A pregnant woman doing a heart sign in her belly.

David Cullen, Strategic Insight and Planning, Bord Bia – Irish Food Board

When it comes to nutrition our heart, muscles, bones and even our teeth get lots of TLC. However, as scientists continue to develop their understanding of the role of gut health on how our minds and bodies function, it is time your gut got the attention it deserves.

There are many more bacteria in your gut than there are cells in your body. In fact, some say that we should be called “holobionts” as opposed to humans in light of the co-dependent relationship we have with microbes. Regardless of whether this moniker is likely to catch on, we should do what we can to make sure that more of these bacteria are the good type; the type that helps us to digest food efficiency and extract nutrients that our body can use, as opposed to the bad type that is injurious to our systems balance. Our gut fauna, including bacteria, is referred to as our gut “microbiome”, and everyone’s is as unique as their fingerprint.

The balance between goodies and baddies in the microbiome and the nature of organisms therein have been proven to have a significant and diverse impact on human health. Unsurprisingly the presence of certain bacteria have been connected with gut issues such as Crohn’s disease, Ulcerative Colitis and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Perhaps more surprisingly though these microbes interact directly with our brains and have been identified by UCC professors Ted Dinan and John Cryan as a key contributor to a range of mental health issues including stress, anxiety and depression. There is a sizable body of evidence and literature that make a compelling case for this gut-brain connection and according to The Psychobotic Revolution (Anderson, Cryan, Dinan 2018), their effects can be as powerful as Prozac.

So the dividends of a healthy microbiome on the gut and the mind are clear, but it doesn’t end there! Certain gut bacteria have been linked to heart disease and cholesterol build up and researchers are discovering counteractive substances found in foods like Olive and Grapeseed oil that can help these bad bacteria in check. Furthermore, an unhealthy balance has been linked to obesity as it is believed to obscure the satiety message from getting through to our brain.

So now that your anxiety levels are raised about your microbiome, what can you do about it? You get your starter microbiome from your mother at birth and this is supplemented by the things you encounter in the world as you grow up; you can’t do much about these. But thankfully it is possible to influence your gut bacteria through your food choices.

Probiotics can be good; leafy vegetables, whole grains and fermented food too. Good old fibre is important; while indigestible to us, it feeds the microbes we want to promote for reducing inflammation and good mental health. Pro-biotic yoghurts and the rise of fermented foods including kefir and sauerkraut are also being fuelled by the gut-health movement. As a general rule too much processed and refined carbohydrate can have a negative effect.

Further exploration of these gut-health-promoting foods should point the way to fresh opportunities for Irish food producers to capitalise on this growing phenomenon. For further information please contact thethinkinghouse@bordbia.ie and for media queries please contact press@bordbia.ie.


Anderson, S., Cryan, J., & Dinan, T. (2018). The Psychobiotic Revolution. United States: National Geographic Society.

Bhargava, H. (2019). How Your Gut Health Affects Your Whole Body. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/ss/slideshow-how-gut-health-affects-whole-body

Davis, N. (2019). The human microbiome: why our microbes could be key to our health. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/mar/26/the-human-microbiome-why-our-microbes-could-be-key-to-our-health

Enders, G. (2018). Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ (Revised Edition). Vancouver: Greystone Books.

O’Byrne, E. (2018). Food to boost your mood: Gut bacteria directly linked to your mental health. Retrieved from https://www.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/lifestyle/features/food-to-boost-your-mood-gut-bacteria-directly-linked-to-your-mental-health-829800.html