Did you know that you have a brain in your gut? It may not reason or help us write…but it can have a major influence on your mood.

Inside our digestive system lies what is known as the enteric nervous system, which has over 100 million neurons, more than the spinal cord, which is pretty incredible. What makes this even more amazing is that up to 90 percent of these neurons are solely responsible for carrying information to the brain rather than receiving messages from it, making your gut as influential to your mood as your head is.

That’s why you often get a ‘gut feeling’ about somebody, or react to something because of a ‘gut instinct.’

This is because the bacteria in our gut are communicating through our enteric nervous system with our brains.

I had the pleasure of talking with Dr Megan Rossi a Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist with a PhD in gut health, about the latest trends in gut health.

Megan has recently partnered with naturally fast food chain Leon as part of their ‘Feel Sunny Inside’ campaign, which celebrates foods with gut-boosting benefits, so we got to delve into what we need for a healthy gut.

Something that Megan wanted to highlight was that “most of us will experience gut symptoms from time to time whether it’s because we’ve overeaten at a friend’s birthday celebration or due to stress after a busy work schedule etc. This is why she recommends we don’t overthink these things, we relax and know that our bodies are constantly changing and it’s more about being aware of ongoing chronic symptoms, rather than reacting to every symptom that comes up.”

One of the things that can be confusing for people is Pre- and Probiotics, what’s the difference and do we need both?

“Megan explained that prebiotics is the food for our good bacteria and probiotics are the different strains of bacteria (and yeast) that have been shown to have a health benefit. She also mentioned Synbiotics, which is a combination of the two and something that we are seeing more of in the market.”

Often we hear that we require certain strains of probiotics for the right balance, and this is true to a certain extent: “for example for travel’s diarrhoea, certain strains of bacteria have been shown to be effective in treating the symptoms.”

In a study at the Department of Health Services Research and Development in Seattle, they found that a Probiotic containing strains of Saccharomyces Boulardii, Lactobacillus Acidophilus and Bifidobacterium Bifidum were effective into treating Travellers Diarrhoea.

Megan went on to say that “for general gut health having a diverse community of gut bacteria is thought to be optimal, as opposed to focusing on individual strains. She says it’s not necessarily about having more good bacteria and less bad bacteria, it’s about having the right balance”.

For example, certain strains that we consider bad like e-Coli, when there is too much in the system it can cause diarrhoea, vomiting, stomach cramps, and fever, though in balance it actually helps the body to break down and digest the food we eat.

Probiotics can also have an effect on our mood and digestive issues such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), which affects 10-20% of the population. In a study published in the medical journal Gastroenterology, researchers of the Farncombe Family Digestive Health Research Institute found that twice as many adults with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) reported improvements from co-existing depression when they took a specific probiotic than adults with IBS who took a placebo. Research has shown that if you have IBS a probiotic will reduce your risk of symptoms by around 20%.

So what other things can we change in our diets that can help improve gut health?

One area that is starting to gain recognition when it comes to gut health is intermittent fasting. As Megan said, “there are not many studies to support this, though human evolution does suggest that it can have a beneficial effect”.

Animal studies are also confirming this. Researchers from the U.S. and China found in a recent animal study the benefits of intermittent fasting on gut health to promote weight loss. This is because intermittent fasting gives our hard-working gut bacteria a break from their digestion duties, so they can focus on cleaning and keeping their populations intact. Furthermore, researchers from California found that intermittent fasting can also increase the diversity of your gut bacteria. But like with anything it is all about balance, as long-term fasting can effectively starve our gut bacteria and is associated with lower gut bacterial diversity.

When it comes to foods, Megan believes that “it’s not just about the 5 day that is so heavily promoted to get our fibre (which can help feed the good bugs) but maximising plant-based diversity and aiming to eat 20-30 different varieties of seasonal fruit and vegetables each week! She is also a proponent of adding fermented foods like Sauerkraut, Kefir, which she says is easy and cheap to make at home, and Kombucha to your diet, though cautioned not to eat too much as it can overload the system and cause bloating, gas and other symptoms.”

When it comes to her own healthy gut routine, Megan starts her day with a shot of Kombucha and sprouted oats.

About Megan

Dr Megan Rossi is a Registered Dietitian with an award-winning PhD in the area of Gut Health. Megan works as a Research Associate at King’s College London, Consultant Dietitian across food industry and media and leads a Gut Health clinic on Harley street. Megan has also recently joined forces with Leon Restaurants to launch a Nationwide gut health campaign.

To keep updated on the latest gut health news connect with Megan on social media @TheGutHealthDoctor

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