Gut Health and How It Impacts Brain Health, General Wellbeing and Weight Loss

A quick Q + A on why gut health is so incredibly important, not just for our brain health but also general wellbeing.

How Does Gut Health Affect Brain Health?
The gut-brain connection goes both ways as a troubled digestive system also sends signals to the brain. So for example, distress in a person’s digestive system can lead to stress, depression, or anxiety.

How Does Gut Health Affect Mental Health?

The gastrointestinal tract can be fairly sensitive to our emotions, so feelings like anxiety, anger, excitement, and sadness can all trigger symptoms in our digestive tract.
The brain can also directly affect our intestines and our stomach, even just thinking about eating can make the brain release stomach juices before we take in food.

Can Your Gut Affect Your Mood?
Absolutely, this is because the gut and the brain interact very closely, which is why we can feel quite sick when we’re nervous, or we feel intestinal pain when we’re stressed.Our moods and emotions can combine with physical factors to cause digestive pain and other bowel symptoms. Psychological stressors can also influence the symptoms and the actual physiology of the gut.

What Does Your Skin Tell You About Your Gut Health?
Digestive problems and indigestion can affect the way your body retains the nutrients in your diet which in turn can affect our skin.Poor gut health leads to poor absorption of antioxidants, minerals, and the vitamins we need to keep skin healthy and this issue might also potentially worsen any existing skin conditions.

Can Your Gut Bacteria Help You Lose Weight?

Gut bacteria can affect your weight by influencing how your body digests different types of food and certain species of digestive bacteria can digest dietary fibres, which can also support weight loss.
A healthy gut microbiome can digest flavonoids, antioxidants found in plants, which can help prevent weight gain. It may also influence how the intestines absorb and store dietary fats.

How Does Gut Health Affect the Immune System?

A healthy gut microbiome keeps bad bacteria from outnumbering and overpowering the good bacteria in our system. It also stimulates the immune system to produce antibodies that prevent intestinal inflammation caused by bad bacteria, fungi and viruses.

This really exciting area is being updated all the time-there is still SO much we are learning about gut health, the microbiome and its role in general health and and our brain health.

Keep Well

Dr Clara Russell

What’s on your plate?

Nutrition cheat sheet 

What we eat gives us energy to survive and thrive. But what are we actually eating and how does it benefit us, or not?

Let’s break it down.

Macronutrients are the different types of food sources that we need- carbohydrates, protein and fat. There are regular headlines about how much of these  we should be eating but safe to say these are the main sources of energy that fills our plate

Carbohydrates are huge energy sources and they come in many different forms, some of which are more beneficial than others. The most nutritionally beneficial sources of carbohydrates are wholegrains, vegetables and legumes also known as pulses. These types of carbohydrates are good for the health of our gut as they support a healthy balance of bacteria here ( the microbiome) and give us sustained energy release.

Processed carbohydrates are quickly broken down into sugar and these are less beneficial when thinking about energy release. Often calorie dense and nutritionally low, processed carbohydrates have been linked to increased risk for diabetes and obesity. They are however usually pretty tasty – cakes, pasta, pizza, donuts- so its important to be mindful how much of these fill your plate on a regular basis, especially if you are looking to lose weight. 

Fat- fats from animal sources are saturated fats and plant sources are considered monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. Beneficial fats for brain health include omega3 fats and DHA which are most richly found in oily fish sources. Historically we were taught that saturated fat is all bad and should be kept to a minimum however there is a growing body of evidence that casts doubt on how concerned we need to be about this type of fat. We do know that plant based sources of fats as well as omega 3 sources are important for brain health and should form a regular part of a brain healthy diet 

Protein– essential for our cells, this can be obtained via plant or animal sources. 

Fibre– study after study has shown that most of us do not eat enough fibre. Plant based sources- vegetables and legumes are important sources of fibre which help keep our gut healthy and supporting our immune system and overall health 


Vitamins and Minerals– essential vitamins and minerals are found in what we eat. Vitamins A, D, E and K are found in daily and plant sources of fat. Water soluble Vitamins B and C are found in fruit, vegetables and meat.  Vitamin D can be found in some foods but our main source of Vitamin D is exposure to is sunlight which is why supplementation is usually recommended 


These are found in high quantities in plant based foods- fruit, seeds nuts legumes and of course vegetables. Different colours of these naturally occurring foods have a variety of different types of phytochemical and the more different colours we eat then the more phytochemicals we absorb. 

Phytochemicals are high in anti oxidants which make them superstars in fighting chronic inflammation. Research is ongoing as to how they could be increasingly important for gut health and other serious illnesses. 

