Do you have the guts to be happy?

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When you feel tired, depressed, stressed or anxious, the chances are you wouldn’t consider that your digestive system, or a food you’ve eaten, could have anything to do with it. But the gut and our emotions are linked. In the same way that nervousness can upset the tummy, so foods that don’t ‘agree with us’ can upset our mind. Most strong emotional feelings are felt physically somewhere along the digestive tract. We feel them in our gut and often experience them affecting our appetite and our ability to digest properly.

Your second brain Science is discovering that the digestive system acts like a ‘second brain’ producing neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, hormones and immune-transmitters, called cytokines, that literally cross-talk with the brain. These cytokines have receptors on the immune cells and the brain cells.

We now know that every emotion you experience has a direct biological effect, affecting your nervous, digestive, endocrine and immune systems. Your ‘second brain’ also reacts every time you eat a piece of food. The gut lining is the interface between you and your food, and it is programmed to react against anything eaten just in case it is a foe. Ninety-nine per cent of the time, the job of a healthy immune system – which is more active in the gut than anywhere else – is to switch off that reaction so you can enjoy the food you’re eating without your body fighting it. That switching-off mechanism can be assisted by increasing your intake of omega-3 fats, found in fish and seeds, such as flax and pumpkin seeds. These essential fats not only stop the gut becoming inflamed but they also stop psychological inflammation – in other words, the feelings of aggression, irritability and depression, the latter of which is sometimes anger turned inwards.

The role of gut bacteria Our gut bacteria also affect our mood. We have more bacteria in the gut than cells in our entire body, and they are absolutely vital for proper immunity. Probiotics help to promote and ‘train up’ cytokines to do their job properly. In so doing they not only calm down inflammation in the gut but they also help signal to the brain to calm down, reducing stress reactions. Research has found that supplementing probiotics has been shown to improve mood in those who are prone to depression. How allergies can affect the brain.

Most people don’t think of food allergies as a potential cause of tiredness, low mood, poor concentration, anxiety or even more severe conditions such as schizophrenia. Yet it has been known for a very long time that allergies to foods and chemicals can adversely affect mood and behaviour in susceptible individuals. Food allergies have been proven to cause a diverse range of symptoms, including: chronic fatigue, slowed thought processes, lack of motivation, irritability, agitation, aggressive behaviour, nervousness, anxiety, depression, alcoholism and substance abuse, schizophrenia, hyperactivity (ADHD), panic attacks, autism and varied learning disabilities.

Weight and stress increase food reactions If you are overweight, diabetic or insulin resistant, or if you have some level of stress, you are more likely to react against the food you eat, inhibiting its proper digestion and absorption. Likewise, if your gut has suffered a degree of damage – perhaps through the regular use of alcohol or painkillers, or through bloating, gut infection or antibiotics – you are also more likely to react against the food you eat. The average person in Britain takes over 300 painkillers a year and the common ones, such as aspirin and ibuprofen, are the gut’s worst enemies, because they damage it, making you more prone to allergy. You can see whether you may be intolerant to a food on our FREE online food sensitivity check. So if you’re feeling stressed or low, think about your digestive system and whether you have been eating allergy-promoting foods such as wheat or dairy. Are you lacking in omega-3 essential fats from oily fish, flax and pumpkin seeds which help your gut to work efficiently.

Have you been drinking alcohol or taking painkillers, or have you taken a course of antibiotics all of which have a detrimental effect on your gut. To find out more about how you can improve your mood if you’re affected by gut issues or food sensitivities take a look at my new book The Feel Good Factor which is on special offer now and book a ticket to my Feel Good Factor Seminars around the UK and Ireland from March 6th.