How does gut health affect anxiety?
In this article I’ll explain how the health of your gut can have a direct impact on your mood and mental health.
Important Note: Improving your gut health can be helpful for reducing anxiety symptoms but it’s not a cure for anxiety. Please talk to your doctor about treatment options for anxiety.
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You’ve probably experienced the feeling of butterflies in your stomach when you’re nervous, or had an upset stomach when you were angry or stressed.
Problems in the gut can directly impact mental health, leading to mood swings, anxiety and depression.
Looking back, the time when my anxiety was at its worst was also the time that I was struggling with poor digestion, leaky gut and dysbiosis (an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the gut).
In functional medicine, the gut is known as the second brain because it’s home to 95% of the hormone serotonin, which helps us to feel happy.
The body has two nervous systems – the central nervous system, which is composed of the brain and spinal cord, and the enteric nervous system, which is the nervous system of the gastrointestinal tract.
These two systems are connected via the vagus nerve that runs from the brain stem down to the abdomen.
Bacteria that live in the gut use the vagus nerve to transmit information to the brain.
The large intestine contains approximately 3 to 4 pounds (1.5 to 2kg) of bacteria and a healthy balance is 85% beneficial bacteria and 15% bad bacteria.
The good bacteria help the body to break down food and absorb nutrients.
An overgrowth of bad bacteria in the gut can cause bloating, belching, flatulence, indigestion, diarrhoea or constipation and intestinal inflammation.
Bacterial imbalances in the gut can also alter brain chemistry, so a healthy gut is essential for reducing the symptoms of anxiety.
Natural remedies for healing the gut
Slippery elm is an herb that protects the intestinal lining and helps it to heal.
When I was healing my gut I used slippery elm powder mixed in water 15 minutes before meals.
The trick is to drink it quickly because it becomes really thick if you leave it for too long.
Slippery elm is also available in capsules.
Probiotics & Prebiotics
Kefir, a fermented dairy drink, is a powerful probiotic.
It also contains vitamins A and D, which are important for overall health.
Kefir has a creamy, tangy taste similar to yogurt and you can make it at home using kefir grains.
Other beneficial probiotic foods include yogurt, sauerkraut and kombucha.
Consuming these foods, along with prebiotics (foods that feed the good bacteria in the large intestine) such as onions, garlic, artichokes, bananas and asparagus can assist in maintaining a healthy bacterial balance.
Garden of Life Raw Probiotics contains 100 Billion CFU with 34 beneficial bacterial strains and digestive enzymes to improve digestion and relieve gas and bloating.
It’s helpful for digestive and immune health and it’s shelf stable, so you don’t have to worry about refrigeration.
Kroeger Herb Healthy Gut helps to soothe and repair intestinal permeability (leaky gut) and improve digestion.
It contains Chamomile, Spearmint, Gentian, Wintergreen, Slippery Elm, Meadowsweet and Marjoram.
It’s a good idea to discuss any gut healing supplements or herbal remedies with your healthcare provider because some supplements and herbs can interact with prescription medications.
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