Mammoth Health

A Gut Feeling

kehoestraditionalsauerkrautEmerging research is increasingly highlighting the significance of the role of our gut and its influence on our mental health, our immunity, our weight, our metabolism and on disease prevention and treatment. The human microbiome is the collection of microorganisms or bacteria (known as microbiota) that ordinarily exist in and on the surfaces of the human body. The majority of our microbiota however, reside within the gastrointestinal tract and make up approximately two kilograms of body weight.

Emerging evidence now links alterations in the gut microbiota to brain and neurological function, psychiatric symptoms, obesity, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome and coeliac disease, to name a few.

Discoveries such as these deepen our understanding that the human microbiome plays a remarkable role in health and perhaps more attention should be directed towards it beyond simply re-inoculating the gut during and after antibiotic use.

How the state of your gut affects how you feel

An exciting and rapidly emerging field of neuroscientific research suggests that our gut microbiota also has an influence on our mood.

Whilst this research is not new, studies dating back to the early nineteenth and twentieth centuries  show a link between the gut and emotional health,  the ability of the gut microbiota and the brain to communicate (known as the microbiome-gut-brain axis) in balancing human health, is at the forefront of modern research.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep and appetite, balance mood and inhibit pain. About 95% of serotonin is produced in the gut and is highly influenced by the billions of “good” bacteria that reside there (Selbub 2015).

What is very interesting is that Dr Eva Selbub’s research shows our microbiota activates the neural pathways that travel directly between the gut and the brain and studies have shown that when people took a probiotic supplement, their anxiety levels, perception of stress, and mental outlook improved, compared with people who did not take the probiotics. Felice Jacka is an Associate Professor at Deakin University, and has done extensive research on the link between what we eat, the state of our gut and how we feel.  She compared “traditional” diets like the Mediterranean diet and the traditional Japanese diet to the typical “Western” diet. She found that those who ate a Western diet were 50% more likely to have a depressive episode. Whereas those who ate a traditional diet were 35% less likely to suffer from depression and 32% less likely to suffer from anxiety. Traditional diets tend to be higher in fresh fruit and vegetables, unprocessed grains, legumes and fish and contain only modest amounts of lean meats and dairy. They also contain minimal processed and refined foods that are high in sugar and preservatives. What’s more many of these unprocessed foods are fermented and therefore act as natural probiotics.  Most traditional diets around the world contain fermented foods such as kimchi from Korea, miso from Japan, sauerkraut from Germany, pickles from Holland, kefir from Russia and Turkey, yoghurt from Turkey & Greece and kombucha from China and Japan. And what’s more these foods are now readily available at local health food and speciality stores.

Next week we’ll look at the role of probiotics and the research on individual strains and specifically identifying which strain influences our mood, our weight and our immunity.

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