing situations and dulls the brain’s ability to sense when you are full.
- Try to avoid processed food such as cereal, shop-bought sauces and anything labelled as low fat (usually they replace the fat with sugar!)
- Try replacing your usual rice and pasta for brown and whole wheat alternatives.
- Create meals around protein and vegetables, rather than around a main carb.
But Don’t Panic…!
However, whilst the mind gut connection does have an impact on your mental health, it is also important not to fixate completely on your diet. If you become obsessed by eating a certain way, it can end up becoming a new anxiety and stress in your life. Everything in moderation and, most importantly, enjoy your food!
Interested in finding out more about how your diet can help your mental health? Sign up by putting your details in the box below and you’ll get access to an anti-anxiety diet cheat sheet and some meal plan ideas that will help you change your eating habits for the better. Plus some cheeky bonuses!
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Speak soon, Harriet xxx