Can you boost your mood and immune system through nutrition?
An interesting question in the current circumstances with the population in lockdown and wondering is their immune system strong enough for warding off viruses? First of all I will say, everyones immune system is unique, it is unlikely that we can ‘boost’ it however what we can do in this situation is support it and ensure it has everything it needs to be strong enough to protect the body.
Our gastro-intestinal (GI) tract or gut works hard to keep us healthy and happy. When gut health is compromised we can face physical and mental consequences.
Our gut allows the absorption of nutrients and water and also prevents the entry of toxins into our body. A distressed gut can’t defend us when it is compromised - that is when it allows dangerous compounds to enter our body. The right choice of nutrition can strengthen the gut and improve overall health and wellbeing.
We have more bacteria in our gut than cells within our body. Think about that for a moment.
People think of bacteria as the enemy or bad guys but we also have friendly bacteria in us. And, it is the friendly guys that our gut health depends on. To make sure we have a healthy gut we need to ensure we have the following:
Balanced intestinal bacteria (balance of the good guys over the bad guys).
Intact mucuso (our gut lining replaces itself every 3-7 days).
A healthy immune system (almost 70% of immune cells live in or around the gut).
To keep the bacteria balanced we have to make sure we replenish them through diet. The bacteria within our gut are not permanent residents so we need to keep topping them up.
Gut bacteria is a huge subject that can involve many other factors i.e. age, hygiene, stress and medication use. For this blog I want to specifically focus on nutrition, and how we can enhance our gut health through the right choices to support immune health and mental health.
There is now known evidence of the gut-brain connection, which means distress in the gut can also show up as disturbances in the brain (and vice versa).
The connection between our food, neurotransmitters and blood sugar regulation means that how we feel depends a lot on what we eat.
Our brains need a lot of energy to work properly and continue sending messages to the body via neurotransmitters in the nervous system. Without that energy or the correct nutrients the brain won’t get what it needs.
There is evidence suggesting that eating predominantly processed food with minimal nutrients could increase chances of depression by 60%. Low levels of the chemical serotonin is also linked with depression, serotonin is the happy making neurotransmitter - serotonin is made in the gut, not the brain. Therefore if the GI tract is compromised it could prevent the production of serotonin resulting in less of the happy loving life chemicals.
So how can we improve our balance of good bacteria through nutrition?
Choose 1-2 probiotic and prebiotic foods/drinks and consume them regularly. Probiotics are fermented foods that contain good bacteria and can be found in certain yogurts, kefir, sauerkraut, pickles and kimchi. Prebiotics feed the probiotics and good bacteria within our gut and can be mainly found in legumes, fruits and wholegrains.
Chew your food properly and eat mindfully. Eat when hungry, stop when satisfied.
Cut down sugar.
Sugar can cause inflammation, it may bring joy immediately but then it can result in feeling worse emotionally and physically. Eating too much sugar may result in depression, there is current evidence that found eating large amounts of sugar and depression are closely related.
The main source of Vitamin D is through sunshine and normally we can be deficient of Vit D in the winter months where there is less sun. In the current climate of lockdown it could also be contributing to lack of absorption. It plays numerous roles in the body including brain development and function and and is critical for the immune system to function properly. There are only small quantities found in foods, therefore it is more commonly supplemented. Even mild deficiency can impact immune health and affect susceptibility to infection.
Eat more Omega-3 Fatty Acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids provide building blocks for healthy brain development and function. Having enough omega-3 fatty acids seem to put us in better moods - more nuts, fish, seafood (salmon, mackerel, sardines) in your diet to get these happy healthy fats.
Increase Vegetables & Fibre.
Nutrient dense vegetables and fibre are very important in the diet. It has been said that fibre plays a vital role in immune health. Consuming enough fibre can maintain the strength of gut lining and colon muscles and prevents inflammation in the gut. Adults should be consuming a minimum of 30g of fibre per day.
Sleep and stress management can reduce inflammation within the body.
Eating lean proteins including chicken, turkey and fish increases your consumption of tryptophan. Tryptophan is a building block of serotonin, the neurotransmitter that helps us feel relaxed and happy.
A long simmering stock made with chicken or beef bones. Bone broth is highly nutritious and has been shown to improve digestion and therefore support immune system function. It is rich in protein, collagen and minerals which reduce inflammation and nourishes the gut. You can add medicinal herbs to broth and make into soup, usually widely available in restaurants especially Ramen and Pho but with the closure of restaurants there are some super simple recipes to try. I often make Ramen at home and add spices and probiotics e.g. miso, soy and pak choi.
Avoid common triggers.
All of these can harm our good bacteria:
NSAIDs (Ibuprofen, Naproxen)
Hopefully you can see from this blog that the immune system is closely related to mental health and that nutrition can support both areas to improve lifestyle and wellness in this uncertain time.
Now that we have been forced to slow down and stay at home take this time to nourish your mind and body through healthy choices.