Keep Well

Dr Clara Russell 

5 ways you can help your Immune System every day

As the global pandemic marches on, being mindful of our health and wellbeing is essential. As we start to move around a little more, possibly return to the workplace or even go on holiday it is important we remember that we need to look after ourselves.

Our immune system is complex. How we respond to infection and disease in general is determined by multiple individualised factors.  However there are everyday things we can do to help support and strengthen our immune system – and at least 2 of them are free!

  1. Exercise – Keeping active and exercising regularly improves our circulation. This also helps with production of antibodies – the bug fighting army that we need to fight infection and illness. Release of feel good endorphins from exercise also helps with feelings of stress and anxiety. This is important for our brain health and our immune system and stress has a negative impact on how we cope with infection. If we can exercise outside thats even better as nature has its own immune improving abilities.
  1. Load your plate with fruit and veg – Vitamin C, Zinc and Iron are just some of the nutrients that help our immune system fight and recover from infection. Leafy greens, brightly coloured fruits and vegetables are everyday ways to help us mainaitan our levels of these essential vitamins and minerals 
  1. Vitamin D-many of us are vitamin D deficient, the NHS and WHO have supported taking a maintenance dose of vitamin D for sometime now so if you don’t already, get started on 10mcg vitamin D daily. And get outside in the sunshine when you can ( and if there is any!)
  1. Sleep – poor sleep affects our immune system and impacts our ability to deal with and recover from infection. Whilst sleep routines have been set haywire during lockdown and the level uncertainty remains high it is understandable that getting a good nights sleep may still be challenging. If you are sleeping poorly and feeling tired read here for some tips and keep trying. Every night brings a new opportunity to sleep better and like all habits, once you get into a routine of sleeping well it is easier to maintain this
  1. Omega 3 – found in fatty fish such as salmon, these healthy fats are important for brain health as well as your immune system. Omega 3 fats are directly involved in production of some of the white blood cells (lymphocytes) that mount your defence against infection.

Keep Well,

Dr Clara Russell

Brain Food

What we eat makes a difference to both how we feel and the health of our brain. This is something that I hadn’t realised was as important as it is until I started researching brain health a few years ago.

Why does what we eat matter so much for our brain?

Nerve Cells

Our Gut and our Brain both have their own ‘nervous system’ which are in communication with each other. The Nervous system is a huge complex network of cells and connections that influence how our  bodies operate. The nervous system in our brain- known as the central nervous system – is linked to the nervous system with in our gut (known as the enteric nervous system).


The nerve cells that line our gut are important for digestion of our food and also for the release of a very important neurotransmitter serotonin. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that communicate between brain and nerve cells. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is directly linked to our mood, hunger and also plays a role in sleep. 

Gut Bacteria

Good bacteria within our gut helps with regulating how we digest food, improves how we absorb what we need from what we eat and also has a role with inflammation within the gut. Foods that support the growth of good bacteria help with these functions. Fibre is absolutely vital to the way our gut and gut bacteria works. Kefir, sauerkraut and live yoghurt are other ways to support the growth of these good guys. 


Supporting healthy bacteria in our gut is an important way to reduce inflammation. Omega 3 fatty acids within fish and other sources of healthy fats have been shown to be anti inflammatory. 

Nutritional Psychiatry

What we eat and its role in brain health is so important there is a specialised field of medicine looking at this in more detail to further understand this area.

What we do know is this- eating whole, unprocessed foods with lots of fruit, vegetables, natural fibre and beneficial fats is important for our brain health

Brain Health Nutritional Stars

B vitamins are involved in many aspects of energy production as well as neurotransmitters. B vitamins are found in meat, whole grains, eggs, legumes and green veg. As we get older we are more likely to become deficient in some of the B vitamins often due to the way our body absorbs these from our diet. B12 deficiency is more common in the elderly population and those following vegan or vegetarian diet. 

Vitamin D is essential to the normal production of our body’s hormones – chemical messengers. For brain health, enough vitamin D is vital for the production of neurotransmitters. Hard to obtain from out diet, ensuring we have exposure to sunshine and supplementing with Vitamin D is recommended by WHO and NHS. 

Keep Well

Dr Clara Russell

Why a Taste of the Med is Important for your Brain Health

Brain function and the Mediterranean Diet: tackling depression, dementia and weight loss

We’ve talked before about the benefits of the Mediterranean diet ( ) and it’s worth noting the science behind the recommendations on what to eat as part of a diet designed for health and wellbeing.

Scientific research shows that polyphenols may be beneficial for brain health, specifically when it comes to depression, since polyphenols influence neurotransmitters in the brain that possess anti-depression activities.

