In the first wave of lockdown, our minds and bodies had to adapt to a new routine and way of life. Our sleep schedules and working patterns shifted, exercise and healthy eating regimes took a back seat, and our social lives were limited to video calls and virtual pub quizzes – all of which had more of an impact on our physical and mental wellbeing than we anticipated.
Now, as the UK prepares for lockdown 2.0, Gut microbiologist, Dr Kate Stephens reveals the surprising ways our bodies reacted to a life in lockdown and how getting your gut health in good order can help us adjust and prepare for the second instalment.
Dr Kate of OptiBac Probiotics, the UK’s most trusted* friendly bacteria supplements comments: “Moving less, eating differently and virtual socialising can all have knock-on effects on your health. We have noticed huge increases in customer enquiries since the first lockdown began on March 23rd, showing that unexpected health niggles were emerging. For example, IBS enquiries increased by 842% and so has bloating, which has increased by a significant 3000%.[i]
Immunity has also been a hot topic. For people wondering how to boost their immunity, I would always suggest taking ‘For daily immunity’ from the OptiBac range; it was created especially for those looking for natural immune support and includes the recommended daily dose of Vitamin C. Probiotics or ‘good bacteria’ top up our levels of friendly bacteria and promote a healthy gut microbiome, helping to bridge the gap, boost immunity and reduce the unexpected effects of lockdown on our rapidly evolving lifestyles. Supplements contain different probiotic strains that each have a specific mechanic of working to support a healthy gut.”
Dr Kate shares five surprising effects that staying at home may have on your body, and her recommendations to help combat them:
Quarantine constipation and tummy troubles:
Constipation can be common due to a range of lifestyle factors, in fact 1 in 7 reported issues with it in 2019.[ii] Whilst working from home, we may find ourselves drinking less water and becoming dehydrated. What’s more is that we are reaching for comfort foods that tend to be high in fat and sugar (yes, even banana bread). Many harmful bacteria in the gut are sugar monsters, they thrive on these types of foods. This can cause an imbalance in the types of microbes in our gut and our friendly bacteria levels drop. This is one of the most common factors of gut upset and can cause constipation and tummy trouble. A lack of exercise can also have an effect on bowel movement, making toilet habits irregular and consequently slowing down the entire digestive process.
How to combat it: If you’re struggling with constipation, I would suggest making sure you’re drinking plenty of water to keep the body hydrated, and eating plenty of fibrous foods such as oats, wholegrains, nuts and lentils as these feed our friendly bacteria. Outdoor exercise is also allowed, so try and make the most of the Autumnal fresh air to help regulate some of your bowel movements by not sitting down all day.
Rise of the breakouts:
There are a number of reasons as to why our skin may be reacting or breaking out during lockdown. The number of enquiries for ‘acne’ has gone up 1100% on our OptiBac website since lockdown begani showing that many people are experiencing skin troubles at the moment. We must remember that although we all have good days and bad days with our diets, an excess of sugar or processed foods can disturb the gut microbiome and cause blockages in the system. It can also exacerbate skin issues and cause breakouts. Harmful microbes in our guts can produce lots of toxins- in fact our gut can become a toxin powerhouse. Usually our friendly bacteria can neutralise some of these toxins and protect us against them. However, if our microbiome is imbalanced i.e. low in friendly bacteria, these toxins can build up, especially if our gut function is slow. These toxins can damage our gut cells and overwhelm our immune system. They can even make their way out to the skin causing break outs.
How to combat it: There’s a variety of small tweaks you can make to your diet and lifestyle to help support healthy skin. Try to avoid processed foods, keep sugar intake to a minimum and fill your plate with a variety of fruit and vegetables which are packed with antioxidants to help protect the skin. You could even consider making your own exfoliating scrubs with fresh fruit and vegetables that contain no harmful ingredients which may exacerbate symptoms. A lack of sun can also contribute to blemishes, so it is going to be even more important to get outside before dark and let our skin take in Vitamin D.
Impacted vaginal health:
Embracing comfort whilst working from home is considered a perk and is definitely encouraged! However, spending a lot of time in tight gym leggings may not be so healthy for your vagina. The build-up of sweat and the temptation to wear the same pair repeatedly can lead to infections such as thrush. We’ve noticed that enquiries for ‘vaginal thrush’ have increased since lockdown began by 430%.i However, it’s worth noting that this isn’t the only potential impact on your intimate health as stress and anxiety can interrupt the workings of the vaginal microbiome, making it easier to get vaginal infections. Furthermore, increased sexual activity can also disrupt the delicate balance of vaginal flora and increase the risk of bacterial vaginosis (BV).
How to combat it: To help rebalance your intimate health, I would recommend taking OptiBac Probiotics ‘For women’. This is a unique combination of friendly bacteria that specifically target the vaginal microbiome. The strains are highly researched to support vaginal health and reduce the growth of harmful microbes that may cause unwanted symptoms.
Accumulation of stress:
The current situation poses many different stresses. Stress and anxiety impact our whole body – and nearly every bodily process. The gut-brain connection is booming in microbiome research. We can see that our gut health affects our mental wellbeing and vice versa. For example, 90% of serotonin, or the ‘happy hormone’, is produced in the gut. Our gut health should be a priority in these times to limit even more stress on your body and your mind. It’s important to remember that stress is cumulative and can be expressed in many different ways. For example, prolonged stress for IBS sufferers can result in a flare ups of bloating or diarrhoea. Stress can also exacerbate other health conditions. Although a little stress is normal, too much can add pressure to different parts of your body, most notably the gut, and hence affect how it works.
How to combat it: It’s important to take time for yourself and practise positive thinking. Research has shown that people who do this have a stronger immune response, compared to those who tend to be more negative. If you’re working, make sure you’re taking regular breaks from sitting at your computer and also getting your daily exercise in where you can. As 44% of people say they were also more concerned about their own mental health than normal during this time[iii], it’s important to find what works for you and try not to put additional pressure on yourself.
Increase in tiredness:
Despite having more time on your hands due to little or no commute and staying at home, you may be feeling more tired. By waking up and going to bed later, we are disrupting our sleep cycle and therefore affecting our circadian rhythm. This can disrupt metabolic activity, which can make us feel sluggish and more tempted to eat poorly. It can also weaken immune response, increasing the chance of catching nasty bugs.
How to combat it: I always remind people that a bedtime routine is really important! Most of us do better in a routine. It’s a useful way of reflecting on the day and getting your body and mind ready for the next. I would suggest reducing screen time whilst you wind down – you may also benefit from a sleeping app to help you relax. By keeping to a routine and going to bed at a reasonable time, not only will you be more alert and ready to take on your day, you’ll be helping to keep your metabolism and immune response moving. You may also find that exposing your eyes to natural daylight first thing in the morning will help your overall wake up routine.
All products are available at health food stores and pharmacies nationwide. Also available online through shopping sites including: Ocado, Amazon and on www.optibacprobiotics.com/uk.