May 21, 2019 3:49 pm Leave your thoughts
Positive, I’m sure! You no doubt admire our organic, natural and free from ranges, our passion for good food and health, and our commitment to a greener world. But – just for once – this blog isn’t all about us. We want to know about your gut feelings in general!
A few days ago, the BBC ran a radio programme outlining some controversial new research about our guts and our feelings. The research indicated that the state of our gut didn’t just affect our physical health (which seems obvious), but had the capacity to affect our mental health too – our “minds, thoughts and emotions”, as the related online article puts it. In the article (by James Gallagher, presenter of Radio 4’s The Second Genome), our gut bacteria are likened to “an invisible hand altering our brains”. What’s going on?
It’s all in the microbiome
There are billions and billions of microbes (bacteria, archaea, fungi, protozoa, algae, and viruses) living in our bodies. Indeed, only 43% of our cells are actually human – the rest of ‘us’ belongs to the other elements. Scientists refer to the collection of these microbes as our ‘microbiome’: each is unique, as we are.
The majority of microbes are found in our guts (our gastrointestinal tracts). We all know the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach – but it turns out it’s also the way to his brain (and indeed, to a woman’s too). The brain and gut are connected via the vagus nerve, which transmits information from one to the other. They interconnect in other ways too: bacteria break down food into short-chain fatty acids, which impact numerous parts of our bodies, and our microbes affect our immune systems, which have a part to play in brain disorders. There’s some evidence that microbes might be able to alter the workings of our DNA in nerve cells too.
On the radio programme, the scientist interviewed gave an example of the two-way link between obesity and depression: obese people are more likely to be depressed, while depressed people are more likely to be obese. Poor physical health has a fairly clear correlation with poor mental health in this and in many other areas.
But the new research goes much further, considering the precise link between our guts and our brains. Studies have looked, for example, at the gut bacteria of people with clinical depression. Professor Ted Dinan of Cork University Hospital noted: “If you compare somebody who is clinically depressed with someone who is healthy, there is a narrowing in the diversity of the microbiota…I believe for many individuals it does play a role in the genesis of depression”. They’ve also considered the possibility of a link between our microbiomes and autism, and have researched the effects of microbiomes on neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s. In the case of the latter, researchers reckon they have located differences between the gut biomes of sufferers and those who are unaffected. Professor Sarkis Mazmanian, a medical microbiologist from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), told the BBC that in the case of Parkinson’s: “The changes in the microbiome appear to be driving the motor symptoms”.
How to stay happy
If our gut bacteria are driving our happiness, our mental health and our neurological capabilities, how do we keep them in tip-top condition? According to Professor Dinan, what we need is a diverse microbiome, with a wide variety of different species.
Our microbiomes are created by a million tiny factors – the way in which we’re born has an effect, as do the illnesses we contract and the medicines we take throughout our lives. Even the kind of pets we have, or the animals we come into contact with, affect our microbiomes! Many aspects of our microbiomes are entirely out of our control. But one of them isn’t – and you’ve probably guessed what it is. A healthy diet is considered one of the keys to creating a diverse microbiome. In particular, the researchers in the studies discussed in the BBC article and programme pinpointed fibre as the most important element of such a diet.
We should emphasise that no-one is claiming that you develop Parkinson’s, autism or depression simply because you didn’t eat enough wholemeal bread or bran flakes – it’s obviously a lot more complicated than that. What the scientists are really excited about is that a link between the microbiome and the brain gives an avenue for treatment. If doctors can treat mental illnesses via the gut, they might have more success in alleviating or possibly even preventing symptoms.
Get gutsy with us
It might take the scientists some time, of course. In the meantime, for the best possible microbiome, you may as well take action yourself. Fibre is top of the scientists’ list and it’s top of ours too: eat a diet that’s high in fibre and as you do, you’ll find that you tick all kinds of other nutritional boxes too.
For a diet rich in fibre, it’s fresh fruit and vegetables, along with wholefoods, that you need to concentrate on. Wholefoods are the ‘whole’ of the food, with all of the edible fibrous outer husk and bran included. Perhaps the best-known fibrous wholefoods are pulses – beans, dried peas, lentils and chickpeas. On our wonderful wholefoods shelves, you’ll also find brown rice, wholewheat pasta and noodles, along with grains such as quinoa, barley, millet, buckwheat, couscous, rye and spelt. We stock wholemeal flour too, to make your own bread. If you’re following a gluten-free diet, you need to pay particular attention to the amount of fibre you consume. Many of our ready-made gluten-free products are enriched by high-fibre ingredients, such as psyllium husk.
We’ve also got a vast range of wholegrain cereals: everything from amaranth to wheatgerm, in natural form, or as grains, flakes or puffs. Oats, too, are great for fibre. We stock porridge oats and the thicker jumbo oats, as well as even more fibre-heavy oatmeal and oat groats.
For a great alternative source of protein – and fibre too – don’t forget nuts! Our nut range includes almonds, brazils, cashews, hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans, macadamias, peanuts and pistachios. We also have a fantastic range of fibre-rich seeds, ideal for snacks or for sprinkling on some of our wholegrain cereal. We’ve got dried fruit too: check out our dark, juicy organic apricots, our raisins, currants and sultanas, and our figs, dates and prunes.
Most importantly, beware of pre-prepared food that’s had the skin, bran or seeds removed. For a diet genuinely rich in fibre, you need to eat real, fresh and proper food whenever you can.
You’ve got some guts!
If you eat in the manner outlined above, you’re likely to find that your diet complies with virtually all the official and well-researched dietary advice there is out there. You’ll get a great complement of vitamins and minerals and will find that you’re taking in plenty of antioxidants and other essential elements. You’ll benefit from a diet that’s well-placed to keep your cholesterol levels balanced, your blood pressure low, your blood sugar stable, your weight at an appropriate level and your digestive system and bowels in tip-top condition. And – who knew? – you’ll also be creating a diverse and healthy microbiome, which should feed through to your mental health and neurological fitness too! So follow your gut – all the way to the shelves of Naturally Good Food!almonds, amaranth, bacteria, barley, BBC, beans, brazils, brown rice, buckwheat, cashews, chickpeas, couscous, currants, dates, depression, dried fruit, dried peas, fibre, figs, flakes, gastrointestinal, Gluten free, grains, gut, gut bacteria, guts, hazelnuts, high fibre, James Gallagher, jumbo oats, lentils, macadamias, mental health, microbacteria, microbes, microbiome, microbiota, millet, noodles, Nuts, oat groats, oatmeal, oats, obesity, organic apricots, Parkinson's, peanuts, pecans, pistachios, porridge oats, prunes, psyllium husk, puffs, Pulses, quinoa, Radio 4, raisins, rye, Seeds, spelt, stomach, sultanas, The Second Genome, tummy, walnuts, wheatgerm, Wholefoods, wholegrain cereal, wholegrain flour, wholemeal flour, wholewheat flour, wholewheat pasta
This post was written by Yzanne