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2022-02-25

Feel good from within: 5 ways to boost the gut-mood connection

Nutrition • Gut Health Tips

Did you know that your gut can have a profound impact on your mood? Our Gut Health Specialist, Eve Kalinik gives you 5 of her best tips to boost your happiness from within.

Our gut is often referred to as the ‘second’ or ‘little’ brain and this is because it has its own neural network called the enteric nervous system. This compromises of around 500 million neurons and is able to operate completely independently from the central nervous system and the brain in our head.

Our gut, therefore, has its own thinking potential and further to this research is revealing that our gut microbiome (collectively all the microbes in our gut) can have an influence on our mood. This is believed to happen in a direct and indirect way. Directly it seems as though there are neurochemicals that are produced in our gut just like our brains such as serotonin which is often dubbed the ‘happy neurotransmitter’ and has a significant impact on our mood.

"We might naturally assume that most of this is produced in our brain but actually, it is our gut that is responsible for making 90-95% of overall serotonin"

We might naturally assume that most of this is produced in our brain but actually, it is our gut that is responsible for making 90-95% of overall serotonin.  Indirectly our gut microbiome can also influence our mood via the immune system and using this line of communication to send signals to our brain. Taking this into consideration, and looking at studies on patients with a major depressive disorder, it is no wonder that the microbiome of these people is very different from those who do not suffer from depression.

Furthermore, research shows us that there are missing microbes in those that suffer from depressive disorders. This is perhaps why the role of ‘psychobiotics’ is one that is rapidly growing, which is essentially looking at how probiotic therapy may be a useful adjunct to talking therapy in these cases. On a day-to-day basis though there are some key factors that we can consider when we are looking to help support our gut health and mood.

01 FEED OUR MICROBES

Providing sufficient fuel for our gut microbes can allow them to proliferate and thrive since research shows that insufficiencies and/or imbalances in the microbiome have been linked to depression and other mood disorders. Crucially our gut microbes rely on fibre as their main source of food and in as many different sources as possible as our current understanding is the more diverse the microbiome the healthier, and in this case, the happier it is. Fibre is found in all types of plant-based foods including vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and nuts & seeds so we really want to aim for as broad an intake as possible. 

KÄLLA FOR REPAIR is designed to help nourish the gut barrier and support this connection.

Tips on how to achieve this…

01

Have a stock of store cupboard grains that can be rotated for morning porridges or overnight oats and used in various salads, soups, or sides to main meals. Making up a bigger batch of these and freezing them into portions can also be a really convenient and easy way to do this. 

02

Think about blending a variety of veggies and fruits into smoothies or soups to get some easy diversity.

03

Make up a nut and seed seasoning mix with 3-4 types that can be used to sprinkle over porridge, soups, vegetables or over natural yogurt. 

02 EAT SOURCES OF TRYPTOPHAN

Tryptophan is the amino acid we need to take in through our diet that we then convert into serotonin in the body which is the neurotransmitter most related to our mood. Foods that are rich in tryptophan include chicken, turkey, salmon, organic grass-fed red meat, and tofu or tempeh. This is why chicken soup may have its famous saying that it's ‘good for the soul’. Other co-factor nutrients that are important for this conversion are magnesium, vitamin B6, vitamin C and zinc which can be found in foods such as avocados, spinach, broccoli, peppers, bananas, pumpkin seeds, shellfish, and whole grains. 

03 ENJOY FERMENTED FOODS

Fermented foods contain sources of beneficial bacteria and yeast that can help to bolster and nourish our existing microbiome which can impact our mood. These include natural live yogurt, traditional cheese, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha. Furthermore, fermented foods may also provide a source of GABA which is our main inhibitory ‘calming’ neurotransmitter and curbs feelings of anxiety. Alongside fermented foods, it may be worth considering a probiotic supplement but to be clear this is not some kind of panacea for gut health and certainly not for mood disorders but it may have a beneficial role.

KÄLLA FOR REPAIR is designed to help nourish the gut barrier and support this connection.

04 MANAGE INFLAMMATION

Research is suggesting that one of the denominating factors in the development of depression may be related to heightened inflammation in the gut. Including sufficient amounts of Omega-3 rich foods can help to better manage this which includes oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines, anchovies), organic grass-fed meat and in lower amounts plant-based forms such as flaxseed, chia seeds and walnuts. Enriching meals in both polyphenols and flavor provides anti-inflammatory and gut nourishing benefits which include any and all types of spices - think turmeric, chilli, paprika, ginger and also dried herbs.

"Research is suggesting that one of the denominating factors in the development of depression may be related to heightened inflammation in the gut".

Green tea is also rich in polyphenols and provides a less jittery source of caffeine than coffee which can heighten feelings of anxiety. And organic bone broth contains a wealth of amino acids such as glutamine, collagen, and glycine that help nourish and soothe the gut barrier. Whilst it is really important to add in some of the above it is also just as crucial to remove foods and other factors that can increase inflammation. Alcohol in all forms is one of these which can act as a direct depressant in itself but can also heighten inflammation in the gut. Similarly, high amounts of refined sugars, carbs, and ultra-processed foods provide very little in way of fibre.

Up polyphenol-rich spices with these tips…

01

Add spices to morning eggs to give them a flavorsome and polyphenol gut nourishing boost! I particularly love golden scramble with ground turmeric, a little milk of your choice, and plenty of butter.

02

Elevate morning porridges and overnight oats with cinnamon, ginger or cardamom

03

Add cumin and fennel seeds to lentils that you can warm through and serve as a side to pan-fried salmon or top with grilled halloumi 

05 CURB THE DEVICE ENTHUSIASM

Being incessantly glued to devices can have a direct impact on our mood and mental wellbeing for myriad reasons. However, overuse of devices can also have an impact on the quality and quantity of our sleep as we scroll away endlessly into the evening. Lack of and/or poor-quality sleep has many knock-on negative effects not least because when we are tired we feel more emotional. However, it can also have a direct impact on the composition and the health of the microbiome that can lead to mood symptoms. Sometimes there are factors out of our control that can affect our sleep but for many of us, it is often due to perpetual use of our phones.

Prioritising our bedtime is therefore key to helping support our microbiome and our mood. Switching off devices at least an hour before bedtime and using this time to take a bath, read a book, journal thoughts, and feelings from the day that might otherwise keep us up a night, and practicing some kind of mindful practice like simple breathing exercises can all have a positive effect.

Check out Eve Kalinik's recipe of ‘Salmon fish cakes with avocado spinach salad and miso sesame dressing’ for a delicious way to combine a few of these mood-boosting foods!

Eve Kalinik, Gut Health Specialist

Nutritional Therapist, Author and Podcaster, Eve Kalinik believes that having a healthy gut is fundamental to our overall well-being. She is a registered member of (BANT)(CNHC) and accredited by (IFM).