The link between sleep and gut health

The Beauty Chef The link between sleep and gut health

‘Sleep is your superpower’ may just be the most scientifically-proven meme on social media.

Good quality sleep is known to improve our moods, memory, and creativity. It lowers anxiety, depression and stress plus reduces your risk of other chronic diseases. And it supports our immune systems.

Exciting new discoveries about the health benefits of sleep (and the impacts of not getting enough) just keep on coming. But the most significant finding of all could be the emerging connection between the quality of our sleep and the health of our gut.

We already know a lack of sleep can increase our risk of obesity, weight gain and type 2 diabetes. Sleep disruption also negatively affects our appetite and insulin sensitivity. But sleep researchers are now exploring how sleep impacts our gut microbiome – and vice versa.

How sleep affects gut health

Recent research has shown that losing sleep may have a negative effect on the health and diversity of the microbes residing in our guts. So, given that microbial diversity is one of the key indicators for good health – a lack of sleep could be costly. Other studies suggest that our gut microbes may actually influence how well we sleep, too. For instance, it has been discovered that our gut microbes have their own internal clocks or circadian rhythms and these rhythms appear to have an effect on the sleep-wake cycles of their human hosts.

Another study found that beneficial gut microbes may also help to protect us from the effects of stress – which as we know, contributes to poor sleep. The study found that a diet rich in prebiotics (for example, the insoluble fibres found in onions, leeks, artichokes and other fibrous vegetables) feeds our microbes which in turn, helps to regulate our stress response and possibly improves our sleep quality as a result. On the flipside, the researchers discovered that even short-term exposure to stress can alter the balance of our gut microbes.

It’s important to note too, that the beneficial bacteria in our gut can also boost our body’s supply of melatonin – our sleep hormone – helping to maintain and support our body’s natural sleep cycles. Given that melatonin has the ability to help protect the gut from stress-induced lesions, getting enough sleep is integral to not only our gut health, but overall wellbeing as well.

It’s no wonder then that experts agree that taking care of your gut health may just be one of the most supportive sleep habits of all.

How to cultivate better gut health – and therefore, better sleep

To improve your gut health as well as your sleep quality, it’s important to first address what you’re putting on your plate. Begin by eating a diverse range of low human intervention foods – unprocessed, wholefoods, as close to their natural state as possible. Think high fibre, prebiotic plant foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, pulses, legumes and plenty of probiotic-rich lacto-fermented foods such as full-fat yoghurt, miso, sauerkraut and kimchi.

At the same time, try to avoid processed foods, refined sugars, pesticides and unnecessary antibiotics which can all have a detrimental effect on the health and diversity of your microbes.

And, to supercharge the effects of your healthy diet – indulge in daily exercise, which has also been shown to improve the quality of your sleep and change the composition of your gut microbiome.

How do you cultivate better sleep habits? We’d love to hear your tips…




Rhubarb & Pear Cobbler with Coconut Dumplings


SERVES 6

Looking for a comforting winter dessert that’s both skin and gut friendly? When it comes to desserts, puddings and dumplings are the two that satisfy the most! This warming and sumptuous dessert is like bread and butter pudding meets apple pie. And, aside from being delicious, it will also keep both your skin and microbial community happy, as it’s full of beauty-boosting and fibre-rich ingredients like rhubarb, coconut flour and pear.

INGREDIENTS

  • 500g (1 lb 2 oz, approx. 1 bunch) rhubarb, cut into 5 cm (2 in) lengths
  • 500g (1 lb 2 oz, approx. 3 medium) ripe pears, quartered, cored & sliced into thirds lengthways
  • 4 medjool dates, pitted & coarsely chopped
  • Zest of 1 unwaxed lemon 
  • 80 ml (2½ fl oz / ⅓ cup) water
  • 4 tablespoons arrowroot
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons pure organic maple syrup 
  • 1 teaspoon natural vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon, plus extra for dusting
  • 100g (3½ oz / 1 cup) ground almonds
  • 40g (1½ oz / ⅓ cup) coconut flour
  • 1 teaspoon gluten-free baking powder
  • 1/½ tablespoons unsalted cultured butter, chilled & diced
  • 2 free-range organic eggs, lightly beaten
  • 80ml (2½ fl oz / ⅓ cup) tinned coconut milk, plus extra for brushing
  • 80ml (2½ fl oz / ⅓ cup) almond milk
  • Coconut yoghurt, to serve (optional)

METHOD:

