Learn about the connection between gut health and anxiety and how you can improve your anxiety by improving your gut health.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is the most prevalent mental illness affecting those living in the United States with about 40 million sufferers. (1) If you deal with this condition, you know that anxiety can be debilitating and affect your quality of life. But did you also know that the trillions of microbes living in your gut can play a part in your condition and potentially help you heal? That’s right, there is a connection between your gut health and anxiety.
The Gut-Brain Connection: How Gut Health and Anxiety Connect
These microbes living in us are often referred to as the “forgotten organ” because they play such a large role in our well-being, but it is only recently that we’ve started to realize the impact this organ has on the body. (2) Unfortunately, the Western lifestyle takes a significant toll on the health of our microbiome with constant stress, unhealthy diets, lack of sleep, and more leading to a condition called dysbiosis.
Dysbiosis, the imbalance of gut bacteria, has been associated with a variety of mental disorders including anxiety. (3) While there aren’t many studies done on humans, we have seen mice exhibit increased anxious behavior when exposed to pathogenic bacteria in the gut. (4) It’s probably no surprise, then, that those with anxiety are also likely to suffer from a digestive disorder associated with imbalanced gut bacterial as well like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
I recommend that you test your microbiome for dysbiosis and pathogens by using a functional medicine lab – your healthcare practitioner can then interpret this information for you and prescribe the correct treatment depending on what is going on in your gut. This is the #1 step anyone with anxiety should take! You don’t want unwanted pathogens hanging around wreaking havoc on your gut health (and in turn your mental health!). Directlabs.com offers a number of stool tests that you can order yourself – I have tests from both Metametrix and Doctor’s Data (two of my favorites) listed in my portal here.
Best Probiotics for Anxiety
When humans are given specific strains of probiotics, their anxiety improves as does their HPA axis function. (5) The strains of probiotics used in this study (Bifidobacterium longum R0175 and Lactobacillus helveticus R0052) can be found in two products in the United States: Pure Encapsulations’ ProbioMood (which you can purchase in my supplement dispensary) and Xymogen’s Probio Defense.
Prebiotics for Anxiety
Prebiotics, which feed healthy gut bacteria, are also useful for anxiety. Stress-related disorders seem to respond to the prebiotic GOS (galactooligosaccharide) in particular, which help the HPA axis to function appropriately in addition to making us pay more attention to positive stimuli vs negative stimuli. (6) My go-to GOS prebiotic is Galactomune from Klaire Labs, which you can purchase in my dispensary.
Best Diet for Anxiety
Eating a healthy, ancestral diet is also associated with lower anxiety scores, while Westernized diets are associated with the opposite effect. (7) This is thought to be due to many factors including inflammation, but also to the effects of these diets on the microbiome. Another reason to keep up your healthy diet!
The Gut-Brain Connection
The microbiome and the brain operate on a bi-directional axis, meaning that the gut affects the brain and vice versa. Because of this, anxiety and gut problems can be a vicious cycle where anxiety makes you more likely to develop dysbiosis (the imbalance of gut bacteria) and dysbiosis makes you more likely to suffer from anxiety. But dealing with both conditions simultaneously (i.e. treating dysbiosis and reducing stress to the degree you can) can help alleviate both problems. To learn more about stress and its impact on the gut, check out my article on the topic here.
While anxiety can be a difficult diagnosis to deal with, there is more and more research coming out every day about the relationship between anxiety and the microbiome. If you suffer from anxiety, your treatment plan should definitely address any problems in the gut!
Gut Health and Anxiety: How to Improve Anxiety by Improving Your Gut
To recap, those with anxiety should focus on:
- Reducing stress as much as possible by incorporating mind-body activities like meditation, yoga, etc
- Testing and treating for dysbiosis with a trusted practitioner (I can help!)
- Adding probiotics to their routine, in particular the Bifidobacterium longum R0175 and Lactobacillus helveticus R0052 strains which can be found in the probiotic supplements ProbioMood and Probio Defense.
- Adding prebiotics, especially GOS, which has shown to have a positive impact on the HPA axis and anxiety. Try Galactomune to get more GOS in your diet.
- Eating a healthy, ancestral diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, meats, nuts, etc. (e.g. a Paleo diet!)
Now I want to hear from you: what have you done to combat your anxiety? Are you focusing on the gut?