In addition to regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight, the World Health Organisation also specifically recommends following a Mediterranean diet to decrease your risk of developing dementia as it is “the most extensively studied dietary approach in relation to cognitive function”.

When it comes to weight loss the study of more than 10,000 Spanish women and men over a 5-year period, researchers found that those who had adhered the most high to the Mediterranean diet gained the least amount of weight annually compared to those who didn’t stick with it as closely.

In addition, when compared with a low-fat diet in another study, the Mediterranean diet resulted in almost double the amount of weight loss, thanks to a higher intake of satiating fats and fibre which tend to stabilise your blood sugar, the researchers note.

So eat plenty of these:

Fish and other types of seafood at least twice per week

Olive oil ( extra virgin olive oil if you can)

Nuts and seeds

Colourful fruits and vegetables- the more variety of colour of these you can eat the better variety of phytonutrients you will have in on your plate

Whole grains such as quinoa, and oats

Fresh herbs

Beans and legumes

And moderate these:


Processed carbohydrates

Processed meats

Refined sugars

There’s more information to be found on the NHS website.

Keep Well

Dr Clara Russell

Add a taste of the Mediterranean to your plate…

A Taste of the Mediterranean

We might not be able to head abroad this summer but with BBQ season here, it’s worth remembering fish when you’re prepping food for your family.

The Mediterranean diet, which has at its heart fresh fruit and vegetable produce, nuts, whole grains, and healthy fats, continues to be celebrated for its benefits for consumers and the planet.

Now more than ever, it is important to maintain a healthy diet, as what we eat and drink can affect our ability to prevent as well as recover from infections

New evidence also suggests that access to healthy foods can lower obesity rates and in response to the pandemic this is increasingly important.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) advises adults to adhere to a Mediterranean diet to help them stay well.  Oily fish forms part of the world-renowned Mediterranean diet, which has been hailed for its brain health elements.

Fish has now been revealed as the most important part of the Mediterranean diet ; ahead of vegetables and nuts.
So whether its garlic prawns, soy salmon, seared swordfish or grilled mackerel or sizzling tuna steak there are lots of ways to cook super healthy food on your BBQ.And the BBC has lots of great recipes for your summer BBQ.

Keep Well,

Dr Clara Russell

5 Ways To Eat Your Way To A More Positive State Of Mind

5 Ways To Eat Your Way To A More Positive State Of Mind

More than 4 million people in England are on antidepressants  and a recent article in The Telegraph states there has been a 10-15% rise in antidepressant prescriptions. 

And as we emerge from COVID-19 lockdown, many people are even more stressed and anxious.Nutritional medicine has made developments in exploring the link between mental and physical health and research shows depression is more common in those with compromised immune function.

So what can we do?

It is possible to eat food to support our hormones, brain chemicals and our mood.

We’ve kept it super simple with 5 top recommendations.
Consider eating these foods on a regular basis. 

Eggs-Rich in zinc and tryptophan. eggs can boost serotonin levels.

Avocado-Rich in omega – fatty acids which have an array of benefits and these are healthy fats.

Fish, chicken and lamb-These proteins provide a complete mix of the amino acids we need for the building blocks of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine.

Quinoa-Rich in protein, magnesium and B vitamins which we need to produce anti-anxiety brain chemicals including GABA.

Salmon-Full of healthy fatty acid to support our hormones and libido. 

Keep Well

Dr Clara Russell

Make sure your Spring Salad has this in it…..

Cucumbers – not just for salads or to put over puffy eyes

Now we’re experiencing summer weather and salads it’s worth pointing out that cucumber should be high up on your list of fruit to consume in the coming weeks.

The ubiquitous cucumber packs a punch when it comes to hydration – whether you’re eating it or drinking water infused with tt.
Though commonly thought to be a vegetable, cucumber is actually a fruit and scores high in beneficial nutrients.

Cucumbers are composed of about 96% water, they are especially effective at promoting hydration and can help you meet your daily fluid needs.
They are also low in calories, high in water and can be used as a low-calorie topping for many dishes. 

Add in the fact they’re low in calories and contain a good amount of water and soluble fibre, making them ideal for promoting hydration and aiding in weight loss.
To maximise the nutrient content, cucumbers should be eaten unpeeled as peeling them reduces the amount of fibre, as well as certain vitamins and minerals.
Cucumbers contain antioxidants, including flavonoids and tannins, which prevent the accumulation of harmful free radicals and may reduce the risk of chronic disease.

High in water they also and promote hydration. Moreover, cucumbers contain pectin a type of soluble fibre which helps regulate bowel movements.Staying hydrated can improve stool consistency, prevent constipation and help maintain regular bowel movements.

