Mood, stress, anxiety & depression

Consumers ‘get’ the link between gut and brain


Switched-on consumers have understood the message that there’s a link between the digestive system and their emotions.

A Mintel report looking at possible trends in the decade ahead notes that consumers are learning more about the natural connections in their bodies.

In particular, improved understanding of the research into the microbiome has taught more consumers about the importance of maintaining a healthy gut/brain axis, or the connection that links the brain, digestive system and emotions.

Sam Moore, Mintel’s Global Food & Drink Analyst, says: “In the next decade, more consumers will be able to gain an in-depth knowledge of their biology through personal health testing kits that will empower them to personalise their diet and health regimes.

“Analysis of these tools will inform consumers of the steps they need to take to address every aspect of their health, including brain and emotional health. As a result, brands will need to offer more personalised product offerings, smart home solutions, and explore how to help consumers address mood and brain health.”

The report goes on to note that more consumers are considering mental health alongside diet and exercise in their personal health management. This holistic health and wellness approach has inspired them to seek products that can improve mood and boost brain health, as well as those with emerging functional ingredients. As examples of the latter, Mintel includes mood-enhancing botanicals such as valerian root, chamomile flower, lemon balm and passionflower.

In the mood

Mintel’s opinions about the gut/brain axis probably depend heavily on recent Belgian and Dutch gut flora research cataloguing microbiota’s capacity to produce or degrade molecules that can interact with the human nervous system.

The researchers found that two groups of bacteria, Coprococcus and Dialister, were reduced in people with depression. And they saw a positive correlation between quality of life and the potential ability of the gut microbiome to synthesise a breakdown product of the neurotransmitter dopamine – 3,4-dihydroxyphenylacetic acid (DOPAC).

They also found that the bacteria Faecalibacterium and Coprococcus were both more common in people who rated more highly for mental quality of life. Both types of bacteria appear to be responsible for breaking down dietary fibre in order to produce an anti-inflammatory compound called butyrate.

It’s not yet clear whether changes in gut bacteria cause depression or mental health concerns, or are a by-product of having such issues in the first place. But one thing is clear – a diet low in processed foods and rich in plant foods, together with appropriate probiotic supplements, will benefit mood and mental health, especially when combined with exercise.

Prescription dread?

National research from CBD oil testing service EOS Scientific notes that many Britons are dissatisfied with prescribed medication on offer to them, suggesting that holistic remedies could experience a surge in popularity.

The research appears to indicate:

  • 24% think the best thing their GP could do for the treatment of insomnia is to provide effective alternatives to prescription medication
  • 14% have taken prescription medication for mental health before and the side effects alone (e.g. insomnia, drowsiness) have dissuaded them from using them again
  • 15% have used anti-depressants but they have not helped with anxiety
  • 14% have left a long-term issue relating to anxiety and insomnia untreated over many years in order to avoid prescription drugs
  • 30% are wary of approaching a doctor about their anxiety as they don’t want to be prescribed medication that may be too severe for their symptoms
  • 24% prefer to manage their anxiety with holistic remedies
  • 38% would use CBD oil to manage their anxiety and insomnia

If accurate, that last figure would equate to 17.4 million people.

Insomnia, anxiety & CBD

According to the insurers Aviva, 16m Britons suffer from insomnia and a further 6m experience anxiety-linked illness. Narratives nationally and globally have shifted massively over the past five years in relation to mental health-related ailments and it seems that the treatments that people receive are also on the brink of evolution.

EOS Scientific CEO Simon Manthorpe believes this shift is partly behind the rise of CBD remedies. "With medical professionals keeping a keen eye on CBD oil, healthcare in Britain looks like it is embarking on a stage of wide-scale evolution,” he says.

"At the end of 2019, the value of the British CBD market was estimated to be worth £300 million, with this valuation expected to quadruple by the end of 2021. Less than five years ago, CBD wasn’t even recognised on the UK FMCG market.”

What to recommend

A brain-friendly diet includes fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, lean protein, and limited amounts of sodium, saturated fat, and sugar.

If the focus is on energy, or lack of it, Dr Carrie Ruxton from the Health and Food Supplements Information Service (HSIS), says B vitamins have a vital role in helping the body to extract energy from foods, particularly carbohydrates. A ‘B complex’ supplement, containing thiamin, riboflavin, B6, B12, folic acid and niacin is a good option, particularly for vegetarians or vegans.

She adds: “Mental function depends on the ease of chemical messages jumping from one brain junction to another, called synapses. Studies show that the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids found in marine oils help to make this process more effective.”

Back to energy production, and with it the feel good factor. Coenzyme Q10 occurs naturally within every cell in the human body and is responsible for energy production. We cannot live without it. However, Q10 production decreases dramatically as we age, become ill or take certain medications such as statins.

Magnesium deficiency has been associated with the increased likelihood of anxiety and depression, with some studies suggesting that the mineral may help to reduce symptoms of anxiety and enhance conventional treatments.

One study investigating the use of magnesium in treatment-resistant depression concluded that since inadequate brain magnesium appears to reduce serotonin levels, and since anti-depressants have been shown to have the action of raising brain magnesium, we can hypothesise that magnesium treatment will be found to be beneficial for nearly all depressives (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27910808 quoted by BetterYou).

Finally, more on CBD, especially the terpenes Myrcene, Pinene, Limonene and Caryophyllene found in the highest concentrations in the cannabis plant. Nutritionist Alix Woods, working in association with CannabiGold, comments on the benefits of terpenes in synergy with phytocannabinoids: “Adding terpenes to the formula makes CBD oil more targeted and therapeutically beneficial, enhancing an emotional state like calm and relief.”

Mental health’s new chapter

The LA Times reported in January that American readers have become more interested in books about mental health than about diet and exercise.

New Year data released by bookstore chain Barnes & Noble seems to indicate that readers’ annual resolutions were focusing less on losing weight and getting in shape, and more on reducing stress and increasing self-esteem.

“In a recent shift, books focused on mental wellbeing were far outpacing titles addressing exercise and dieting,” said Liz Harwell, the bookstore’s senior director of merchandising for trade books.

This was a change from previous years when the more popular subjects were exercise and dieting.

Capitalising on the trend in the UK, oral and transdermal supplement company BetterYou has coined the concept of ‘magnesi-zen’ to encourage the British public to reach a rebalanced state of mind and feeling of physical calmness by absorbing magnesium.

Mental health in the workplace

How was ‘National Sickie Day’ for you? The first Monday of February is claimed to be the day on which most people call in sick across the country.

While we doubt throwing a sickie even occurred to the nation’s health food retail staff, it did prompt calls for an evolution in approaches to mental health in the workplace.

Gerard Barnes, CEO of depression treatment specialists Smart TMS, revealed independent research into the psychological state of the UK's workforce.

He quoted a BBC report and a survey conducted by the mental health charity Mind which showed that UK businesses are losing considerable amounts of money due to mental health issues experienced by employees. His company’s own research revealed:

  • 28% of UK workers experience unmanageable levels of stress and anxiety as a result of their jobs22% of UK workers say they are too busy to think about their mental health, despite having consistent symptoms of anxiety or depression

“It is in the best interests of everybody, both employers and employees, to enter into honest and transparent communication around mental health concerns and workplace-induced stress,” says Barnes.

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