How Your Gut Can Keep You Sane This Holiday Season

As great as the holidays are, they can be equally as stress-inducing. Maybe this isn’t true if you have a family that gets along perfectly (?!) or if you enjoy facing crowds while shopping (?!). But chances are this isn’t the case, and you are feeling the pressure like the rest of us.

The internet is full of stress-reducing tips that usually read along the lines of ‘take a bath,’ ‘read a book,’ or ‘go for a walk.’ And while yes, these things are helpful for superficial stress reduction, sometimes you need to fight stress on a deeper level.

For this, we turn to the gut. Our brains and therefore, our moods, are highly connected with the friendly bacteria present in our gut, or our microbiome. Recent research shows that our microbiome plays a critical role in mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. In a 2015 study, healthy adult participants were either given a prebiotic (a complex carbohydrate which serves as fuel for the bacteria in our gut) or a placebo. The group that received the prebiotic had significantly lower levels of cortisol (the stress hormone), suggesting that nourishing the microbiome can alter the neuroendocrine stress response.

More recently, a 2017 study published in the scientific journal Microbiome suggests that gut microbes improve mood by positively influencing miRNAs (nucleotides in our brain which play a role in stress-related psychiatric disorders). 

While researchers are still working to determine exactly how the gut is able to influence our mood, we do know that there is a significant connection, and that what we eat can have an impact on the quality and quantity of the microbes in our GI tract. We're sharing five tips for nourishing your gut and staying sane this holiday season:

Up Your Fiber Game
Fiber serves as fuel for beneficial bacteria in our gut, which is why fiber is often referred to as ‘prebiotics.’ Adult women should aim to get 25 grams per day and adult men should aim to get 38 grams per day. This fiber should come from whole, unprocessed foods and not supplements. 

Put that chocolate santa down
Evidence has demonstrated that the typical American diet, which is rich in sugar, meat and processed foods disrupts the microbiome in a way that can actually lead to increased absorption of calories (aka weight gain). Stick to real, whole foods this holiday season, and if you are is the holidays after homemade treats that are made with real ingredients and don’t come in a package.

Take a probiotic
Taking a probiotic supplement is one of the few supplements we recommend taking on a daily basis. Probiotics have shown to increase the diversity and abundance of beneficial bacteria in our gut, which is key for ensuring your microbiome is working for you and not against you.

Incorporate more fermented foods
Eating fermented foods is another way to ingest beneficial bacteria. This holiday season, make an effort to include more fermented foods like yogurt, kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles and miso into your diet.

Break a sweat
A 2016 study published in Microbiome looked at the microbiota composition of individuals with differing levels of fitness as well as diet patterns. Those individuals with higher peak oxygen uptakes (the gold standard for measuring cardiorespiratory fitness), had more diverse microbiomes. Exercise also produces the feel-good endorphin hormones, so regular exercise this holiday season is key for your sanity.