Heal your gut to boost your performance, says expert coach

Want to perform better? Richard Sutton says to look after the bacteria in your gut.

Psychiatric illnesses are the third largest disease burden in the world, said Richard Sutton, neurovascular practitioner and coach, at the 2018 Finance Indaba, citing some frightening statistics. 

Depression is now the biggest burden on the world economy, he said, with seventy-five million working days lost every year.

Worldwide, 3.5 percent of the world’s population is depressed. In South Africa, that figure rises to 26.7%, and according to Bloomberg, the country is the second most depressed nation in the world. 

Alzheimers and dementia, he added, cost the world economy one trillion dollars annually to manage, and in the next 12 years that figure was expected to double. And then there’s Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). About 4.4 percent of adults have an ADHD diagnosis, and 12 percent of children. Add anxiety, bipolar disorder, and autism spectrum disorder into the mix, and you have the makings of a catastrophe.

But it turns out we’re not powerless, said Richard, a trained neurovascular practitioner with a background in bio-kinesiology who has worked with five former world number one tennis players, Springbok rugby captains and Olympic gold medallists. The answer lies in understanding the link between our brains, and what scientists are calling our second brain – your gut.

He said: 

“We always thought depression was a neuorochemical imbalance. But that’s not the case at all. Countless studies now confirm it’s an inflammatory disorder. Its root is inflammation. And the seat of inflammation in the body is in the digestive tract, which means we have the power to control this disorder.”

The root cause of this crisis, he said, is that all disease begins in the gut – but the good news, is that so does our potential. Why? Because of the gut’s innate intelligence – there are 600 million nerve cells poised for action, plus 70 percent of our immune system, and 80 percent of our white blood cells. And there’s constant, continual communication between our brain and our gut. 

Richard said: 

“And that information is not coming from the brain. Ninety percent of it comes from the gut. The brain can’t function without the gut – but the gut can function without the brain.”

In fact, he said, the gut manufactures the neurochemicals that the brain needs to function. Ninety percent of your serotonin is produced in the digestive tract, and 50 percent of your dopamine, and these two are responsible for our potential.

Moreover, these neurochemicals aren’t just manufactured in the gut – they’re also controlled there, by the thousands of bacteria that outnumber your cells 10 to one. “The better we function, the easier it is for them to survive – setting up a vital symbiotic relationship,” said Richard.

Bottom line? You need to take better care of your bacteria if you want to improve your cognition, behaviour and performance. And here’s how – you eat better, and you manage your stress.

Richard says stress is the biggest trigger in microbiome demise. It reduces blood supply to the gut by 400 percent. Other key culprits are cortisone, antibiotics, appendectomy, birth by C-section, and antacids. One course of antibiotics lowers the microbiome by 30 percent – and it takes your system a year to recover. 

It’s that old principle: garbage in = garbage out (GIGO) and you can improve what goes in by two means, ideally in combination. First, take a good probiotic supplement daily, and second, eat foods with prebiotic properties – in other words, foods that help your gut to function better. 

The principles are simple – the microbiome lives on fibre, says Richard. Cut the sugar, saturated fat and excess carbohydrate, and listen to your mother’s advice – eat plenty of fruit and vegetables. Also ensure you eat some fermented food every day – yoghurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut. Fermented foods infuse your digestive tract with vital ‘good’ bacteria.

Try to ban the following: artifical sweeteners, emulsifiers, sugar, pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, cortisone, and proton pump inhibitors. And take it easy on the gluten.

If you can make these changes, you will facilitate immune system function, better neurochemistry, and better body function, said Richard, emphasising that what you put in your mouth has the potential to affect your life. 

And if you’re hoping fervently that beer out with your mates counts as fermented food, you’d be better off with wine or whiskey, he said, because of the gluten. You’ll have to decide if it’s worth making the sacrifice.