Sarah Carolides: Immunity, mental health and how your gut can help

Mid-morning forays to the fridge. Innocent mouthfuls. Guilty thoughts. There are few perks in a lockdown, but close proximity to a well stocked fridge is certainly one of them. While we enjoy this snacking renaissance it’s important to spare a brief moment to consider the implications of straying from your…

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Mid-morning forays to the fridge. Innocent mouthfuls. Guilty thoughts. There are few perks in a lockdown, but close proximity to a well stocked fridge is certainly one of them. While we enjoy this snacking renaissance it’s important to spare a brief moment to consider the implications of straying from your normal diet. We talked to Sarah Carolides, Nutritionist and Genetic Health expert  (www.sarahcarolides.com) about the role your gut health plays in maintaining your mental health and immune defence.

Does your gut health play a role in your immune defence?

Absolutely. It is estimated that the gut is responsible for anywhere between 60 and 70% of our immune system. There are 2 reasons for this. Firstly, we need to screen everything we eat and drink to make sure it’s not going to harm us, and secondly the colony of bacteria, fungi and microscopic organisms that make up our microbiome play a huge part in producing the substances that make up our immune system

What are the best foods to eat to boost immunity?

You have to be a little careful with this. A hyper stimulated immune system can actually cause too much of a response, which can be as problematic as an under functioning immune system. Having said that, the best thing to do is to eat a wide variety of different fresh vegetables, fruits and of course herbs. Things like turmeric, ginger, garlic and green tea are full of health-promoting compounds.  Also, the immune system relies on a large number of different vitamins and minerals working together such as vitamin A, D, C, the B vitamins, zinc and selenium. Cutting out major food groups exposes you to the possibility of deficiencies so think Variety!

If there was one small change everyone could make to improve their gut health, what would it be?

Some people might find it a small change, others a bit larger, but sugar is definitely a nightmare for gut health. Artificial sweeteners are no better. One study found that artificial sweeteners commonly found in diet drinks for example are as bad for the gut as a course of antibiotics

Why do people call the gut the second brain?

The gut has as many brain cells in it as a small cat. It might not be writing poetry or working out maths problems, but it communicates constantly both with our main brain through the vagus nerve, and with the microbiome.

What is the link between your gut health and your mental health?

That’s an interesting one. If the gut is under stress because of infection, inflammation, or if the bacterial balance is out of line (dysbiosis) then it can cause fatigue, depression or anxiety. Secondly, if your gut and digestion are compromised and you are unable to digest or absorb some of the vitamins and minerals we need daily, you will be a lot less likely to feel mentally well. Did you know it takes over 20 different nutrients to have a happy thought?

Finally, some of those gut bacteria play a direct role in producing serotonin, a hormone that promotes wellbeing and happiness. So the gut interacts with our mental health in many different ways.

These are anxious times – can we reduce stress or anxiety through gut health?

Definitely. Even small changes such as taking 4 or 5 deep breaths before you eat can help. Breathe in for 4, hold for 5 and breathe out for 6. This is enough to switch your nervous system over from the sympathetic to the parasympathetic, allowing it to concentrate on digestion.

Also try to resist the urge to snack all the time. Leaving 4 hours between meals and 12 hours overnight allows something called the Migrating Motor Complex to move through your gut like a friendly Hoover, cleaning and repairing the gut.

What is the relationship between your gut health and chronic inflammatory illnesses?

How long have you got? There is some really interesting new research into something called Molecular Mimicry. Basically if the gut is compromised and undigested proteins get through into the blood stream, the body produces antibodies to attack them. These antibodies then patrol around the body and if they find something that mimics that molecule, they will attack it. There is now a recognised link between gluten and proteins on the surface of the thyroid. Antibodies produced to deal with gluten can actually attack the thyroid gland and cause something called Hashimoto’s Disease.

As well as that there are also links between dysbiosis in the microbiome and the likelihood of inflammation. Whenever anyone comes to me with chronic inflammation, the first thing I will do is investigate their gut function.

 To find out more about why you should look after your gut go to www.sarahcarolides.com