When you are nervous, do you feel the “butterflies in your stomach”? That’s because you are likely getting the signal from your “second brain” in your gut.
Scientist call this brain the enteric nervous system (ENS), which is an extensive network of more than 100 million nerve cells living your gastrointestinal tract. Research suggested that gut and our brain talk to each other regularly with, which is known as “the brain-gut axis”.
For decades, researchers and doctors thought that anxiety and depression lead to functional bowel problems such as constipation, diarrhoea, bloating and stomach upset. However, recent studies have found that it may also be the other way around. Irritation in the gastrointestinal system can trigger the mood change by sending signals to the central nervous system (CNS).
Not only the gut microbiome affects our mental health, it’s also controlling our immune system and helping you fight infections, such as Covid and early cancer. Gut microbes absorb nutrients from food and produce chemicals such as short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) which have significant effect on our immune system and act as anti-inflammatory mediators. A study suggest that short chain fatty acids have potential therapeutic applications against COVID-19.1
SCFAs are produced by your gut microbes fermenting fibre in your colon. This fibre is known as prebiotics. To benefit from SCFAs, you need to feed these friendly gut microbes 30g of fibre daily. But for adult in UK, the average fibre intake is 18g, so most of us have long way to go.2
5 ways to improve your gut health
- Eat more fibre. In modern life, we eat a lot of foods are ultra-processed, low fibre and high sugar. Slowly adding more fibre in your diet is a great way to improve your gut health.
- Eat the rainbow. Choose colourful fruits and vegetables, eat plenty of plant-based foods and lean protein can have positive impact on your gut.
- Eat fermented food or take probiotics. Probiotics are live good bacteria. You can get probiotics from supplements or from fermented foods, such as yogurt, kefir, kimchi, kombucha, pickles and unpasteurised cheeses.
- Avoid processed foods. Reducing the amount of processed foods and cutting back on foods are high in sugar, fat and/or salt can contribute to better gut health.
- Lower your stress level. Chronic stress can affect your whole body, including your gut. Some ways to reduce stress including meditation, walking, listening to music, talking to friends, laughing, yoga and reducing caffeine intake.
- Takabayashi, T., et al. (2021) Regulation of the Expression of SARS-CoV-2 Receptor Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme 2 in Nasal Mucosa. American Journal of Rhinology & Allergy. doi.org/10.1177/19458924211027798.
- The Association of UK Dieticians. https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/fibre.html