Holistic health is the name of the game when it comes to a happy human gut.
Despite how often we discuss the body as a series of separate categories and compartments, the reality is our organs constantly interact – and some experts say the brain and gut are bodily besties.
Dr Jim Kantidakis, founder of the Gut Centre, specialises brain-gut treatments to help patients reduce the symptoms and psychological distress of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and digestive disorders.
Speaking separately, both Dr Kantidakis and leading nutrition scientist and dietitian Dr Joanna McMillan both said that patients suffering from gut issues like IBS experience reduced quality of life, meaning their mental health takes a significant hit too.
“Psycho-gastroenterology is a relatively new term, where it looks at working with individuals using a psychological or behavioural treatment to manage the gastrointestinal problem,” Dr Kantidakis said.
“In terms of causes of IBS … these people have very sensitive digestive systems. Stress or food exacerbates this, it irritates their gut because it’s sensitive. Maintaining or reducing that anxiety can be translated to managing stress and improving wellbeing with everything.
“Regular exercise is really vital in terms of mental health. If our mental health is well, and we’re not as stressed, overwhelmed or anxious, that’s going to have a beneficial impact on our digestive system, whether we’ve got IBS or not.”
Improved wellbeing might include things like yoga, meditation, deep breathing exercises, gut-directed hypnotherapy, exercise, more water, better sleep and a broad wholefoods diet.
“The top line is you want a plant rich diet, but you want it to be a wholefoods diet,” Dr McMillan said.
She particularly cautions against too much red, cured or processed meat without the balance of diverse plant foods.
“You don’t need to cut out meat altogether. It’s about the right proportions on the plate,” she said. “A lot of people are just bored at home (and) food is lovely in the moment … especially fatty and sugary types of food. A lot of those things are not good for our gut, so although it feels good in the short-term, it’s causing real problems.”