It seems that more and more people are getting familiar with the concept of anxiety as a medical condition. In the US alone, about 18 percent of adults suffer from an anxiety disorder. The effects of anxiety in our lives and bodies are still being studied, but ask anyone with anxiety, and they’ll most likely mention adverse effects in their relationships and overall quality of life. But what about the connect between anxiety and gut health?
Countless studies are looking at the connection between balancing your gut and anxiety. It appears, so far, that this link can be a real solution for those struggling with this disorder.
What Causes Anxiety?
Anxiety can be triggered by many things, including environmental factors and even genetics. As experts continue to look at the potential causes of anxiety, they keep finding a strong connection with people’s diet and nutrition.
Even more precisely, they’re looking at the link between gut health and anxiety. Recent studies have found poor gut health linked to several mental illnesses, including anxiety and depression. However, gut health is not the only trigger for anxiety. Around 60 to 70 million people in the US suffer from some sort of digestive disease, which is why scientists are looking at this strong connection.
Understanding the Brain-Gut Connection Better
It turns out, the brain can connect with our gut through something called gut-microbiome-brain-axis. This axis connects the body’s central nervous system (CNS), which houses vital body parts like the brain and the spinal cord, not to mention the enteric nervous system (ENS) of the gastrointestinal tract. Essentially, the axis allows bidirectional neural, hormonal, and immunological communication between our gut and brain.
One of the components of this axis is the microbiome, which serves as an intermediary between the gut and brain. When the axis is in balance, both the brain and digestive system function optimally. When there’s any irregularity within the gut, it affects the microbiome of the axis, breaking down communication and resulting in the improper function of hormone releases and other responses.
What Your Gut Bacteria Is Capable Of
Perhaps the most significant thing your gut bacteria can do is determine how your body reacts to stress. Some studies are looking at the way gut bacteria plays a role in the development and function of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, a system that produces cortisol – the stress hormone. In essence, these systems work closely together. As gut bacteria mediate our response to stress, stress can also alter our gut bacteria. Any adversity to the HPA axis is known to lead to imbalances that can affect our psychopathological behavior and emotions.
Other studies have also looked at the role a balanced gut has in people with mood disorders. Such studies have found a noticeable difference in the gut bacteria of people with anxiety disorders, compared to healthy groups. In one study, the lower presence of a particular bacterial genus correlated with more severe depression cases.
On the other hand, 11 of 21 studies say regulating gut bacteria may help with anxiety. Not only that, but about half of these studies found positive results, using good bacteria to control intestinal flora. The results? The team found that regulating gut bacteria helped reduce anxiety symptoms in 54 percent of the studies.
Finally, it’s worth noting that the gut-brain connection works both ways. Those with gastrointestinal conditions who looked into therapy to help with anxiety, stress, or depression, have also seen benefits. A review of 13 studies showed that patients who tried psychologically-based approaches had greater improvements compared with those who received only conventional treatments.
How to Tell If Your Gut Is Acting Up?
While your anxiety symptoms might be evident, issues with your gut are not as clear. Before you even try to see if there’s a connection, you need to know if your gut-balance is sending you messages that it’s out of whack. Here are some ways to tell if your gut is acting up due to imbalances:
- You always have an upset stomach
- You’re noticing unintentional weight changes
- You are always feeling fatigued
- You can’t sleep well
- You’re suffering from skin conditions like eczema
- You have food intolerances
How to Balance Your Gut
Now that you know all of this information, you obviously want to find out if balancing your gut can help with your anxiety symptoms. First, reach out to your doctor and discuss what you know. Looking at your eating habits, stress levels, and sleeping patterns can help you and your doctor determine if your gut health is in trouble.
Beyond your diet changes, you also have to start looking at mindful ways to lower your stress levels and managing your anxiety symptoms. Whether this means joining a yoga class, starting therapy, or beginning meditation, remember this is a two-way street, and you must work on both ends of the spectrum. Other ways you can help your gut is by:
- Getting enough sleep. Try to get at least 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night. Eat slowly to promote digestion and better absorption of nutrients.
- Stay hydrated. This will help the mucosal lining of the intestines to help you balance good bacteria in your gut.
- Ask your doctor about taking a prebiotic or probiotic, depending on your body’s needs.
- Remember to change your diet. Say goodbye to high-sugar, high-processed, and high-fat foods that can alter your gut health. Say hello to high-fiber foods, fermented food, and collagen-boosting foods that help you keep your gut bacteria balanced.
Keep in mind that balancing your gut should not be considered a solution for your anxiety on its own. Anxiety disorders are very personal, and each person struggles with it differently. While you should work towards maintaining your gut balance, you should also seek professional advice from a medical doctor to see what the best treatment plan for your anxiety symptoms is.