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 

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

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 



8 Reasons to Add Ginger to your Cup, Plate or Pan

Ginger – whether you have it in hot water with honey and apple cider vinegar to start the day, or if you’re cooking a stir fry with it, ginger has a number of health benefits.( Ginger Nut biscuits however, don’t count )
Ginger is a flowering plant that originated from China. It belongs to the Zingiberaceae family, and is closely related to turmeric, cardamom and galangal.
The rhizome (underground part of the stem) is the part commonly used as a spice. It is often called ginger root, or simply ginger.
Ginger can be used fresh, dried, powdered, or as an oil or juice, and is sometimes added to processed foods and cosmetics. 

Ginger has a very long history of use in various forms of traditional and alternative medicine. 
It has been used to help digestion, reduce nausea and help fight the flu and common cold, to name just a a few.

The unique fragrance and flavour of ginger come from its natural oils, the most important of which is gingerol.
Gingerol is the main bioactive compound in ginger, responsible for much of its medicinal properties and it has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.

Here are just some of the benefits your brain and your body will experience when you consume ginger.

Improve Brain Function and Protect Against Alzheimer’s Disease
Oxidative stress and chronic inflammation can accelerate the aging process. They are believed to be among the key drivers of Alzheimer’s disease and age-related cognitive decline.
There is some evidence that ginger can enhance brain function directly. In a study of 60 middle-aged women, ginger extract was shown to improve reaction time and working memory.

It’s an anti-inflammatory.
Like other produce such as nuts, seeds, beans, and whole grains, ginger contains antioxidant-like compounds called phytonutrients that may reduce cell damage. It can reduce your risk of diabetes.
Scientists have linked some active compounds in ginger with improvements in insulin and metabolism. Dried and fresh ginger is great to have on-hand for flavouring smoothies, stir-frys or soups.  Whilst some chemical compounds in ginger may decrease over time, the drying process enhances other beneficial ones.

It can help with morning sickness.
Ginger may help reduce symptoms of morning sickness! In fact, research supports the safety and efficacy of ginger during pregnancy.

It’s a natural way to relieve period pain.

The research done on ginger’s pain-relieving properties, show that it helps with menstrual pain the most. Check with your GP before trying any supplement in extract or pill form, since it may interact with other medications you’re taking.

It can settle an upset stomach.Research has linked multiple digestive benefits to ginger, specifically acting on parts of your GI tract responsible for feelings of nausea, stomach upset, and vomiting. 

It can help with indigestion.Research demonstrates ginger has been shown to speed up emptying of the stomach in people with chronic indigestion (dyspepsia).

It may help prevent heart disease.
The same anti-inflammatory compounds in ginger can also reduce the risk of chronic disease.  A 2016 review linked regular ginger intake with lower cholesterol and blood sugar compared to a placebo. 

It may lower your risk of cancer.
The cell-protecting properties of ginger can lower the long-term risk of certain cancers.  That’s because the spice and other flavourings may reduce cellular activity that causes DNA changes, cell death, and proliferation of cancer cells. 

Whilst ginger’s not a cure-all for any chronic disease, using it regularly with loads of other spices and plant-based foods can help benefit health overall.

Keep Well

Dr Clara Russell

Daily ways to feed our immune system

Our immune system is big news these days. There has never been a more important time to think about taking care of immune system and doing all we can to make sure our immune defence weapons are sharp and fully loaded. 

Why our immune system matters?

Our immune systems are hard at work every moment of every day protecting us from infection and disease. One of their biggest ‘back room’ jobs is managing chronic inflammation in an effort to reduce this and reduce our risks of conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. A healthy immune system is also important for reducing our risks of cancer. 

Immune system recap

Our immune system takes the form of many millions of cells circulating in our blood stream on the look out for cells that they don’t like the look of. 

Many of our immune system cells are called lymphocytes  (lim-fo-sites) which come in 2 teams- B cells and T cells. 

Broadly speakingB cells release antibodies to try to attack and get rid of invading bacteria or bad guy cells 

T cells are in 2 main camps – Helper Ts and Killer Ts. 

Killer T cells which go to work on cells that have already begun to react to an assault from the bad guys. 

Helper T cells which work with the B cells to help make the anti bodies and also help killer T cells form 

Can we boost our immune system?

Well here’s the thing – scientists advise that we can’t boost an already perfectly functioning immune system. That would be like looking to create super hero immune cells. Having an over active immune system can causes its own problems and risks. 

However so many things that are part of daily life can affect the ability of our immune system cells to work as efficiently as they can. So the idea is we want to ‘boost’ our immune system back to baseline. 

Daily ways we impact our immune system
What we do every day can both help or hinder our immune system. 

Things that can affect our immune system negatively include poor sleep, being overweight, certain medications, stress, and having insufficient nutrients in our diet.

Therefore there is a good chance there are areas that we could improve on to help our immune system cells sharpen up their responses. 

What can we do to help our immune system?

When it comes to what we put on our plate here are some suggestions- 

Eat More Fish-

Omega 3 oil containing fish are helpful for a healthy immune system.

DHA and EPA found in omega 3 enhance the activity of B cells ( remember these guys? They are the ones that help make antibodies to the bad guys)

How much fish do we need to eat ? 2-3 servings a week if you can, if you are a non fish lover then an omega 3 fish oil supplement might be something to consider. 

Dial up the Garlic-

The sulphur components in garlic- one in particular known as allicin- have been shown to be helpful fo our immune systems. According to the Iowa Women’s Health Study, involving 41,000 middle-aged women, those who routinely ate garlic, fruits and vegetables had a 35 percent lower colon cancer risk. Benefits came from raw and cooked garlic .