  1. Preheat oven to 190°C (375°F/Gas Mark 5). 
  2. In a medium bowl, toss the rhubarb, pears, dates and lemon zest. Transfer the mix into a 2 litre (68 fl oz/8 cup) capacity ovenproof dish.
  3. In a small bowl, mix the water and 2 tablespoons of the arrowroot. Add the lemon juice, 1 tablespoon maple syrup, the vanilla and cinnamon. Pour over the fruit and set aside.
  4. In a medium bowl, combine the ground almonds, coconut flour, remaining arrowroot and baking powder and stir.
  5. Use your fingers to rub in the butter until it resembles coarse crumbs.
  6. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs, coconut milk, almond milk and the remaining maple syrup.
  7. Pour the wet into the dry ingredients and stir until well combined. Set aside for 10 minutes to rehydrate the coconut flour.
  8. Drop six evenly sized lumps of the dumpling mixture over the fruit. Brush with some coconut milk milk and lightly dust with cinnamon. 
  9. Cover the tray with aluminium foil and bake for 30 minutes until the filling begins to bubble up around the sides.
  10. Remove the foil and bake for a further 15 minutes, or until the dumplings are golden brown.
  11. Serve with coconut yoghurt, if desired.

CARLA’S TIP:  If you don’t have pears, you can swap them for apples with their skins on for a probiotic-rich dessert.
For more gut-nourishing recipe ideas, check out The Beauty Chef Gut Guide – available now.

5 ways your gut health may be affecting your hormones

The Beauty Chef 5 ways your gut health may be affecting your hormones

Your hardworking gut microbes do so much more than digest the food you eat.

While it’s true that they help you to process, synthesise and absorb nutrients – as well as manufacturing some important vitamins, essential amino acids and bioactive molecules – your gut microbial community has a powerful influence over your health and wellbeing that extends far beyond your digestive tract.

As Carla explains in The Beauty Chef Gut Guide, “The gut is one of the most complex systems in the body. It consists of living organisms, immune and nervous system cells and hormonal glands. It’s where we produce and regulate many essential hormones and neurotransmitters and metabolise nutrients and neutralise pathogens and where you will find at least 70 per cent of our immune system.”

The role that your gut microbes play in producing and regulating many essential hormones and neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) has a powerful influence on your moods, appetite, metabolism, energy and blood sugar levels. Thus, supporting the mini eco-system of microorganisms that populate your digestive tract can have beneficial effects on your hormone health.

Here are five ways your gut microbiome can affect your hormone health – and vice versa…

Serotonin

The links between gut health, mood and your sense of wellbeing are complex. But research has shown links between dysbiosis or inflammation in the gut microbiome and mental illness, including anxiety and depression.

Ninety per cent of your serotonin – often referred to as the happy hormone – is produced in your gut. This mood-boosting hormone is also involved in supporting gut motility, sleep, bone and cardiovascular health. Apart from cultivating good gut health, you can also support serotonin production by eating tryptophan-rich foods such as eggs, seeds, nuts, cheese, lean meat and lentils.

Oestrogen

Surprisingly your digestive health can also affect your sex hormones – particularly your oestrogen levels. Your gut microbiota produce an enzyme called B-glucuronidase that turns oestrogen into its active form. However, this doesn’t happen if you have gut dysbiosis or low microbial diversity. When this happens you end up with less active – or useful – oestrogen circulating in your bloodstream and more bound or inactive oestrogen ready for excretion. If your elimination pathways are overloaded, that bound oestrogen gets recirculated, which can cause oestrogen dominance and manifest in symptoms including adrenal fatigue, bloating, mood swings, fluid retention, acne and breast tenderness. Supporting your gut microbiome and excretion pathways can therefore help to avoid a build-up of excess oestrogen.

Appetite, blood sugar regulation, energy & digestion

Your gut microbiome produces a number of digestive hormones including cholecystokinin, gastrin, secretin and ghrelin that help regular your appetite, various digestive processes, energy and blood sugar levels. Ghrelin, secreted by the lining of the stomach, is known as the hunger hormone because it stimulates your appetite when it enters the bloodstream.

GABA

Gamma-aminobutyric acid is another neurotransmitter produced by beneficial gut bacteria such as Lactobacillus. GABA helps reduce feelings of stress and anxiety and improves sleep. Consuming probiotic-rich, lacto-fermented wholefoods may help support GABA production and ease symptoms of anxiety. While mood disorders are complex, research suggests reducing gut inflammation by nourishing your gut microbiome may also be a helpful part of a treatment protocol.

Hormonal acne

The underlying causes of acne may be due to hormonal or digestive imbalances – or a combination of both. Hormonal acne is triggered by raised levels of hormones or sensitivity to the hormone testosterone or other androgens which stimulate sebaceous glands in the skin. This can happen during puberty, mid-cycle or during your period.

