Every single day, you take steps to make sure that you can be as happy as possible. You’ve tried to pick a job you don’t hate. You take a meal to work that you like. You select the TV shows or books that you enjoy as opposed to the one you hate (i.e. any reality programme). There is, however, one aspect of happiness that is chronically overlooked: Your gut health. This is such a meaningful part of your overall mental wellbeing that many researchers have dubbed your gut your second brain. And if your gut isn’t functioning properly, all the positive life choices in the world won’t be able to undo the deficit. Let’s explore the wonders of your gut biome, and how to manage it as effectively as possible.
The gut microbiome is the community of microorganisms that live in your digestive system, specifically in your intestines. It is made up of a diverse array of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microorganisms that play a number of important roles in your body. Before you get worried, these are all crucial to a well functioning biome. It isn’t like the bad bacteria that you see on advertisements for cleaning products. The gut microbiome helps to digest your food, supports your immune system, and produces certain vitamins.
But here is where it gets interesting! The gut and the brain are connected through the gut-brain axis, a system of communication that enables the gut and the brain to influence each other. The gut microbiome can influence the gut-brain axis in a number of ways, including through the production of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, which play a role in mood regulation. Research has shown that an imbalance in the gut microbiome, known as dysbiosis, may be linked to an increased risk of mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. Some studies have also suggested that altering the gut microbiome through diet or the use of probiotics may have a beneficial effect on mental health.
So, if it is as important as the research is beginning to show, what can you do to promote a healthy mix of bacteria in your microbiome?
- Increase the amount of fibre you are getting in your diet. The quickest way is to eat a varied diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. This might include:
- Beans, lentils and other legumes. These tend to be your best bang for buck when looking for fibre. Edamame (whilst being delicious) contains around nine grams per cup of fibre which is pretty hard to beat.
- Leafy greens like broccoli, kale, cauliflower and cabbage. In fact, research has shown that the five grams of fibre you get per cup of broccoli can make a huge difference in your overall gut health
- Berries. These often get a rood rap for their antioxidant qualities, but they are also chock full of fibre. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, these are a great after dinner snack because they are also super low in kilojoules. It’s a win win!
- Avocado. It goes with almost everything and usually enhances the flavour. But it also contains around ten grams of fibre per cup, so every avocado on toast you consume is actually an investment in your mental health. Feel free to tell that to the next person who accuses you of not owning a home because you eat too much avocado!
- Whole grains. Wheat bread, brown rice, and oats. These will also have the added benefit of filling you up more than anything else on this list, and drip feeding you that energy throughout the day (This is commonly called ‘low GI’).
- Avoid processed foods and sugary drinks, as these can disrupt the balance of microorganisms in your gut. Sugar promotes the growth of negative bacteria in your gut which can eventually lead to dysbiosis. Sugary foods also tend to be low in fibre so they aren’t giving you any of the good stuff while they add a lot of the bad.
- Consider taking a probiotic supplement, which contains live microorganisms that can help to support the balance of bacteria in your gut. Wanderlust have a number of great probiotic products to repopulate your microbiome with the kinds of bacteria which help. Consider Wanderlust Gut Goodness which contains fibre from green bananas and the bacteria from various organic herbs and root vegetables. If you’re after something other than Wanderlust anything probiotic will do the trick.
- Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and support healthy digestion. If you end up dehydrated, this can disrupt the balance of good bacteria in your microbiome. Additionally, your body uses water to flush out the toxins and waste products that might cause havoc in your gut
- Exercise regularly, as this can support the health of your gut microbiome. Research has shown that it leads to a more diverse culture of bacteria in your gut as it moves the bad toxins out leaving the productive kinds.
- Try to reduce stress, as high levels of stress have been linked to an imbalance in the gut microbiome. This won’t surprise many of you, but when you stress, everything in your body works a little bit less effectively. Consider how frequently you get sick when you’re stressed. Your immune system doesn’t function as well as it should, and the same goes for your gut microbiome. It is easier said than done to minimise your stress, but when you think about it, your happiness and mental wellbeing is on the line. Few things can be more important.
- Finally, avoid overuse of antibiotics, as these can kill off both harmful and beneficial bacteria in the gut. Think of them as like a nuclear blast: It destroys everything, whether helpful or harmful. Sometimes, you need to use them to beat a sickness that just won’t go away. But if you can avoid it, it is always better to leave your microbiome populated.
Each of these steps will contribute to a diverse and flourishing gut. And this in turn will help you to get out of bed each day with a smile on your face.
Disclaimer: This is only intended as general advice. Some people have suffered trauma and their mental health requires help in a variety of ways. Other people will have chemical imbalances that affect their mental health. This is only intended to show one approach that should be used in a balance with advice provided with GPs and psychologists.