HOW TO FEED A GOOD MOOD

The Mail on Sunday - You - - Health -

Dys­men­or­rhoea, mastal­gia, dy­suria, scro­fula… Do these mean any­thing to you? I had to look up the last one (although best not to google the im­ages).

This is the sort of lan­guage you’re likely to find in let­ters about your med­i­cal con­di­tion from your hos­pi­tal doc­tor to your GP – a copy of which you also re­ceive in the post (trans­la­tion: dys­men­or­rhoea = painful pe­ri­ods; mastal­gia = painful breasts; dy­suria = pain pass­ing urine; scro­fula = swollen glands from TB). Pa­tients are of­ten con­fused and con­cerned and visit their GP, en­ve­lope in hand, seek­ing re­as­sur­ance that they are not go­ing to die from hy­per­hidro­sis (ex­cess sweat­ing) or even ia­t­ro­pho­bia (fear of doc­tors).

Guid­ance has now been is­sued for med­i­cal let­ters like these to be writ­ten di­rectly to pa­tients in plain English, with a copy to their GP rather than the other way around. So you won’t have to get the dic­tio­nary out or con­sult Dr Google – and nor will we.

For your gar­den to flour­ish you need to feed it with qual­ity fer­tiliser and com­post – not just dump a load of rub­bish on the soil. Our gut isn’t too dis­sim­i­lar; it con­tains our mi­cro­biome – a com­plex mi­cro­scopic ‘gar­den’ of bil­lions of dif­fer­ent tiny mi­crobes that are vi­tal to our health. If we feed it junk – such as pro­cessed foods, sweet­ened fizzy drinks and bis­cuits – we’re smoth­er­ing those mi­crobes.

These mi­crobes act as mini chem­i­cal fac­to­ries pro­duc­ing sub­stances that help us to lose weight and re­duce in­flam­ma­tion among other things. We’re also dis­cov­er­ing that they play a key role in our mood by pro­cess­ing nat­u­ral an­tide­pres­sants such as tryp­to­phan (from foods in­clud­ing eggs and turkey) which is re­quired in or­der to make sero­tonin (known to re­duce anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion) and dopamine (which in­creases plea­sure and mo­ti­va­tion). A poor diet and life­style is also as­so­ci­ated with ‘leaky gut’ – where undi­gested food and tox­ins leak into the blood­stream through a weak­ened gut lin­ing – which is linked to lethargy, brain fog and low mood.

The mi­crobes com­mu­ni­cate with the brain via the ‘gut-brain axis’, which al­lows sig­nals to travel in both direc­tions. This means that what hap­pens in the mind can af­fect the gut too, al­ter­ing the com­po­si­tion and ac­tiv­ity of the mi­crobes – for ex­am­ple, be­ing stressed can lead to di­ar­rhoea, ab­dom­i­nal cramps and bloat­ing.

How­ever, a bit of ‘gut gar­den­ing’ – by in­cor­po­rat­ing in your diet pre­bi­otics (fer­tilis­ers to feed your gut bac­te­ria) and probiotics (healthy bac­te­ria that comes from foods or sup­ple­ments to re­seed a de­pleted mi­cro­biome) – can go a long way to re­liev­ing those symp­toms and to cre­at­ing a more pos­i­tive mood. The best sources are as fol­lows:

Nat­u­ral pre­bi­otics: a Mediter­ranean-style diet con­tain­ing plenty of veg­eta­bles, beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains. The diet also in­cludes olive oil, oily fish, some fruit, full-fat yo­ghurt, cheese and a lit­tle meat. A study in 2017 found a group of 67 de­pressed peo­ple with poor di­ets who switched to this regime had a sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment in de­pres­sive symp­toms.

Nat­u­ral probiotics: fer­mented foods such as sauer­kraut, live yo­ghurt and ke­fir (a fer­mented milk drink) de­liver healthy bac­te­ria such as bi­fi­dobac­te­ria and lac­to­bacil­lus that make it safely through your stom­ach and down to the far end of the gut where they work their magic.

Pro­bi­otic sup­ple­ments: off-the-shelf prod­ucts such as Zen­flore by Pre­ci­sion­bi­otics may help re­duce mild forms of anx­i­ety and stress, ac­cord­ing to re­searchers at the APC Mi­cro­biome In­sti­tute at Uni­ver­sity Col­lege Cork. In an­other trial, healthy vol­un­teers who took a pro­bi­otic ex­pe­ri­enced fewer pe­ri­ods of sad­ness, dis­tress, anx­i­ety or neg­a­tive thoughts af­ter four weeks.

Remember, if you take probiotics but go back to a poor diet those mi­crobes won’t sur­vive for long. Feed them well, with a rich and var­ied Mediter­ranean-style diet, and your gut gar­den will bloom, help­ing to keep you re­laxed, happy and healthy.

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