Putting your gut first in terms of health and wellbeing is important all year round, but it is particularly critical during times of acute stress, which a busy and sometimes overwhelming run-up to Christmas can bring. We’ve found that stress can negatively impact levels of good bacteria in the gut and we can experience a ‘stress-gut cycle’ that can leave us seriously burnt out and depleted before we’ve even started to enjoy the festive celebrations.
Impending deadlines at work, the extra workload in the home, endless planning, and extensive lists of presents, food, and people to organize can really take its toll on our stress levels, in addition to the financial burden of Christmas. These times of high stress can result in brain fog, lack of mental clarity, and mental fatigue – just when we need our brain to be at its most optimal and brilliant best.
What most people forget when thinking about improving mental clarity and counteracting mental exhaustion is the fascinating gut-brain connection and how giving our gut a little TLC during busy times can improve mental clarity and calmness too. Below I share some fascinating facts about the gut-brain connection and some simple tips to help beat brain fog during the busy run-up to Christmas.
HEALTHY GUT, HEALTHY BRAIN – DID YOU KNOW?
- The gut and the brain are directly connected by one important nerve (or communication highway) – The Vagus Nerve. This impressive nerve keeps the gut and brain in constant communication and both can affect each other with the content of that communication. A good example of this is when feeling nervous creates ‘butterflies’ in the stomach.
- 95% of our serotonin (the feel-good hormone) is both stored and manufactured in our gut; ‘Happy Mind = Happy Gut!’ Serotonin plays an important role within the gut-brain connection; it influences our mood, sleep, happiness, and feelings of well-being.
- The Gut has its own nervous system known as the enteric nervous system, and it is often referred to as our ‘second brain’. There are more than 100 million nerve cells in the gut, as many as are contained in the spinal cord. The gut’s power to think for itself is no surprise as there are millions of neurons in its lengthy coils – 9 meters of intestines!
- Poor gut health and brain health could be caused by the Western diet* What we mean by the Western diet is a diet that relies heavily on processed food that is typically rich in sugar, salt, and fat but generally low in fresh fruit and vegetables, fiber and omega 3’s. This way of consuming food negatively affects gut function and microbial diversity and has been implicated in neurodegenerative disease and mental health disorders too.
FOUR WAYS TO IMPROVE BRAIN FOG (HINT…IT STARTS WITH YOUR GUT!)
1. Eat the rainbow
It’s a great time of the year to pack your meals full of different vegetables with hearty stews, soups or curries, and rather than worry about eating less (because we don’t need another thing to worry about!), try just eating MORE of the good gut stuff! More veggies, which are high in prebiotic fiber, could really help to support your gut flora this time of year.
2. Accept a helping hand and find a good quality probiotic
The stresses of life and our Western diets can mean we don’t have an optimal amount of beneficial bacteria in our guts. This is where a good-quality probiotic can really make all the difference. It’s important to find one that is appropriate for your age and to ensure it’s the right supplement for you.
3. Regular sleep
Sleep plays an important part in both brain health and gut health. Try to ensure that you schedule enough sleep each week, even if it means counteracting the late-night Christmas parties with a balance of downtime too. Adequate rest and a good 7-8 hours of sleep each night can really help to create a resilient brain.
4. Take a daily walk
Regular physical activity has been shown to benefit the brain, but at the busiest time of the year how about fitting in a daily lunchtime walk for 30 minutes whilst listening to something enjoyable or calming. I like to call this a ‘plod and pod’ where I enjoy a good podcast that helps me to connect to the wider world and use nature to melt away the stress for a little while.
Amanda Williams; Nutritional Therapist & CEO at Cytoplan continues:
“The idea of ‘Healthy Gut, Healthy Brain’ is so important to remember, especially during times of stress. Good gut health has many facets to it, but it all starts with a varied healthy and whole food diet full of amazing foods that our gut bugs love to eat such as fennel, onions, garlic, leeks, peas, beans, lentils, and fruit. For those that might need a boost of good gut bugs to feed in the first place; this is where a good quality probiotic can help.”
As a leader in food-based supplementation for over 30 years, Cytoplan has maintained the belief that nature holds the key to health, creating products that work in harmony with the body to optimize health. The company is dedicated to improving the health of the nation, both ethically and sustainably.
To find out more about Probiotics Week and Cytoplan’s extensive gut health range for the whole family including new Vegan Biotic head to: www.cytoplan.co.uk/