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Immunity; just a gut feeling? Or is it all in my head?
Ever wondered why after a weekend of BBQs, takeaways and booze (if you’re old enough!) you feel a bit low?
It’s the fact that what we put in our mouths is now proven to have a huge impact on how we feel. It’s why we sometimes describe a ‘gut feeling’ or have ‘butterflies in our stomach’ when we’re feeling anxious. Improving our gut health can make us feel good and protect our immunity. And here’s why:
The gut-brain what???
The gut-brain axis describes the bidirectional physical and biochemical relationship between our gut and brain organs. It involves direct and indirect pathways between the brain and intestinal function, as well as the endocrine (hormone), immune and nervous system.
The connection between our digestive system and our brains is only just beginning to be fully explored and understood. But as an example, 95% of the body’s neurotransmitter serotonin, responsible for our circadian rhythm and happiness, is produced in the gut. Studies have proven that feeding the gut probiotics can reduce feelings of anxiety and depression like behaviour in mice.
The gut is made up of 1014 microorganisms within the gut, which is 10x the number of the total cells in our body. So it’s massive. It also makes up ¾ of our immune system. So keeping that area tickety boo is pretty crucial. As well as diet, lots of environmental factors now impact our microbiome like pollution and harsh cleaning products. Disruptions to the microbiome in the gut are increasingly being linked to the prevalence of allergies, autoimmune diseases, metabolic disorders and neuropsychiatric disorders.
Chronic inflammation, immunity and our minds
The relationship here works both ways too. Chronic stress is now known to disturb the balance of the microbiome. It is also known to impact intestinal permeability (leaky gut syndrome). This in turn triggers our bodies inflammatory response and chronic low grade inflammation is connected to mental health problems like depression. And so we find ourselves in a vicious cycle.
Here are three Welfy ways to boost your gut health and reap the benefits for your mind and your immune system:
Top 3 tips:
1. Plant based diversity
Most sources now align on the fact that eating a diet high in plant based diversity is good for your overall health and in particular your gut health, which will reduce inflammation in the body, improving our mental wellbeing and our immunity. The three key things to remember are:
Variety – in his brilliant book ‘Spoon Fed’ Tim Spector, among other experts, now recommend 20-30 different varieties of plant based foods a week. Remember everything from the plant counts – not just fruit and veg, whole grains, seeds and nuts.
Fibre – as well as keeping your digestion flowing, dietary fibre acts as fertiliser for your good gut bacteria. Some fibre is fermented by gut bacteria, producing short-chain fatty acids, which improve immunity, reduce inflammation in your body and even keep you slim. Most plant foods are rich in dietary fibre but remember to eat your skins and up your intake of wholegrains and beans!
Colour – literally eat the rainbow! Bright red, green and purple foods are filled with an armoury of phytonutrients. Lycopene, anthocyanins, carotenoids, chlorophyll found in brightly coloured fruit and veg, all have anti-oxidant and anti- inflammatory superpowers.
Probiotics have long been connected with gut health and immunity. Increasingly, studies are proving the connection between taking probiotics and improving our mental health. There is some debate over the best way to get the probiotics into our gut. Some people prefer supplements, some prefer to boost their microbiome more naturally. Our favourite way is with fermented foods.
We recommend trying natural live yoghurt, kimchi, sour kraut or kombucha. See which one you like and start to incorporate it into your daily diet.
Now that we know a bit more about the two-way connection between our mind and gut and we’ve explored some ways to improve our gut health which will have benefits for our mind, let’s look at a way to calm our mind that will also have benefits for our gut and our immunity. Increasingly, medical professionals with an interest in lifestyle medicine are coming around to what holistic medicine has been recommending forever; we can alleviate multiple symptoms all over bodies using our breath.
Breathing techniques, unlike drugs, have no side effects and can be practised for free, by anyone, anywhere. There are hundreds of different practises designed to tackle different challenges we may be having – stress, anxiety, IBS. And you may find that trying one will have benefits for a secondary problem you weren’t even trying to fix! Lots of people find breathwork more accessible than meditation because you are guided through the practise and have something to focus on to prevent your mind from wandering.
You can join a class or download an app like Calm or Peloton to get you started.
Let food by thy medicine, and medicine be thy food
This month’s Personal Wellbeing Report content has been supplied by Welfy, a workplace wellbeing training consultancy supporting individuals and businesses to redefine success. We specialise in workplace wellbeing workshops, wellbeing strategy consultancy and leadership development helping people to live happier, healthier and more productive lives. To find out more, visit www.welfy.co.uk.
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