Chicken or the egg; Does stress influence your gut or your gut your stress?

Most of us recognise the existence of the connection between the gut and the brain, the so called ‘gut-brain-axis.

We know that, in order to function properly, cognitive as well as emotional, we need a healthy gut-biome. That is, a healthy balance between a wide range of diverse bacteria.

We have known it for a while, and according to our language, we had this ‘knowing’ before the evidence, we used our ‘gut-feeling’ or we ‘felt it in our gut’. That stress is influencing our gut, we knew, or ‘felt’, and research has shown us that our ‘gut – feeling’ about that is right.

However, most recently, it was discovered that this is not a one way street. Yes stress does have an effect on our body, and does affect our gut biome, but an altered gut biome can also influence our neurological thinking and even modulate how we respond to stress.

So looking after your gut is important. But at the same time that the prescription of antibiotics are soaring and the sales of anything antibacterial sells well, we hear a lot about probiotics and prebiotics. And it almost sounds like the next hip thing to do after kale chips, green smoothies and coconut oil. So what exactly do these terms mean?

Prebiotics is the food you feed your bacteria in your gut. Prebiotics are not bacteria but they are non-digestible foods that make their way through our digestive system and help good bacteria grow and flourish. Non-digestible foods ferment, and that is what the bacteria feeds on. You can say they are the fertilizer for productive bacterial growth, feeding probiotic bacteria and that way help them grow. Examples of prebiotic foods are: asparagus, bananas, onions, garlic, beans and legumes, artichokes leeks and root vegetables.

Probiotics are the actual healthy bacteria and are found in anything which is cultured. Miso, Kimchi, sauerkraut and the cultured dairy products like yoghurt, buttermilk and cottage cheese.  Choosing a good quality yoghurt, pick the one which is set in the pot, and has enough CFU (colony forming units) of good bacteria, or ‘probiotics’ in your yoghurt. To benefit from the yoghurt, you need at least 1 billion of CFU per day.

Probiotics and prebiotics work together synergistically and are imperative for our health. Without pre-biotics, even the most expensive probiotic will not do much in your body.

If further research will give us deeper insight into how we respond to stress, our mood and our cognitive abilities based on the compilation of our gut biome, wouldn’t it be interesting as an organisation to know the ‘status of the gut’ before we hire people? Could this knowledge eventually even replace the ‘Meyer – Briggs’ tests?

Would looking after your employees AND their gut bacteria be the key to keeping them performing at the peak and to give your organisation that competitive edge?

Before we reach that point, looking after yourself and others, acknowledging the importance of a healthy gut is in everyone’s interest, at home, school and at work!

After all, it is not just what’s eating you but what you are eating!