Anxiety Lives in Your Stomach
One of the most fascinating discoveries of this age is the relationship between gut health and mental health.
Colloquially, we have always known that anxiety is felt in the stomach, as a tight stomach, a knotted gut, or a fluttering sensation. Only recently, has the complex biological relationship come to light.
As much as ninety percent of all neurons (the nerve cells that make up the brain and nervous system) are located in the gut. In other words, you have more brain cells in your gut than you do in your head. And those gut neurons are also responsible for a disproportionate amount of the production of neurochemicals, the chemical messengers that communicate between the nervous system and the rest of the organ systems in your body.
This means, then, that when your gut biome is suboptimal or dysregulated, it will affect not only your digestive health but also your mental and emotional health.
When gut bacteria is dysregulated, or out of balance, it leads to higher levels of inflammation, gut permeability (commonly known as ‘leaky gut’), and higher levels of pro-anxiety chemicals. This combination can contribute to a host of health issues, including arthritis, autoimmune disorders, food intolerances, unwanted weight gain and loss, and, of course, anxiety, depression and other mental health challenges.
In multiple clinical studies, supplementing a person’s diet with probiotics (the ‘good’ gut bacteria) was followed by a marked decrease in anxiety. If you choose to supplement with probiotics in pill form, be sure to choose a brand with at least one billion units (not million). Often, although not always, refrigerated probiotics can be higher in quality. Also consider taking pre-biotics, which may have an even better effect in the long run.
Pills are not the only way, or even the preferred way, to improve your gut health. Diet is vitally important too.
Start by cutting out processed sugar. Don’t forget to eliminate sugary drinks, like sodas and other sweetened beverages. Grains, especially wheat and white flour (and all things made with these foods) are known for promoting candida overgrowth, which is one of the most common dysregulations of the gut microbiome. Experiment with a gluten-free diet to see if your body responds well to this. Add in yogurt, sauerkraut, kefir, and other fermented foods. These contain naturally occurring strains of probiotics and other good bacteria that will boost your gut health.
Reducing anxiety by addressing gut health does not need to be difficult, and these simple steps may make a tremendous difference in your life.
Written by: Janelle Zimmerman, RN, BA
Registered Nurse, health coach and social scientist, former horse-and-buggy Mennonite, committed Jesus-follower and coffee addict turned writer. Evidence-based/research writing is my happy place.