In our home we drink cucumber water and snack on cucumber and carrots with hummus. 
Low cost, low calories and a myriad of uses and here is the science behind why we should all be eating more of the humble cucumber.

Where essential Vitamin and Minerals are hiding in your kitchen

The 13 essential vitamins are A, C, D, E K and the B vitamins: thiamine (B1 ), riboflavin (B2 ), niacin ( B3 ), pantothenic acid ( B5 ), pyridoxine ( B6 ), biotin ( B7 ), folate ( B9 ) and cobalin ( B12 ).

You can obtain these through the food you choose to eat but you may benefit from supplementing some of them with vitamin and mineral products depending on your diet and health status. 

Here’s a simple good to what you need and why.

Vitamin A

Good for: maintaining healthy skin and a good immune system.

Found in: cheese, eggs, milk, oily fish and yoghurt.

Vitamin C

Good for: maintaining healthy skin, blood vessels, bones and cartilage.

Found in: oranges, red and green peppers

Vitamin D

Good for: keeping bones, teeth and muscles healthy.

Found in: salmon, sardines, red meat and other oily fish.

Vitamin E

Good for: maintaining healthy skin and eyes.

Found in: plant oils such as soya and olive oil, nuts and seeds.

Vitamin K

Good for: healing wounds.

Found in: green leafy vegetables such as spinach and broccoli, vegetable oils and cereal grains.

The B Vitamins 

Thiamine ( B 1 )

Good for: keeping the nervous system healthy.

Found in: peas, fresh and dried fruit, eggs and wholegrain breads.

Riboflavin ( B 2 )

Good for: keeping skin, eyes and the nervous system healthy.

Found in: milk, eggs and rice.

Niacin ( B 3 )

Good for: keeping the nervous system and skin healthy.

Found in: meat, fish, wheat flour, eggs and milk.

Pantothenic Acid ( B 5 )

Good for: supporting energy release from food.

Found in: chicken, beef, potatoes, porridge, tomato, kidney, eggs, broccoli and wholegrains.

Pyrixodine ( B 6 )

Good for: allowing the body to use and store energy from protein and carbohydrates in food.

Found in: poultry, pork, fish and eggs.

Biotin ( B 7 )

Good for: helping the body break down fat.

Found in: a wide range of foods such as almonds but in very low levels.

Folate ( B 9 )

Good for: forming healthy red blood cells.

Found in: leafy green vegetables, peas, chickpeas and brussel sprouts

Cobamalin ( B 12 )

Good for: making red blood cells and keeping the nervous system healthy.

Found in: meat, salmon, cod, milk, cheese and eggs. Important to consider supplementation if following a vegetarian or vegan diet.

Keep well, Dr Clara Russell

Sugar and your Brain

Why sugary foods can affect your mood

“The sugar high’ is something we are all familiar with both in ourselves and in our children – a sudden burst of energy that comes after eating sweet treats. 

But how does that sugar mood lift affect our brain cells?

A brain healthy diet recommends minimising refined sugar and processed foods- but why? 

A study done in Australia in 2015 showed that some parts of the brain are smaller in adults with diets high in sugar  and processed foods. In particular an area of the brain that is important for our memory – the hippocampus- was found to be affected.`**


Sugary and processed foods are thought to affect our brain cells in a number of ways. 

One way sugar can cause damage is by triggering inflammation within our cells, 

Another effect of sugar is known as oxidative stress, often described as similar to rust in an old car.

How we food can help our mood 

Certain foods can protect our cells from oxidative stress. 

More research from Australian found replacing refined carbohydrates and processed foods for vegetables, whole foods and fish for 12 weeks reduced levels of moderate to severe depression*

Eating a diet rich in vegetables, oily fish, nuts, seeds and wholegrain have been shown to help protect our cells from the ‘rust’ that can be caused by processed foods and other aspects of our lifestyles including stress. 

Reducing Inflammation

Omega 3 fatty acids from food and Anti Oxidants ( known as flavonoids ) found in brightly coloured fruit and vegetables have been shown to help reduce inflammation.

High levels of inflammation have been found in people with depression and chronic diseases. 

The 2nd brain

Did you know our gut is known as the second brain? This is because the gut and brain are in direct communication. Foods that benefit the good bacteria in our gut are also thought to be helpful for our brain. Sources of probiotics have been shown to help with low mood and anxiety.

Research is ongoing about this hugely exciting area but including sources of fermented foods in our diet- such as kefir or sauerkraut-  can be beneficial to  both our Gut and Brain health 

There is no age too old or too young to start thinking about brain health and how we can help look after our amazing brains.  

Keep Well

Dr Clara Russell