3D image of gut bacteria

Individuals who consume a typical Mediterranean diet are less prone to anomalies in gastrointestinal microbiota, a growing body of evidence suggests.

Now, researchers at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU), in the United Kingdom, are working to add to this collective knowledge. Haleh Moravej, a senior lecturer in nutritional science at MMU, and a team of students at the university have launched the MetMUnch initiative in order to do so.

Olive oil as part of a healthy, varied and fresh Mediterranean diet and as part of a healthy lifestyle will always be beneficial for physical and mental health.- Haleh Moravej, senior lecturer in nutritional science at MMU

“Scientists have known for a long time that there is a connection between our gut and brain via nerves, but now we have gut bacteria entering the arena,” Moravej told Olive Oil Times.

“They communicate with the brain in three different ways,” she added, “They send signals up the vagus nerve directly to the brain, influence immune cells in the gut that produce chemicals that travel in the blood, and some can get through the blood-brain barrier to the brain.”

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Moravej based the initiative on the principle that microbiota in the human gastrointestinal tract are responsible for proper digestive functioning and a strong immune system. She added that following a healthy eating plan, such as the Mediterranean diet, contributes to a healthy gastrointestinal microbiota.

“The diet contains many foods that are probiotic, which provide good food for the bacteria,” Moravej said. “The foods are plant-based, such as whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes and fruits.”

“All these have beneficial chemicals such as polyphenols,” she added. “Olive oil as part of a healthy, varied and fresh Mediterranean diet and as part of a healthy lifestyle will always be beneficial for physical and mental health.”

Moravej also built on research that suggests that anomalies in these microorganisms have far-reaching health effects, and that these irregularities can cause stress-related mental disorders, such as anxiety.

“Studies suggest that bacteria can affect hormones and neurotransmitters,” Moravej said. “Microbes can produce almost every neurotransmitter found in the human brain.”

“We know that people who have at least 30 plant-based elements in their weekly diet have a more diverse bacteria in their gut, which is associated with better weight management, better heart health and better mental health,” she added.

Moravej has also worked with Manchester-based national charity Anxiety UK to compile a booklet as part of the initiative, in which the Mediterranean diet and other healthy diets are promoted.

Nicky Lidbetter, CEO of Anxiety UK, told Olive Oil Times that the booklet – Nutrition and Anxiety: A Self-Help Guide – advises people to consume food that has “mood-boosting properties” and advises on which other types of food to avoid.

“It also gives the science behind how it all works to help better educate those experiencing anxiety, stress and anxiety-based depression on what they are eating and why,” she said. “Food most definitely impacts on mood, and therefore maintaining a healthy diet is important in the management of anxiety.”

However, Moravej added that there is still a lot of research that needs to be done in order to improve the scientific understanding of the relationship, which is what she plans to continue doing with Anxiety UK and students in the MetMUnch initiative.


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