Post-holiday blues? Balance your belly! PART 1
Most of us are all too familiar with the pangs of holiday stress. Check that travel insurance at the last minute, quickly drop in at the drugstore for sunscreen and anti-diarrhea pills, say goodbye to family, check the oil of your car, and complete the final tasks at work. But did you know that you can expect a great deal of stress coming back from your trip? Add that to those holiday meals ... and you can really feel it in your stomach!
Misery ... right after your vacation
After spending a few weeks on vacation, making wonderful field trips and visiting cozy restaurants, everyday life is back knocking at your door. The daily worries, the stress at work and the thousands of tasks that, as before, await your undivided attention. From a percentage point of view, most stress-related complaints occur after the holidays rather than before.
Strange, but recognizable
This might seem odd: you would swear that after a decent vacation you are well-rested and full of new energy. Yet that is not always true. Certainly if you really strained - unnoticed - before you went on vacation. The underlying reason? On vacation, fewer stimuli – physical and mental triggers - bother you, so the body no longer has to produce all the stress hormones to suppress complaints such as fatigue and other normal reactions to discomfort. You can finally feel how tired and upset you are. You can refuel again. At least, that was what you would have hoped.
GREAT! Holidays always appear too short and your expectations were perhaps a little too high. Not so well rested after all, and your first working day is already in sight. Your body is getting ready for the daily grind, meaning: the production of stress hormones. You go on adrenaline again. The blood supply to the heart, brain and muscles increases, while the blood supply to the digestive system decreases. And here lies the crux. The intestinal functions are delayed, which means that constipation, bloating and that annoying nervous feeling can arise in your belly.
There are now numerous ways of thinking about our intestinal system, its interactions with the brain, the experience of stress, and the influence on the immune system. The intestines contain at least as many nerve cells as our brain does. These nerve cells cause the intestines to perform all kinds of activities independently and communicate directly with our brain via the vagus nerve, among other pathways. Our belly is actually a sort of second brain and is in continuous dialogue with our head.
You are what you eat? Well … You are what your gut bacteria eat.
Balance in your belly
Your intestines contain more than 100 trillion bacteria. The sum of this bacterial population is called the gut microbiome. When the bacteria that are less practical to us exceed the bacteria that are favorable to us, a less than optimal balance exists in the intestines, affecting overall bodily wellbeing. You can optimize that balance by eating wisely and responsibly, and supplementing your daily diet where needed. The intestinal bacteria that are bad for us crave fast sugars for energy, while the bacteria that are useful for us feel most comfortable with dense, fibrous leafy vegetables and other low-sugar vegetables. Eating less refined sugar and more vegetables can therefore bring you into a balanced state fast, and speed up your innate bowel healing processes.
These are mixtures of 'good' bacteria. For example, they occur naturally in fermented milk products such as yogurt, kefir, kimchi, and kombucha. There is still no general consensus in science as to which bacterial families actually offer the most benefits to humans, and as to what the scope of these benefits is. The Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium families are often mentioned as beneficial in studies on cognitive brain functions.
These are fibers that the human digestive tract cannot itself digest, but that can be used by benign bacteria as basic nutrients. Nuts, whole-grain products and some fruits and vegetables contain a lot of prebiotic fiber. Then there are galacto-oligosaccharides: GOS supplements. Beta-GOS was the first to appear on the market, and with which much experience has now been gained. Beta-GOS is extracted from (bovine) lactose, and is still considered to be the reference pre-biotic. It occurs naturally in breast milk and contributes to the development of the gut microbiome by acting as a nutrient for microbes such as Bifidobacteria and some of the Lactobacilli.
Pace yourself, cherish your breaks, and watch your eating habits. Your intestines say more about your mental health, and have more influence on you as a person, than you might think. Perhaps Freud was quite right in saying that the human being is not the boss in his own home .... All those bacteria: they just may have quite a lot more to say!