Oestrogen and progesterone can affect the speed at which food moves through the digestive tract, causing bloating, diarrhea or constipation at various stages of the menstrual cycle. Constipation can also slow or overload other elimination pathways and lead to hormonal imbalances which in turn can trigger symptoms such as bloating, cramping, mood disorders, headaches, sugar cravings and breast tenderness. And, the stress hormone cortisol can also trigger acne by upsetting the balance of gut bacteria and suppressing our immune system.

All good reasons to love your gut!

Have any questions for us about the link between hormone health and gut health? Let us know in the comments below.


5 gut-loving retreats to visit right now

The Beauty Chef 5 gut-loving retreats to visit right now

The desire to escape everyday life often begins as a gut feeling. Your gut may know you need to take a holiday long before you do.

To keep everyone happy, a vacation should be a reward for your mind, body and your hard-working gut microbes. That means your destination should please your most significant other – the trillions of microbial cells that co-exist and work with your human cells to support your health and immunity. You could even call this symbiotic community of microbes, your ‘other half’.  And if they are happy, then chances are you will be, too.

So just as you wouldn’t dream of taking your human partner away on a holiday where they hate the food, it also pays to choose a destination that will please your gut microbes as much as you.

Here’s where to take your microbes on vacation…

Eden Health Retreat, Currumbin Valley, Queensland

Known as Camp Eden before its recent upmarket makeover, Eden sits in the lush, rainforest of Currumbin Valley just up the hill from Coolangatta airport. There’s no TV, wifi or mobile reception. But there is morning Qigong, a saltwater pool, fitness classes and massage treatments. The naturopath-designed organic meals use fresh, seasonal wholefood ingredients sourced from local producers. Eden also offers vegetarian or vegan options and caters for gluten, dairy, egg and nuts allergies – but it doesn’t provide individualised food menus. They do, however, provide plenty of wise advice to help you stay on track when you get home.

Split Apple Retreat, Nelson, New Zealand

This luxury lodge and wellness spa lies in the Abel Tasman National Park in New Zealand’s South Island, not far from the 120 million-year-old rock it’s named after. The art and antique furniture are a feast for the senses while the food – created by a doctor who specialises in nutrition and a chef who enjoys culinary artistry – will also nourish you on many levels. Then there’s Japanese tea and calligraphy, meditation, yoga, acupuncture, massage and sea kayaking. Or you can just drink in the ocean views from the saltwater infinity pool.

Samadhi Retreat, Macedon Spa Region, Victoria, Australia

This is a ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ style luxury experience located in Victoria’s famous Daylesford and Macedon Spa Region. It’s a short drive from the healing mineral waters of Hepburn Springs – which rise out of a 450 million-year-old volcanic basin – and conveniently just an hour and a half from Melbourne. Go for The Essential Retreat or choose from six retreat programs with names such as Energise, Nurture, Inner Peace, Wholeness, Transformation and Illuminate. Recharge, regenerate, detox or gently cleanse, it’s up to you. The food is organic, locally-sourced and bespoke if you have special dietary requirements. To soothe your body, soul and digestive system, there’s also pranic breathing, Qigong, art therapy, massage, meditation and of course, hot natural mineral springs.

Resolution Retreats, Tauranga, New Zealand

If you want to set some new wellness goals, this women-only, weight loss and health retreat has plenty of credible, onsite health professionals to get you started. There are daily educational sessions and healthy cooking classes plus nutritionist-designed menus. The infinity pool boasts breathtaking mountain views plus naturally-heated, mineral-rich water from a nearby geothermal spring. And it’s only a two and a half hour drive from Auckland, near the picturesque Bay of Plenty.

Living Valley Springs, Queensland

Located just 30 minutes from Noosa Heads on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast – but a world away from life as you know it – this not-for-profit (and some would say hardcore) health retreat is famous for its seven-day Power Cleanse. It begins with two-days of organic (or pesticide-free depending on availability) meals followed by three days of liquid cleansing with protein shakes, vegetable juices and broths, then another two-days of delicious food (which can be designed to suit your needs – whether that be vegetarian, vegan, dairy-free, keto, paleo or specific intolerances). You can even stay for 14 or 21 days – or even longer – if you need. Throughout the process, you’re supported by daily steam baths, body treatments, bushwalks, fitness classes, optional counselling and nightly health lectures on self-care, lifestyle and longevity.

Any other gut-loving retreats we should check out? Let us know!