I’m Doctor Michael Mosley, I am a television presenter, an author and I also write a column in the newspaper. I'm probably best known as the inventor of The 5:2 diet.
What is DOHaD?
I think that the DOHaD is really interesting and important because what is very clear is that an awful lot of diseases which happen later in life, their origins lie back in childhood or sometimes even before that. And so, if you can identify some of these factors which begin in the first few years of life and then do something about it, well that obviously makes huge sense.
Why is it important for adolescence?
Adolescence is a really difficult time because profound change and a lot of challenges. There’s a lot of anxiety about your place in the world and your future and it’s a time where people drink too much or eat a lot of junk food and that’s kind of the thing about being an adolescent. The trouble is a lot of these behaviours can be quite destructive, so eating a lot of junk food may feel great at the time but it makes you kind of fattier, spottier and there’s emerging evidence that it also encourages anxiety and depression. These are all reasons why it’s actually a good idea to start looking at your diet even quite earlier on in your life.
Can we talk a bit about gut health?
One of the really exciting things that has happened over the last few years is the emerging science of the microbiome. That’s the one to two kilos of microbes that live in your gut and for a long-time people thought that it is a pretty boring area. It turns out that there a hundred trillion of them down there and at least a thousand different species. It’s like a giant rainforest down there in your gut and these microbes aren’t just passive, they are doing all sorts of things.
We know for example that they have a big influence on things like weight but also on things like mental health. Extraordinarily enough, they can send signals to your brain. They produce neurochemicals like dopamine which can make you feel better or make you feel worse. Similarly, they produce these agents which either encourage inflammation or discourage it. And again, inflammation seems to be a very important thing when it comes to depression and anxiety.
So, we are just learning so much about the importance of what these little critters in the gut do and you can influence them by what you eat and that is one of the big understandings.
Is this a critical issue that we need to address?
I think it is absolutely vital because one of things which is becoming increasingly clear is that the microbiome is becoming depleted. One of the things that is really clear is the quality and the diversity of your gut bacteria is getting worse and worse. This is due to a whole range of reasons. It matters because just like the planet, it is important that we have this huge diversity of living forms and exactly like the rest of the planet we’re slowly wiping them out.
Species are going extinct not only out there in the world but also going extinct in your gut. And that matters because an awful lot of these species which are going extinct are known as the old friends. They evolve with us and one of their roles for example is to dampen down the immune system and if that doesn’t happen you get things like asthma and eczema.
They are also there to do things like reduce inflammation to the brain and so we are really dependent upon our old friends. We need to nurture our old friends, look after them because once they’re gone, they’re gone.
What would you advise people to nurture their gut microbiomes?
There are lots of things you can do, ideally you would cut back on antibiotic use. Unfortunately, Australia is one of the highest per capita use of antibiotics in the world, normally for conditions that normally don’t even respond to antibiotics like coughs and colds. So, patients can do what they can by not demanding them, they don’t work for the majority of cases so don’t take them because they will do terrible things to your gut microbiomes.
The other thing you can do is try to eat a rich diversity of food with lots of colours, lots of veggies, lots of wholegrains because what your microbiomes love is fibre in lots of different forms. And you should try getting out there in the great wide world because one of the things which is clear again is that people are sitting at home or on the computer but we know being out there in nature is really good for your mental health and your gut health. When you are out there you are also taking in an awful lot of bacteria from the environment.
We used to think that having lots of bacteria is something to shun, you know scrub your hands and wash everything and obviously while you should do that you should also get your hands dirty a bit. Do a bit of gardening or simply go out and being out there because there is a lot of evidence that, that is good for your mental health.
What role does exercise play in all of this?
So, exercise is one of those things that we all know we should do but we don’t really do. I like to think of it more as activity and how you can you build more activity into your life. One of the best things you can do is go out for a stroll in the early morning light as that helps reset your internal clock which means it will help you sleep better. If you like sport that is fantastic but there is an awful lot of people who don’t like sport, they’re not sporty. Maybe they’re a bit overweight, maybe they’re ashamed of their body or maybe they just don’t like doing team activities. For them it is really important that they find other ways of building activity into their life.
I do understand that the more you get overweight, you’re much less inclined to go for a run or things like that. So, in a way you have to sort that out but without a doubt becoming more active is good for anxiety, it’s good for depression, it’s good for sleep and it’s also good for keeping your weight down a bit. These are all good reasons why activity is good and personally I do not like going out for runs. I do it because I feel I ought to and because the dog demands it. It’s not really the thing I feel like doing when I wake up first thing in the morning, but I make myself go out for a brisk stroll in the early morning light and I do feel better for it.
What is your ultimate vision or hope for our health?
The reason which I am feeling optimistic at this moment is that people are really beginning to understand that medication is not going to save them. Going out to your doctor and hoping that your doctor is going to sort out your life by giving you a few more antibiotics or a few more pills, people realise that is just not going to work. You have to take control over your own fate and so in a particular place like Australia people are generally looking at ways to improve how they eat, what they eat and when they eat.
There is a big drive to increase activity, there is a big realisation that getting a decent amount of sleep every night is unbelievably important and there is a much greater emphasis on the understanding of stress, depression, anxiety and things like that particularly in adolescents. Because unless you can’t sort those out then it’s really hard to sort the other things out because frankly when I am feeling down the one thing that I want is to reach for a nice doughnut. I know it is not what I should be doing but it’s kind of what I feel like in that moment in time.
So, I do think the fact that people are more openly talking about issues around mental health is a really really good move.