Cold weather changes our gut microbiota & affects our mood & immunity
11 Jul 2020
By Sarah Nankervis | Naturopath & Nutritionist
So it’s Winter, the weather is cooler and for those of us in Melbourne we are back at home with a different routine from normal, no commute to work, no school drop off, no yoga class. So many of us are are feeling unmotivated, tired, flat and maybe not sleeping well which is quite common with change to routine but also from less exposure to sunlight. There is significant evidence now showing that our mind-gut connection or communication between our gut bacteria and brain can change with cooler weather which can impact how much of our “happy” brain chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine we are making. The cooler weather and change in our gut microbiota can also suppress our immunity making us a little more likely to catch a cold/virus.
Our gut microbiota make about 95% of our serotonin which is widely thought of as our “Happy” brain chemical, a deficiency also associated with sleep, carbohydrate and alcohol cravings, SAD (Seasonal affective disorder), increased sensitivity to pain and hormonal imbalances such as heavy painful periods.
Studies show that while we may produce less serotonin during Winter, when our body is exposed to cooler temperatures it can actually positively impact our microbiota in supporting healthy weight and decrease inflammation so while we are rugging up, turning the heater on higher and moving less we may be causing our immune system and happy brain chemicals to decrease, and potentially feeling more flat and putting weight on more easily.
Improving circulation and movement in cooler weather can negate these changes by supporting a healthy immune system. Including regular movement outside each day – walking, running, playing with your kids – rug up but breath in the cooler air and experience the Winter weather. Connecting with the environment and cooler weather will help to improve motivation and also how much serotonin we are making.
Nourishing our gut microbiota is also really important during winter, making sure we are eating warming foods that are easer to digest in Winter – soups, slow cooked stews; including plenty of fibre daily through seasonal root vegetables – beetroot, turnip, carrots, sweet potato, potato, Jerusalem artichoke, swede are great roasted for a quick lunch or part of your dinner. Beetroot in particular can improve your peripheral circulation helping with energy levels and libido while high in fibre to feed our gut bacteria.
I love roasting a variety of root veg at the start of the week then add 1 teaspoon of pesto, protein or lentils and some fresh leaves – spinach, rocket etc. for a quick lunch.
While we are home more experiment with fermenting your own sauerkraut, kombucha or kefir to increase fibre and bacteria to your gut to support immunity and the diversity of our gut bacteria.
Adding 1 tablespoon of sauerkraut or 20ml of kefir to your diet daily can not only support healthy immunity but improve your serotonin levels and mood.
A great recipe for Sauerkraut – https://www.thefermentary.com.au/blogs/recipes/beetroot-and-horseradish-kraut