Although made over 2000 years ago, there is a depth of new research showing that Hippocrates was in fact, very accurate within this statement.
Over the last 2 decades, we have learnt more and more about gut health and about its huge impact on our overall health and happiness. In fact, an unhealthy gut has been linked to a wide variety of different health issues including (1):
· Irritable bowel syndrome
· Chronic fatigue syndrome
In the UK, 30.4 working days a year are lost due to sickness or illness-related underperformance (2). Improving staff wellbeing is an essential element to improving productivity, increasing a happier workplace environment and ultimately saving money on sickness absence and presenteeism.
The reason the gut is so essential in overall wellbeing is down to the gut microbiome. This is a collection of BILLIONS of different bacteria, yeasts and fungi that reside in our gut. The numbers are so large that we actually have more bacteria cells in our body than human cells, making many question who is actually in charge of who here!? (3)
The beneficial bacteria within our gut can provide us with a variety of benefits to our health including:
· Supporting our immune system (as 70% of the immune system resides in the gut)
· Creating neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine and GABA (1)
· Supporting energy level
In order to support their workforces gut health, there are a variety of things that employers can do.
1. Encourage a colourful fibre rich diet
In order for healthy gut bacteria to thrive, they need a constant supply of fibre to fuel them. Unfortunately in the UK we often don’t reach our recommended daily amount of 30g and usually only get around 19g. This, especially partnered with a high sugar diet (hello office biscuits) can lead to imbalances to the gut microbiome leading to a dominance of pathogenic bacteria.
Employers could help to increase their workforces fibre intake a number of ways such as:providing fruit and vegetables as snacks, offering high fibre lunch options in canteens like including legumes like beans and chickpeas and even simply switching event buffets from white bread to brown bread.
2. Reduce stress
Stress can have a huge impact on our gut. When we are in the ‘fight or flight’ response we don’t prioritise digestion and gut health because the rich oxygenated blood flows to our limbs instead to prepare for action! Prolonged lengths of stress can cause damage to the gut as it doesn’t have chance (and the blood flow) to repair itself. This damage causes the gut lining to become ‘leaky’ meaning particles of food and other molecules can pass into the blood stream which sets off the immune response causing inflammation. Inflammation is the root cause of a majority of diseases.
The workplace can look to reduce stress by providing regular sessions like yoga and mindfulness as well as encouraging staff members to take holiday leave, notwork over their contracted hours and participate in social events.
3. Encourage time out for lunch
It has pretty much become the ‘norm’ to eat lunch at your desk but we know that when we are distracted by screens and to- do lists, we don’t prioritise digestion.When we aren’t looking at our food when we eat we don’t create the initial release of saliva that starts the digestion process, we don’t chew adequately and we are far more likely to eat more and enjoy our food less (4).
Encouraging employees to eat away from their desks and to be more mindful at lunchtimes can be a great way of supporting healthy digestion as well as supporting mental wellbeing through encouraging group mealtimes and positive social interactions.Look to ensure there are areas to eat lunch away from desks, promote an office culture that prioritises breaks and maybe even organise some lunch clubs where you schedule in days where the whole office or teams stop to eat lunch together.
Written by Laura Bryan
Laura is the Founder of ‘Mind Nourishing’ which is a Nutritional Therapy business which specialises in gut health and mental wellbeing. Mind Nourishing is currently developing a corporate nutrition programme which aims to reduce staff sickness through the power of food and mindset. Contact laura@mindnourishing for more information or go to www.mindnourishing.com for more details of 1:1 programmes and services.
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