Your digestive system is like a garden.
This blog is all about how to love the garden that is your digestive system - how to look after the soil so the good things grow, how to reduce weeds, what to water it with and how to feed it.
The aim of this blog is to have you understand the importance of creating a healthy digestive environment (garden) and how doing so will help to improve mood...
So, firstly, we need to refresh our memories on the GUT-BRAIN connection.
Your digestive system and your brain are inextricably linked.
For a long time, it was thought that the primary function of the large Vagus nerve that connects the brain and digestive system was for the brain to send messages to the gut.
We know now that this is not true.
90% of the nerve impulses running along the vagus nerve go in an upward direction.
That is they go from the gut to the brain.
This means that our digestive system has a huge impact on the way that we feel.
When our digestive system is working well and our ‘garden’ is healthy we are able to:
break down food,
absorb all the nutrients our body’s need
& get rid of toxins.
As a result, we feel energised and happy, we are able to cope with stress, we sleep well and can concentrate for longer periods of time.
You’ve probably heard that it’s all about the “BUGS” in our guts, right?
These bugs make up part of our body’s microbiome. The microbiome is everywhere - on our skin in our ears and mouth.
Did you know, that your body actually contains 10x more microbe cells than human cells?
So we are more bacteria and fungi than human really :)
A large portion of our microbiome, a total weight of 1.5kg in most people, lives in our digestive system.
This 1.5kg of bugs have a very important role to play in the function of our digestive system.
Here are just some of the things the microbe cells or “bugs” help with:
Breaking down food and absorption of nutrients.
Maintenance of optimal bowel function and frequency.
Immune system function.
Making Neurotransmitters e.g. Serotonin the ‘Happy Hormone’.
The diversity and balance of the bugs in our digestive system is very important.
Just like in a garden, we want to help the positive strains of bacteria (the grass, flowers and trees) to flourish and to keep the bacterias that could potentially overgrow and cause problems for our digestive system (the weeds) in check.
An imbalance in these bacterias can cause uncomfortable digestive symptoms and can occur as a result of many things, such as a change in our diet or environment, as a result of infection, antibiotic use, alcohol consumption and stress.
So we know that our brains and digestive systems are connected.
And we know that having a healthy digestive system helps us to absorb all of the good stuff in the food we eat, as well as helping us to get rid of toxins and make neurotransmitters that support a healthy mood…
So how do we make it all happen?
How do we look after our digestive garden and create a healthy microbiome to improve mood and aid in mental wellness?
In answer to this question, I’ve put together…
10 simple tips to creating a healthy microbiome to improve mood:
Vary the foods you eat! Eating the same things all the time means you are effectively feeding the same bugs. Your garden needs a variety of foods and nutrients to feed it all, so keep the diversity high!
Tip: an easy way to make this happen is to buy 1 different or new vegetable/week e.g. if you never buy beetroot, buy some this week! Or another option is to experiment with how many colours you can fit into your meals. More colours = greater variety.
Remove ‘Killer’ Foods - alcohol is a big killer to your digestive flora. Imagine pouring ethanol on your nice rose garden. It’s the same with your digestive system.
Don’t get me wrong a nice glass of red wine with a delicious meal every now and again is great - but binging on alcohol wreaks havoc on your digestive system and doesn’t help your mood any either!
Reduce processed foods - they don’t do you any favours.
High in sugar and low in dietary fibre processed foods are inflammatory to the digestive system and when inflammation is high your digestive system can’t do the job of making the happy hormone and extracting all of the good nutrients from food for things like energy production.
Too many processed foods causes inflammation and ultimately creates an imbalance in the microbiome, as some of the good flowers and trees die and it leaves space for the not so great weeds to take over.
Incorporate as many fermented foods into your week as you can. Get those probiotics in by eating things like kimchi, sauerkraut, unsweetened greek yogurt, apple cider vinegar, kombucha, miso, tempeh, pickles.
Prebiotics feed the microbiome and help keep the good bugs happy. They are the fertiliser you use to feed your plants. Jerusalem artichokes, leek, onion, garlic, chicory root, asparagus, bananas, apples and cacao are all prebiotic containing foods and are high in fibre helping you to feel full and happy - include them liberally!
Spend time outdoors. Exposure to natural sunlight and spending time out releases positive hormones anyway, so it will naturally enhance mood. For the gut time outdoors exposes you to different potential microflora on your skin and helps to create diversity.
Manage stress levels. We know the brain and gut are linked. When stress is high so is the stress hormone cortisol. This shuts down digestive function and you won’t be taking full advantage of all the garden in your gut has to offer. Chronic stress can create an imbalance in the good and not so great bugs.
Drink plenty of warm or room temperature water. Watering your garden is one of the best things you can do - room or warm temp is more gentle on the smooth muscles of the digestive system and aids in digestion. Cold water causes the muscles to contract. Think about it, you probably wouldn’t throw a bucket of ice on your roses.
Try L-Glutamine. Glutamine is an amino acid found in protein-rich foods. It is great for reducing inflammation in the gut lining and bringing the cells that make up the gut lining ( the garden bed), nice and close together so nothing can escape out into the bloodstream. L-Glutamine is highest in meat, bone broth, chicken and fish, but also found in carrots, beetroot, cabbage and parsley. There are also great gut healing supplements that contain L-glutamine available from health food stores.
Get a dog :) This is not a subliminal message to my partner who knows I really want a dog... Research shows that regular exposure to our canine friends increases the diversity and strength of your our microbiome, how great is that?! (Don't you think, Jack?).
Hope these simple tips help you to look after your digestive garden, create happy moods and promote mental wellness.
We only get one big amazing digestive system, it’s well worth looking after.