Fire in the belly

Article taken from Psychologies Magazine (January 2020)

Eve Kalinik explores the link between our gut and mood and how the health of our microbiome plays a role in our emotional wellbeing.

Research and a greater understanding of depression have highlighted that it is not solely a disease of cognitive origin. Indeed, studies reveal the role of inflammation as an underlying pivotal development factor. This management process is one that, in part, relies on the health of the gut. Having a healthy microbiome – the trillions of microbes in the gut – helps keep the barrier of the gut functioning well. This means allowing substances that should be moving in and out of the gut to pass by without hassle, while blocking those that should stay within the confines of the gut. If this is breached, it can lead to substances such as bacteria and proteins from food sneaking out of the gut and creating a wide inflammatory reaction from the immune system, which has a more systemic effect.

Somewhere, over the rainbow

That can mean an almost constant state of inflammation which, it is thought, can result in mood disorders. The other way our microbiome manages inflammation is via the production of butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid that has an anti-inflammatory effect but also provides energy for the cells in the lining of the gut to help maintain a healthy gut barrier. Further to this, it is also important for the blood-brain barrier and butyrate can enter the brain and act as an antidepressant. Mood disorders are multifaceted, so gut health is just one consideration. However, supporting the gut positively contributes to wellness and the more heterogenous our microbiome the better.

A rich, colourful and varied collection of microbes leads to a healthier, stronger and happier gut. Reflect this on your plate with colour and diversity of fibre sources, including vegetables, fruit, whole grains and nuts and seeds. It sounds like a cliche, but eating the rainbow can provide bountiful joy for your microbes. Try one new veg, fruit and / or whole grain a week. If you usually have potato mash, swap it for sweet potato; mix up your berries, frozen are great as they keep for longer, or have buckwheat or quinoa instead of oats for breakfast. The possibilities are endless and with variety comes the spice of life, not least for our microbiome.

Feelgood food:

A pioneering look at the role of inflammation in mood disorders.

*The Inflamed Mind: A radical new approach to depression by Edward Bullmore.

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