Do your teams have the guts to be high performing?
High performing organisations need high performing staff; that’s just a given nowadays. But did you know that one of the ways we can assist our people to be high performing is to make sure they have a healthy gut?
To have the capacity to be creative, solution-oriented, innovative and resilient we need good brain function and if you want a brain that functions optimally, the best place to start is in the gut. Although it may not be apparent at first, the gut and brain are very closely linked. Good gut health naturally supports your mood, cognition and mental performance.
The Gut-Brain Connection: How It Helps
The gut-brain connection is incredibly complex, and new information is being discovered daily. But here are some of the ways that a healthy gut can optimise brain function.
The gut is known as the ‘second brain’. This is because it produces many of the same neurotransmitters as the brain. Serotonin, dopamine and GABA are all produced in the gut. If there is an imbalance in the microbiome of the gut, you may not produce optimal levels of these chemicals. Your mood and your cognition both rely on neurotransmitter balance.
We know that people’s mood is something that really affects how teams work together and get things done. No one likes working with that crabby person in the next pod, right?
The production of neurotransmitters in the gut can support a healthy mood and several can regulate mood. In fact, the majority of serotonin (70 – 90%), often called the ‘happy’ brain chemical, is actually produced in the digestive tract.
Early research suggests that a healthy gut may make you feel calmer. It could also reduce your likelihood of issues such as anxiety and depression, two conditions many workplaces are becoming more aware of the need to support.
Cognition and performance
Perceived stress and sleep can affect you gut and in return your cognition and performance. If cognition relies on the right levels of brain chemicals, the gut-brain axis can certainly make – or break – your brainpower.
Research supports the effect of probiotics for cognition. There is also evidence that probiotics can reduce stress perception, a major factor in cognition. However, if you want a probiotic supplement for brain performance, your best bet is a practitioner-grade supplement that is prescribed based on your needs.
Foods to support gut function
If a happy gut equals a happy brain and happy brain equates to improved performance, the easiest way to keep your gut healthy is to put good food into it. Here are just a few of the foods that can optimise your gut health.
Fibre is one of my favourite nutrients! Other cultures consume far more than the modern Westernised diet, which may be why they experience better health. Fibre bulks up the stools and helps to sweep the gut of pathogens and toxins excreted by the liver.
But one particular type of fibre, prebiotic fibre, can also feed the good bacteria in the gut. By consuming plenty of fibre, you are nourishing good gut flora and preventing the growth of unhealthy micro-organism. By adding foods like garlic, onion, leeks, asparagus, bananas, oats and apples to your diet, you can easily increase your happy healthy gut bacteria.
Foods that are fermented such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha and yoghurt introduce good bacteria into the gut so, they can be supportive for gut health. Sauerkraut and kimchi are particularly good choices as they also contain fibre.
However, some people may experience an increase in symptoms when they consume fermented foods. This can be a sign of an underlying condition that requires management. Some conditions that can be exacerbated by fermented foods include irritable bowel syndrome, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth and histamine intolerance.
The gut is exposed to a lot of compounds that can cause inflammation as can chronic stress. Inflammation in the gut can cause an imbalance in the gut flora, increased permeability of the gut wall and other related issues. By consuming anti-inflammatory foods, you can help to reduce or even reverse the side effects of inflammation.
Anti-inflammatory foods include:
Herbs and spices
Nuts and seeds
Fruit and vegetables
Gut health is a foundational component of the Genesis Wellbeing Model based on 7 pillars of nutritional and lifestyle wellbeing. The other pillars include energy/exercise, nourishment/nutrition, environment, sleep, interconnection, and stress management.
I have developed an "8 Weeks to Wellness" group program that I run for teams and organisations and the foundational pillar of the program is the work we do to improve gut health. Contact me if you would like to know more about running the program or if you are interested in hosting nutrition and lifestyle seminars in your workplace.