Increasingly we know that gut health is central to our overall wellbeing. The gut is inextricably linked to the brain, and when our gut health is bad our mental health often follows suit. But the truth is also the same the other way. When we’re stressed and our mental health is under pressure, it can have an affect on our gut health. Hence the phrase ‘nervous stomach’.
So what impact can stress have on gut health?
Experts talk about the ‘gut-brain axis’. It is a direct communication between the liver, gut and how brain chemistry is managed via the vagus nerve. There are studies proving that our gut bacteria has a direct impact on anxiety levels and stress resilience. This communication only happens however, when we’re not in stress mode. When we’re relaxed we can digest well, but we can’t when we’re in fight or flight mode. We need a healthy vagus nerve, which requires healthy gut bacteria. In turn that will help us manage the hormones that manage stress.
What can we do about it?
On the dietary side of things we can:
- Look after our gut bacteria by including a range of fermented foods in our diets. These include sauerkraut, kefir, natural yoghurt and some mature cheeses.
- Eat Fibre: it is essential but we can’t break it down. Our gut bacteria breaks it down and the result is that they thrive and we’re healthier. Fibre is in vegetables, low sugar fruit (berries, kiwis, indigenous apples), nuts and seeds, beans and lentils. These are probiotics - fibre that feeds gut bacteria.
- Try intermittent fasting. This doesn’t have to mean over days but rather hours. Try eating within a set number of hours in the day and then ‘fasting’ for 12-16 hours. For example, eat between the hours of 8am and 8pm.
On the stress relief side of things, we can also take measures to help relieve or manage our stress levels:
- Take gentle, regular exercise. This can even be going out for a short walk at lunchtime.
- Get a little fresh air every day.Try a short period of meditation first things in the morning for 10 minutes.
- Use aromatherapy to help affect your mood. We have some wonderful tips from Aromatherapy Associates on how to use aromatherapy in daily life, even in the office.