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Eat more fibre to feel less stressed

2 min read

Stress causes leaky gut

With modern stressful lifestyles, westernised diets, and medications such as antibiotics, the bacteria living in your gut can be thrown off-balance. This has lead to growing interest in the link between gut bacteria and stress related disorders such as anxiety and depression. New research is suggesting that eating high fiber foods such as wholewheat pasta, wholegrain cereals, broccoli, nuts and fruit like berries or pears could reduce the effects of stress on our gut and even reduce stress itself.

High fiber diet generates short chain fatty acids (SFCAs)

Grains, legumes and vegetables are all high fiber foods that stimulate the production of a short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) in the gut. This fatty acid works as a super food, nourishing the bacteria that lives there.

Stress experienced over a prolonged period of time can cause the walls of the gut to weaken which in turn leads to leaks, these leaks then release undigested food particles, bacteria and germs into the blood and can cause chronic and persistent inflammation.

Studies have also shown that behaviour is affected when the bacteria in the gut is manipulated. A higher amount of inflammation in the gut was linked to increased anxiety-like and depressive behaviours. A high fiber diet that generates SCFAs can however help the gut - essentially it can reverse gut leakiness by fixing the holes.

Researchers at the University Collage Cork recently undertook a study (published in the Journal of Physiology) that involved feeding SCFAs to mice, then putting putting them through simulated stressful situations and watching them for anxious or depressive-like behavior, cognition, social behavior and how smoothly their digestive systems were functioning. 

Anxiety and depression symptoms subsided in the rodents who were fed the SCFA diet, and their guts stopped leaking. This allowed the researchers to establish a close connection between stress and high fiber diets. Further to this changing their diets to reduce stress and repair their gut leaks did not cause any weight changes in the mice, making it an attractive treatment possibility. 

SFCAs fuel cells in the gut and repair leakiness

Studies have already implicated SCFAs in a range of conditions from digestive disorders, diabetes, weight loss and heart health - and while there is a growing recognition of the role of gut bacteria and the chemicals they make in the regulation of physiology and behaviour, the role of short-chain fatty acids in this process remains undetermined.

The theory thus far lies in the thought that SCFAs act a a fuel and nutrition for cells in the gut allowing them to work optimally.

Study corresponding author Dr John Cryan, of APC Microbiome Ireland at University College Cork, said: 'It will be crucial that we look at whether short-chain fatty acids can ameliorate symptoms of stress-related disorders in humans.'

A healthy balanced diet is the best way to consume all the nutrients we need. Sometimes however this isn't possible and then supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying any supplements or herbal medicines.