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Could eating bacteria improve your mental health?

Are you looking for ways to improve your diet?

Growing evidence suggests that eating bacteria could be the key to lowering inflammation, improving heart health and even improving your mental health. Dr Michael Mosley investigates in the latest episode of his new podcast, Just One Thing.

Dr Michael Mosley adds more bacteria to his diet

Listen to Radio 4's Just One Thing - with Michael Mosley.

Healthy fridge raiding

When we’re working at home, the temptation to grab a snack from the kitchen is there all day long. Raiding the fridge has become a great way to break up the working day and get in those extra steps away from the desk. So what’s the best food to stock up on? Is there something that could keep you going till dinner time and have long-lasting positive effects on your gut and overall health?

Dr Michael Mosley has some top tips for simple diet changes that could make a big difference to your health. For his new BBC Sounds podcast series, Michael learns about the pros and cons of eating bacteria and hears how adding fermented foods to your daily diet could have a positive impact on your health and life.

Fermented foods

It’s long been known that fermented foods like kefir, sauerkraut and kombucha are good for you. Kefir – a type of yogurty drink – dates back many centuries to the shepherds of the Caucasus mountains; sauerkraut – a type of fermented cabbage – has long been a traditional staple in parts of Germany; and kombucha – a type of fermented tea – dates back at least 6000 years, to ancient China.

We now know these foods are bustling with all types of microbes and bacteria, and a growing area of scientific research is revealing exactly how beneficial these tiny organisms are for our health.

Fermenting Kombucha

Our gut microbiome

Whether you like it or not, there are a hundred trillion microbes currently residing inside your gut. There are thousands of different species, a mixture of bacteria, viruses and even fungi. Together, they make up more than half the number of cells in your body!

Gut microbes release the precursor of serotonin, which can cross the blood-brain barrier and boost mood.

Scientists have recently been captivated by the power of the microbiome, and we’re only just beginning to understand just how much of an impact the gut microbiome has on long-term health – from your risk of allergies, to obesity, to inflammatory conditions like heart disease and diabetes.

Research has consistently revealed that the type of food we eat determines the make-up of the forest of microbes in our gut. And a growing body of research is revealing that some foods may be more beneficial than others in cultivating healthy tribes of microbes.

In the podcast, Dr Kirsten Berding-Harold tells Michael how we can best improve our diets to give our gut bacteria a bit more love. Her research has revealed that eating fermented foods can have a very real impact on our stress levels – with those who eat a diet rich in fermented foods reporting better mood and lower stress levels.

How does it work?

There are a whole host of neural links from your stomach to your brain; scientists think the mechanism for boosting your mood involves neurotransmitters that the gut microbiome produces, which in turn stimulate the vagus nerve connecting the gut to the brain. Gut microbes also release the precursor of serotonin, a key neurotransmitter for wellbeing, which can cross the blood-brain barrier and boost mood.

But this isn’t the only way that microbes affect our health – they also produce anti-inflammatory compounds which can reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes, obesity and heart disease. And they can even produce epigenetic changes, meaning a diet full of good bacteria can have an impact on your life and your future children’s lives forever.

So if you want to boost your physical and mental health, eating some good bacteria might be a good place to start. From drinking a daily dose of homemade kefir, to having a go at making sauerkraut at home, there are simple things we can be doing for a whole range of benefits.

Worth a try, isn’t it?

To find out more, listen to Just One Thing: Eat Some Bacteria.

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