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That Gut Feeling… How your Digestive System can Affect your Mood  

Our expert family nutritionist Catherine Jeans has kindly shared with Age Space some great advice on the importance of looking after our digestive system.

Did you know that your gut can have a dramatic impact on your mood, feelings of wellbeing and anxiety levels?  You know that saying, “butterflies in your tummy”… or “a gut feeling…” We commonly associate our feelings and emotions with our tummies or digestive system.  So you may find it no surprise to hear that researchers are now calling the gut, The Second Brain .

In fact, over 90% of our serotonin is made in our digestive system and this brain chemical has a direct impact on our mood and how we sleep. It can also affect our digestive function, appetite, our memory and how we manage stress.  You probably thought that serotonin was just a brain chemical, closely linked to depression and other mood disorders! Well in part that’s true, serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is often called our “feel good” brain chemical! But the vast majority is made in our gut, which is why our digestive system can have such a significant influence on our brain health and mood . 

Feeding The Second Brain

So if we want to help support our mood and brain health, then it makes sense to feed the second brain and all its tiny best friends that make up the gut microbiome! One of the best ways to do this is to keep feeding the microbiome with lots of fibre, from a broad variety of vegetables and fruit. In fact, it’s the variety of the gut organisms that we need to support, rather than just the quantity, and we can do this by eating lots of different fibre rich foods. In fact, many microbiome experts now recommend eating over 20 different types of vegetables across a 7 day period, alongside plenty of soluble fibre from other sources such as wholegrains, nuts, seeds, beans, pulses and fruit. 

We can also help to feed the beneficial bacteria levels by reducing our intake of sugar, as well as refined white carbohydrates, which tend to feed the wrong type of bacteria in our bowels, at the expense of the beneficial organisms. 

Chewing our food well and eating in a relaxed environment may also help to stimulate the digestion and maximise absorption of our nutrients. Addressing our stress levels is also important, because stress can also feed back to the gut and directly impact on our levels and diversity of gut bacteria.  

Serotonin Boost 

Imbalanced serotonin levels can affect people of any age, including the elderly, especially as they may not spend as much time outside or get as much sunlight.  In fact, our natural circadian rhythms are established when we wake up with sunlight and see the sun set… and this helps us to build up serotonin levels in the day, which convert to melatonin at night and support a good night’s sleep.  

Which is why it’s important to encourage older relatives to try and get outside for at least a short period every day, as this will boost their serotonin levels and aid a better night time routine.  

The elderly also tend to be more prone to infection and may require more antibiotics and medications which can affect levels of healthy gut micro flora… so you may want to make sure that your Mum or Dad take some fermented foods or a beneficial bacteria supplement on an ongoing basis to help support good bacterial balance.  This may also help to keep their immune system stronger, as the gut microbiome help to balance and programme the immune system.  

Try kefir (a natural yoghurt with high levels of good organisms), which is now available in many supermarkets, or some sauerkraut! You can also find many beneficial bacteria capsules in your local health food stores – look for something with a range of different organisms, with at least 1 billion organisms. 

Scientists are discovering more and more about the complex relationship between the gut and the brain, and with this new knowledge they are discovering a new potential treatment model for those with mental illness and psychiatric disorders which will influence wider holistic treatment for managing good mental health. 

Just in case you missed it, Cath has also written a wonderful blog on nutrition and keeping your bones healthy, click HERE to read.

For more expert nutrition advice visit Cath’s site – www.thefamilynutritionexpert.com 

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