Gut Health and Anxiety? Here's the Connection...
For the longest time, the feeling of anxiety was considered a brain-based problem, but more recent research is suggesting that anxiety can be triggered by the trillions of bacteria living in our digestive system. The term used to describe the various types of bacteria found in the human intestines is gut microbiome and it has been said
“the gut microbiome is an anaerobic bioreactor programmed to synthesize molecules which direct the mammalian immune system, modify the mammalian epigenome, and regulate host metabolism.”
There are several ways in which the bacteria in our small and large intestines can influence our physiology and our behavior. Some bacteria can produce hormones and neurotransmitters exactly like the ones our brains use. Other types of bacteria stimulate our immune system, which is normally considered a good thing, but sometimes the stimulation goes too far and causes inflammation. Gut bacteria can stimulate the afferent neurons (nerves that carry messages back to our brain) of the enteric nervous system (the part of our nervous system around our intestines) to send signals directly to our brain.
The bacteria in our gut referred to as our gut microbiome, influence our sleep patterns, how we react to stress, our mood, our memory, and how we think (cognition).
Research has shown that the gut microbiome plays a significant role in some conditions like alcoholism, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and restless leg syndrome. There is additional research underway looking at the relationship between the gut microbiome and multiple sclerosis and celiac disease.
The variety of the gut microbiome and the complex (and not yet fully understood) ways in which interacts with our physiology can make it challenging to know exactly what the best treatment might be for any one individual, but research is helping us get closer to a clinical solution. That being said, there is a promising connection between improving gut health and anxiety and/or depression.
Following certain diets that have been shown to heal the digestive tract lining (“leaky gut”) like the autoimmune protocol have been clinically helpful in improving anxiety and depression type symptoms.
Other studies have shown that giving someone with anxiety or depression a probiotic has been helpful with the mood disorder. These findings and others like them reinforce the idea that a good diet (with a wide variety of produce and nutrient-dense foods), an active lifestyle, and sufficient sleep, and a properly functioning nervous system are a great start to overcoming several brain-based or mood-based disorders.
Galland, Leo – The Gut Microbiome and the Brain, Journal of Medicinal Food, 2014