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Digital Subscriptions > Healthy Food Guide > September 2019 > Feed your gut & CLEAR YOUR HEAD

Feed your gut & CLEAR YOUR HEAD

Most of us have heard that the bacteria in probiotics can treat traveller’s tummy or IBS.Now emerging evidence shows they could also improve your low mood, stop insomnia, help prevent migraines and help you handle stress, says Jo Waters

CHANCES ARE IF YOU POP A PROBIOTIC REGULARLY you’re trying to improve gut symptoms such as bloating, diarrhoea, cramps and constipation. Indeed, there’s solid evidence in scientific literature that certain strains of bacteria can help with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms, and probiotic supplements have recently become a popular self-help remedy for this debilitating and difficult-to-treat condition.

Now there’s more. Scientists have discovered gut microbes (and we have 10 trillion of them) may influence your brain health, too. Researchers studying the gut-brain axis have discovered there is in fact a two-way highway – information is carried from brain to gut but also from gut to brain. An emerging field of research known as psychobiotics is based on the premise that ingesting certain live organisms (microbes) may benefit patients suffering from psychiatric illnesses such as low mood, anxiety and depression, as well as neurological conditions such as migraines and Parkinson’s disease.

One example of this is the so-called friendly gut bacteria Bifido. It produces a chemical called butyrate that feeds and heals the lining of the gut, but it also makes its way to the brain, where it can induce a good mood.


Ted Dinan, a psychiatrist and professor at the University of Cork, Ireland, explains that gut microbes produce all manner of chemicals that ‘talk’ to each other and the gut.

‘The most widely studied route of communication with the brain is the vagus nerve. It’s the long rambling nerve (the largest in the body after the spinal cord) that connects most of the organs in the body with the brain’, says Ted, co-author of best-selling The Psychobiotic Revolution: Mood, Food and the New Science of the Gut Brain Connection (National Geographic, £17.99). ‘The vagus nerve carries signals from the brain to the gut, but far more from the gut to the brain.

‘Another way that the gut communicates with the brain is by producing short chain fatty acids in the large intestine, which can get into the bloodstream. How they do this is debated, but the general consensus is that they influence brain function. Tryptophan, a building block of the hormone serotonin, which is needed to maintain normal mood and sleep, comes from our diets, but we now know that bacteria in the gut are capable of producing tryptophan and so influencing mood’, says Ted.

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About Healthy Food Guide

The Best of Health Award winners, how probiotics can feed your brain as well as your gut and the scientific facts about CBD – could it help you beat stress and pain or help you sleep? Plus, in this month’s special section: the low-carb diet that’s been seeing off type 2 diabetes!