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Your gut is responsible for digestion and also the emotions you process daily. We have all heard of the phrases “gut feeling”, “gut instinct”. The gut and the brain are in constant communication, connected by the vagus nerve, also known as the gut-brain axis. The vagus nerve is part of your parasympathetic nervous system, responsible for rest and digestion.

Fight or flight response.

Your body perceives stress as a threat and responds by activating the sympathetic nervous system – the fight and flight response. The parasympathetic nervous system then switches off as digesting food is not considered a priority at this time. When stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline are constantly pumped around your body, this can adversely impact your good gut bacteria (the microbiome).

If you experience ongoing symptoms such as excess gas, bloating, nausea, diarrhoea, constipation, heartburn, abdominal pain and vomiting, then these are key indicators to an imbalanced gut microbiome.

Am I in balance?

The following signs are also an indicator that something may be out of balance in the gut: mood swings, irritability, poor memory, low concentration, sugar cravings, unintended weight loss or gain, fatigue, sleep difficulty, frequent illness, anxiety, depression, skin issues such as acne and eczema.

The western affect.

A typical Western diet, high in processed sugars, low in fibre and plant foods can disturb our gut bacteria. Our gut microbiome thrives on diversity, so if you eat the same sort of foods every day, this can reduce your gut bacteria and impair your digestive health.  

Lacking a bit of shut-eye?

The microbiome follows a circadian rhythm, so lack of sleep, shift work and eating late can negatively affect your gut bacteria. Environmental toxins, stress and overuse of antibiotics are all contributing factors to a poor microbiome. Lack of physical exercise alters the gut bacteria and may cause constipation.

So what do i do?

  • Mindfulness can be helpful to slow everything down – deep belly breathing before meals, sit down to eat, chew well, turn off your phone and TV. Give your full attention to the present moment of eating. This increases the enjoyment of food and your nutrient absorption.
  • Yoga can be helpful for digestive discomfort. Vitamin D from sunshine may help to maintain your gut flora, and reduce inflammation. Ginger may help nausea and flatulence. Turmeric has antioxidant and inflammatory properties, while supporting liver detoxification
  • Fermented foods are a natural source of probiotics and nourish the good bacteria. Include sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, kefir and natural yogurt in your diet. Start with 1 TBS with a meal. Prebiotics provide food for your good gut bacteria, especially green vegetables. 
  • Plant diversity promotes a wider variety of good gut bacteria, so add in some pineapple, papaya, asparagus, artichoke, fennel, dandelion greens, garlic, broccoli and chicory. Sweet potatoes and brown rice contain resistant starch which help the gut repair and reduce inflammation.  Fibre from whole grains, fruit and vegetables feed the microbiome.
  • Herbal Teas with chamomile, peppermint, liquorice, lemon balm, turmeric, fennel and ginger can be very helpful for digestion.  Ideally consumer beverages 15-30 mins either side of meals.  Seeking advice from your Health Care Professional is the best way to guide you on your individual needs.

Gina Burns – is a Naturopath, Nutritionist and Yoga Teacher with Elysia Wellness Retreat.