Go With Your Gut

In recent years there has been more mention of the importance of gut health than ever before, and not just for those suffering from digestive disorders. The stomach is often referred to as the “second brain” and we can all relate to the sensation of “butterflies in the stomach” in times of nervousness and excitement. People undergoing stress and anxiety will also often notice symptoms in their digestive system.  So it makes sense that gut health and mental health could be linked.


Nutrition therapits, Orla McLaughlin, suffered from health issues like IBS and cyclical vomiting while balancing a stressful career in marketing with studying. Through her work and her research, Orla has experenced first-hand, the effects than improvements in gut health can have to overall wellbeing


Etain Finn sat down with Orla to ask some of the most common questions about gut health and find out what manageable changes we can all make to our lifestyle to improve health in this area. .

What are the difference between prebiotics and probiotics?

Prebiotics are what the probiotics “feed on” and can be found in foods such as asparagus, onions and garlic as well as in supplement form.

Probiotics are the “good bugs” or good bacteria that already exist in our gut, but it is important to keep replenishing them. Probiotics in the diet can be found in “cultured” dairy products such as aged cheeses, kefir, buttermilk and sour cream or in fermented foods.

Is it worth investing in probiotic supplements, or can better gut health be achieved by diet alone?

The need for supplementation depends on the needs individual and where they are starting from. For example, somebody who has been on a long course of antibiotics may require supplements to restore their good bacteria faster.

However, in general Orla advocates a “food first” approach, and recommends the introduction of foods with prebiotics and probiotics in the diet on a daily basis as a first port of call.

Are fermented foods a fad or are they worth the hype?

Fermented foods are a great way to improve gut health through diet. Kimchi, miso soup, sauerkraut and kombucha drinks as accessible ways to introduce fermented foods into your daily diet. The thought of new foods or the perceived strong tastes of some fermented foods may be off-putting to some initially, but that we should be open to trying them.

One idea might be to mix some kimchi into a vegetable slaw with shredded beetroot and cabbage to add some sweetness and serve with a salad.  Or adding kimchi in a food processor with beans, lemon, garlic, avocado or olive oil to make a dip that you can serve with crudites. Tofu can be blended into a creamy consistency and added to a smoothie and a smoothie bowl for an easy way to include it in the diet on a daily

Try experimenting with fermented foods to find a way to adapt them to your lifestyle.

Purchasing kombucha drinks is an easy way to introduce fermented foods into your diet and many of these will be appealingly flavoured with the herbal teas they are brewed from.  

Japanese Kombucha

Japanese Kombucha

 Do you think gut health has a significant impact on emotional or overall wellbeing?

The gut is the “powerhouse”. Nurturing your gut health will always be a good start to improving your overall wellbeing, as well as a barometer.

For example, someone suffering from general fatigue or sluggishness might not see their gut health as connected, but it might emerge that they are also suffering from constipation or irregular bowel movements, and changing their diet might assist their wellbeing.

A number of recent studies of acknowledged the existence of the “gut brain axis”. In my own experience, improvements in diet and digestive system also had benefits in terms of mental clarity and ability to cope with stress and anxiety.

 Are there any things that are detrimental to the microbiome?

Lifestyle factors such as smoking, stress, and consuming a lot of sugar can have negative impacts on the good bacteria balance in the gut so it’s important to try and minimise these as well as introducing positive changes to one’s diet.

Those working shifts and with an altered circadian rhythm have been shown in research to have a negative effect on gut health. Obesity and a lack of exercise can also have a negative effect on gut health.

While a food first approach is preferable, there are many useful probiotic supplements available over the counter in pharmacies. However, there is no one size fits all supplement. You should discuss your individual needs from a supplement with the pharmacist before you purchase to ensure the dosage is right for your own needs, particularly if you are recovering from issues such as thrush, or antibiotic use. 

You can contact Orla on the link below.