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Most of us have been through it — hours before your first exam and that all too familiar feeling of butterflies in the stomach starts to set in. 

Whether you've prepared or not, once those exam nerves kick in, it's hard calming them down and students around the world can attest to the fact that the brain and gut are linked. And it's this “gut feeling” that's receiving more attention by scientists with exciting new discoveries supporting the link between the brain and the gut.

Each person has his or her very own composition of gut microbiota, much like a unique fingerprint. These gut microbes play a vital role in good digestion, immunity, producing nutrients like folate and vitamin K, and maintaining the health of the gut. Sometimes the gut microbiota can be disturbed, which is often referred to as gut dysbiosis. 

To prevent this, a healthy diet is paramount in creating diversity in the gut microbiota. In addition to high fibre foods such as fruit, vegetables and whole grains, fermented foods such as yoghurt help to support a healthy gut. Yoghurt is a fermented dairy product and source of naturally occurring vitamins, minerals, proteins, and carbohydrates that are essential to health. 

The live cultures found abundantly in yoghurt are Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. Strong evidence supports that regular yoghurt consumers have healthier eating habits, better weight management, are 40% more likely to be physically active and 30% less likely to be smokers. 

Furthermore, yoghurt contains an amino acid called tyrosine, which is responsible for producing neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers in the brain. Tyrosine may also help with stress, fatigue, and anxiety, all common during stressful exam times.

Dr Ruairi Robertson, a microbiologist and nutritionist based in London and guest speaker at the first South African Yoghurt Summit held earlier this year, shared emerging evidence on the link between the gut and the brain. 

“Signals travel between the brain and gut via a network of over 100 million neurons in the central nervous system. These neurons keep the brain endlessly informed about gut activities. This constant communication is known as the gut-brain axis and may provide an explanation on how a healthy gut is linked to a healthy brain, says Dr Robertson.

It is clear that there is good evidence to suggest that yoghurt consumption could be a signature of a healthy diet and lifestyle. Yoghurt is so easily enjoyed as a snack between meals, or blended with fresh fruit for a quick and easy breakfast smoothie, or even as a healthy dessert dusted with cinnamon. 

The South African Yoghurt in Nutrition Initiative (SAYINI) aims to provide unbiased scientific evidence on the nutritional benefit of yoghurt. 

(adapted from press release)