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A mind of its own

You may have read my previous interview with down-to-earth, Clinical Nutritionist Katherine Hay, but if not here’s a little bit about her. She grew up in Melbourne and now lives in one of Australia’s most loved places, Byron Bay. She’s extremely passionate about the gut and all areas of gastrointestinal health and doesn’t believe in unnecessary food restriction. Katherine’s personal mantra is ‘do shit that makes you happy’ and she feels her best when surrounded by the people she loves. She enjoys being out in nature watching sunsets, hiking, riding motorbikes and skating. When I met her for the first time in person after 8 months of chatting over email and Instagram, I felt like I’d know her forever and instantly felt at ease. She’s pretty special!

In this slightly science-y interview she chats all about the gut-brain connection and why it’s so important to address any gut issues. The gut is called our second brain for a reason and you’ll see why as you read more! As someone who has suffered from various health issues, including CFS, an over and under-active thyroid and anxiety, focusing on my gut health has been, and continues to be of great importance to me. At the moment, I’m working with Katherine to determine any underlying gut imbalances so I can address a few niggling health concerns that’ve been lingering around since my CFS.

Enjoy the interview and ask any questions you have in the comments box below!

Can you tell us a little bit about gut bacteria?

Gastrointestinal bacteria (gut microbiome) are found in the gastrointestinal tract (GIT) of the digestive system. More than 10 trillion bacteria live in the GIT of a healthy individual. Different bacteria are found throughout the gut and they rely heavily on the pH (level of acidity) of the stomach. The beneficial gut flora are found in the intestinal tract that live in the subtle folds of the intestinal walls. Good gut bacteria, also known as probiotics, are essential for gastrointestinal health and are now being investigated in the role of preventing brain disorders and mental illness.

Many of us take probiotics, why are they so important?

Probiotics have a positive effect on the GIT and stabilise intestinal microflora. Growing evidence shows the importance of probiotics in the treatment and prevention of mental health disorders, such as anxiety.

What is anxiety?

According to Charles Spielberger, anxiety is defined as “an emotional state that includes feelings of apprehension, tension, nervousness, and worry, accompanied by physiological arousal.” Anxiety disorder can be debilitating and cause gastrointestinal complaints, as well as mental health signs and symptoms.

How does anxiety affect our gut?

Inflammation pathways are activated and biochemical enzymes are released in both the brain and the GIT. Inflammatory cytokines (cell signalling proteins) are elevated and cognitive impairment starts to progress in the form of anxiety. Research suggests that the pathophysiology associated with anxiety is related to corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF). CRF is responsible for the autonomic, immunological, and behavioural stress responses in the body. An increase in CRF produces physiological and behavioural changes.

Why should we focus on our gut health?

For so many reasons. Many people suffer from undiagnosed or diagnosed mental health conditions without paying any attention to the gut and how important it is for the management of these conditions. A specific and tailored pre/probiotic therapy treatment protocol is essential for improving these conditions. Treatment also incorporates functional ‘food as medicine’ principles to ensure optimal gut functioning and healing.

What are some gut-healing foods that you recommend?

The following foods are specific for gut healing and help to ensure that the gastrointestinal environment is optimal for the good gut bacteria to thrive.

  • Bone broth

  • Kombucha

  • Fermented vegetables

  • Kefir

  • Yoghurt

  • Tempeh

  • Miso

  • Sauerkraut

  • Kimchi

  • Gelatin

How does the enteric nervous system affect our health?

The enteric nervous system sends messages to the brain via the vagus nerve about how the gut is operating. As a result, it dictates emotional responses around food and mental state. This delicate system plays a crucial role for each individual. The gut microbes lining our GIT influence our behaviour and thought patterns every day. Many of our ‘feel good’ neurotransmitters such as, serotonin and dopamine, are primarily made in the gut. These neurotransmitters are essential for regulating mood, feelings of love, joy and pleasure, and controlling impulses and obsessions. When gut microbes are out of balance, these neurotransmitters are affected and cannot be synthesised which affects mood and causes irritability.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

The gut and its forever communicating microbiome is an incredible area for scientific research and we are constantly learning more about the diverse populations of gut bacteria. The gut-brain connection is truly fascinating and understanding these pathways is an exciting time for nutritionists. It means that there are many methods we can use to increase optimal gastrointestinal functioning and to stabilise mental health conditions like anxiety.

If you have any questions don’t hesitate to pop them in the comments box below or send us an email. If you’d like to book a consult with Katherine or ask her more about testing the health of your gut, you can contact her by following the links below.

Katherine and I are hosting a workshop later this year. If you’d like to be notified of all the details sign-up to my mailing list here.

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