How Healing Your Gut Can Help with Anxiety
Eating healthy food affects both your physical health and your mental health.
In this week’s newsletter, I want to shed some further light on the connection between the gut and brain and how you can relieve your anxiety symptoms naturally.
In the US alone, 40 million adults age 18 and older are affected by anxiety. That is 18.1% of the population! While, genetics, personality, and life events are risk factors in developing anxiety, brain chemistry plays an important role. And what hugely influences your brain chemistry? You may have guessed it: your gut health! And since nowadays more people are eating processed and unhealthy foods, this be the reason why more people are prone to developing anxiety.
So now let’s focus on how the gut affects brain function and how to relieve anxiety symptoms.
The Brain-Gut Connection
There is a sort of communication between your brain and gut. We call this the brain-gut axis. This communication is facilitated by the nerves, neurons, hormones, and the gut’s microbiota (bacterial family).
The first proof of this connection was discovered by the Nobel Prize physiologist Ivan Pavlov. When you see, smell, or taste food, your stomach and pancreas are stimulated to release acid that helps in digestion. This happens because of the vagus nerve, a cranial nerve (nerve that emerges from the brain) that is responsible for the sensory and motor functions of the throat, abdomen and other nearby organs. Notably, the vagus nerve also sends information from the gut to the brain.
Additionally, studies have shown that people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or Crohn’s Disease have weak vagus nerve function, resulting in reduced gut function. In animal studies, stress stops the vagus nerve from sending information to the brain, and this results in various gut problems. However, a study involving mice shows that feeding them with probiotics resulted in reduced stress hormones in their blood. Interestingly (and sadly), this effect of probiotics had no effect when the vagus nerve was cut.
This proves that the connection between the brain and gut affects gastric function as well as brain function.
Now let’s move on to how the gut microbiota affect brain function and vice versa.
Over the previous 2 newsletters, we tackled GABA or gamma-aminobutyric acid. GABA is an example of a neurotransmitter. The brain has many neurotransmitters, and they are responsible for controlling your feelings and emotions. What’s interesting is that many of these neurotransmitters are produced by the cells and the trillions of bacteria in the gut. In fact, your gut microbiome (the diverse community of bacteria in the gut) is responsible for producing GABA.
Aside from producing neurotransmitters, your gut microbiome also produce chemicals that affect brain function and metabolize bile acids and amino acids that affect the brain. Yes, although bile acids are produced by the liver to digest and absorb fats, they also affect the brain.
You may also recall something called leaky gut. In leaky gut, the inflammatory toxin lipopolysaccharide (LPS) made by some bacteria in your gut passes through to the bloodstream. This is associated with brain disorders such as depression, dementia, and schizophrenia.
Dysbiosis and Anxiety
When there is dysbiosis (an imbalance of microorganisms in the gut), different illnesses can occur, including ones that affect mental functioning, such as anxiety.
So going from here, we can conclude that keeping the gut bacteria healthy can improve brain health. In a study by Yang, et. al. that was published in the Journal of General Psychiatry, “more than half of the studies included showed it was positive to treat anxiety symptoms by regulation of the intestinal microbiota.”
Probiotic and Non-Probiotic Interventions
There are two ways to keep the gut microbiome healthy.
One is taking probiotics, live bacteria and yeasts that are good for you because they keep your gut healthy.
Second, is non-probiotic intervention, which means making healthier choices with your diet. Start by ditching sodas, sweeteners, prepackaged and processed foods. Begin eating vegetables, clean sources of proteins, healthy fats, fruits, and eggs. Let’s look into a few dietary specifics that can help support a healthy microbiome.
These are found in fish, flaxseed, chia seeds, and dietary supplements. Studies show that Omega 3s increase gut bacteria and also reduce the risk of brain disorders.
Fermented foods can alter brain activity. Examples are fermented vegetables, yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and cheese.
When we eat fiber, it remains unchanged until it reaches the colon. Your stomach doesn’t have the enzymes to digest fiber. It’s only in the colon that fiber is broken down by your bacteria that use fiber as their food supply. The byproduct of this breakdown of fats by the gut bacteria are called short-chain fatty acids (SCFA). These SCFA’s are then used by your gut cells as fuel. When SCFA and other metabolites enter the blood, they also act as signals to the brain and regulate the immune system and inflammation.
Polyphenols are plant chemicals processed by gut bacteria. The metabolites act directly as neurotransmitters, making polyphenols improve cognitive function. Examples of polyphenol-rich foods are cocoa, green tea, olive oil, and coffee.
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that boosts serotonin production. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is sometimes called the happy chemical because it is associated with happiness and a positive mood. Low serotonin has been linked to mood disorders and depression. Salmon, eggs, spinach, and seeds are rich in tryptophan.
The gut and brain affect each other through nerve connections and neurotransmitters, and the gut microbiota is essential in maintaining a healthy and functional brain-gut axis. So if you want to improve your brain function, particularly improving your anxiety symptoms, these are some tools you can use.
That’s all for today. Please be sure to discuss changes to your diet, medication, or supplement regimen with a trusted health professional to be sure it is safe and right for you.
It is my passion is to work with people like you whose health symptoms are getting in the way of you living life fully and with a sense of freedom in your body. I can help you to regain your health so you can feel great and free to enjoy life fully.
If you’re ready to discover where your best health has been hiding, I’d love to connect with you!
Apply for a complimentary Unstoppable Health Discovery Session. http://bit.ly/schedulinghealth (subject to availability).
Until next time, I’m wishing you unstoppable health!