Add anti oxidant lycopene rich tomatoes to your garlic and your are further helping your immune cells ( tomato blog)

More Magnesium

A mineral that has many many benefits to general health including regulating blood pressure, heart and brain benefits and supports healthy bones and muscles. Research has found that magnesium has a strong link to our immune system. 

Where to find magnesium? Almonds, cashews, spinach and dark chocolate 

Are you getting enough selenium?

A mineral that has been shown to support your immune system- fighting inflammation is one of its key roles. Not having enough selenium has in fact been found to slow immune responses when needed*. Found in tuna, cod, turkey, lamb, mushrooms, sunflower seeds and Brazil nuts

Drink cups of tea

Yes seriously Tea can help your T cells due to the ingredient theanine. This ingredient- an amino acid- has anti inflammatory properties which are thought to have a number of health benefits and supporting your immune system is one key benefit that has prompted ongoing research. 

Spice up your plate

Tumeric has anti oxidant and anti inflammatory properties** and has long been used for these and of course for its yummy taste and amazing colour. 

For some ideas on how to add this to your diet check out

We love this delicious turmeric milk !

Keep well

Dr Clara Russell

** Turmeric

What happens when we eat and why the Microbiome is important

Before we get into the microbiome a quick revision of digestion from biology


Digestion starts when we put food our Mouth. Our gnashers work to grind the food down  in partnership with our saliva. This chewing action, combined with release of enzymes ( chemicals that help with the break down of our food) ensure that the food is broken down in such a way that we can absorb what we need to from the food as it passes through our digestive system 

Food travels from the mouth, down the Oesophagus tube and into our Stomach – the balloon like structure we can feel when we push between the lower part of our ribs ( don’t push on it too hard, it will hurt!) 

The stomach can stretch to accommodate large amounts of food. The stomach is where the food is further broken down with the action of more enzymes and a type of acid (hydrochloric acid) and swizzled around to get it ready for its next destination. 

This process takes around 4 hours

When our stomach is empty, a chemical messenger hormone – ghrelin ( greh-lin) – is produced to tell our brains that we are ready to eat again

Next up on the digestion rollercoaster is the  (not very small) Small Intestine.

On average our ‘small’ intestine is thought to be about 20 feet long! Now we have nothing that looks like what we ate but actually a liquidy mass that is further broken down into smaller elements for absorption and removal at the end ( ahem)

It takes up to 6 hours for the food to move through this not so Small Intestine tube proving that there is a lot of work going on here. The food moves through in pulses and this is where nutrients get absorbed into our bowel and nasty bacteria gets kept out. Depending on how efficient the worker cells in the small intestine are, this, as you can imagine, is a big job. 

From here the end is in site –  the Large Intestine.

Here water is absorbed from what is left and anything that has been to tricky for the small bowel to deal with can be further broken down here. Although this is the last stop before ‘excretion’, this is the home of the Microbiome. A huge , HUGE pool of bacteria and micro organisms which we now know are very important to not only digestion but to our general health. 

( micro organisms are living things that are too small to be seen by the naked eye)

The Microbiome

What is it? Between 1000 and 1150 species of bacteria living in the human gut with 3 million genes between them. This is considerably more than the human genes that we have giving rise the to notion that we are more bacteria than we are human. This may be true but a bit weird ( and yucky) to think about so let’s go back to what we know about the Microbiome.

What does the microbiome actually do? 

Remember the last bit of digestion that occurs in the large bowel? The hard to digest left overs from the small bowel? The sciencey name for this is ‘indigestible fibres’ usually from plants such as vegetables. The bacteria in the microbiome ferment these indigestible fibres to release something called short chain fatty acids – SCFA. 

These SCFA, released from this very last part of the digestion process before the party is over, are vital in protecting the lining of our whole gut.

The microbiome also has a protective role in forming a barrier to reduce the risk of nasty toxic bacteria getting a hold in the gut and causing all sorts of problem 

The microbiome also interact with our immune system and our nervous system which is one of the reasons that our gut and our brain are in direct communication 

Why is there such an interest in the microbiome?

The types of bacteria and how many we have individually seems to be heavily influenced by our diet, 

The bacteria may also affect how calories are taken out of the food we eat

Our microbiome may also have a major impact on the hormones released when we are hungry or when we are full which may in turn have an impact on other hormones within our bodies as well as impacting our drive to eat and our weight. 

The beneficial bacteria help with absorption of vitamins from our food, and help with digestion

They have also been shown to have potentially have a role in our mood, our anxiety levels.

The genes of these bacteria can interact with human genes  and this is why scientists are so interested on how the microbiome may have a future role with risks for certain conditions 

The research is ongoing in every area of this but one thing that is clear is the bigger the variety of bacteria we have in our large bowel the better for general health, 

How do we influence the bacteria in our gut? 

Ageing, stress, poor diet and some medications are some of the ways we influence our microbiome.

If we don’t have enough of these helpful bacteria then our gut lining may not be as strong as it could be to help us have normal healthy digestion. 

This also can have an impact on our immune system, our weight and how our bowels function.

Tips for a healthy microbiome include :

Drink plenty of water

Increase your fibre intake – ideally through vegetables, as many different colours as you can manage!

Limit processed foods

Limit sugar intake- sugar and your gut bacteria are not friends.

Antibiotics only when essential – vitally important for treating bacterial infections when needed but antibiotics will also wipe out some of the good guys as well as the bad guys. 

Probiotic foods and supplements ( sources of live bacteria to help increase the number of helpful bacteria in your gut) are important to consider , particularly if you have been on some antibiotics recently. 

Keep well,

Dr Clara Russell