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.

Eat your way to a more positive state of mind

Article taken from Psychologies Magazine (November 2019)

Leading expert in women’s wellbeing Henrietta Norton tells us how to nourish ourselves for improved mental health and emotional balance.

Three and a half million people in the UK take antidepressants and the potential side effects range from gut problems, drowsiness, insomnia and painful menstruation to hives, tremors, confusion, anxiety and impotence. An increased risk of suicidal behaviour in children and adolescents has also been documented. Nutritional medicine has made developments in exploring the link between mental and physical health and research shows depression is more common in those with compromised immune function.

Take back a level of control

Evidence indicates that our sensitivity to stress, anxiety and depression is programmed in infancy, sensitising us to a certain level of adversity. Hypersensitivity to stress and depression may occur due to changes in our stress-response network. Of great clinical interest is that the group of inflammation-sensitive depressives tend not to respond well to antidepressants.

The B vitamins are essential for functioning of the nervous system, and vitamin B5 in particular for production of hormones such as cortisol. Sources include whole grains, eggs, beans and lentils, veggies, fish and meat. A vitamin B complex can be supportive and one that includes vitamin C, magnesium and ashwagandha will help regulate cortisol. Magnesium, rapidly used up when we’re stressed, is essential for the production of neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. The best sources are nuts and seeds (especially pumpkin and hemp), buckwheat groats or flour (buckwheat is a seed and not related to wheat), greens such as spinach and kale and seafood. If sleep is an issue, try an extra 80mg of food-grown magnesium at night.

Foods for happiness

Following is a guide to feeding ourselves to best support our hormones, brain chemicals and, ultimately, moods.

  • Eggs. Rich in zinc and tryptophan, eggs can boost serotonin levels. Dip steamed asparagus into boiled eggs as a morning mood enhancer.
  • Wild Salmon. This fish is full of healthy fatty acids to support our hormones and libido. Mix with horseradish and plain yogurt to make a salmon pate for a quick mood-supporting snack.
  • Avocado. These are rich in healthy omega-3 fatty acids which have an array of health benefits. The acids DHA and EPA may help to improve brain function, regulate vision and contribute to normal heart function. These acids are also used as ‘taxis’ to ferry hormones around the body, including libido-charging testosterone in men and women. For a boost of healthy fats, slice chunks of avocado into your salad or onto your morning toast, drizzle over extra virgin olive oil and add flakes of wild salmon.
  • Quinoa. This whole grain is rich in protein, magnesium and B vitamins, which are needed to produce anti-anxiety brain chemicals, including GABA. Use as an alternative to rice or wheat pasta for managing anxiety and stress.
  • Lean proteins (fish, chicken and lamb). These proteins provide a complete mix of the amino acids required for the building blocks of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine.