Gut health seems to be one of the hottest topics in today’s health and wellness world—and with good reason. If you haven’t heard by now, virtually every aspect of our health is influenced by the state of our gut microbiome. From metabolic disorders to diabetes to cancer, our gut health plays a key role in these disease processes. So, when our gut is out of balance, our bodies are likely to show it in more ways than one. One of those areas of our well-being may happen to be mental health, with a gut imbalance revealing itself as none other than anxiety.
Anxiety is a common disorder, affecting over 300 million people worldwide. However, just because most of us are acquaintances with anxiety doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t do something about it. This is where my passion for holistic health comes into play. Holistic health differs from traditional Western healthcare as it considers the whole person and highlights the interconnectedness of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. It also prioritizes seeking the root cause of issues rather than masking their signs and symptoms, making the state of our gut microbiome an essential component to factor into the care process, even when discussing mental health disorders like anxiety. By exploring the gut-brain axis, we can better understand this intricate relationship between gut health and anxiety to help enhance our overall well-being.
The Gut-Brain Axis
The gut-brain axis is a well-established concept describing the two-way communication network between our gut and brain. Think of it as a communication highway connecting the two. It bridges our emotional and cognitive centers in the brain and various intestinal functions, overseeing everything from immune function to hormonal signaling. And the messages flowing through this communication highway involve a mix of neurological, immune, and hormonal messengers. In other words, it’s the language that our gut and brain use to chat with each other to support a healthy body since the health of one affects the health of the other.
Some people actually call the gut the “second brain” since many neurotransmitters (chemicals secreted from one brain cell to another), like serotonin and GABA, which help regulate mood and relaxation, are produced by our gut bacteria. This connection between the gut and the brain highlights the impact of the gut microbiome beyond just digestive health. Research suggests that when levels of these neurotransmitters are compromised, it can contribute to the pathogenesis of depression and anxiety. Understanding this relationship emphasizes the significance of maintaining a healthy gut microbiome to promote a healthy mind and emotional well-being.
Balancing the Gut
Our gut health significantly impacts our brain health, so balancing our gut is essential in optimizing the gut-brain axis. However, gut balance is delicate and more complex than simply adding probiotics to a supplement routine (this can sometimes do more harm than good). Our gut can go through several different states of health. So, let’s break down each one to better understand how to optimize a healthy gut to combat anxiety.
Eubiosis, the state of a balanced gut microbiome, is fundamental to optimal health and well-being. In this state, our community of gut microorganisms is rich and diverse, as different strains play specific roles in maintaining digestive function, nutrient absorption, immune health, and mood regulation. This balanced state is associated with a lower risk of various health issues, including anxiety. Striving for eubiosis is essential for a thriving gut-brain axis and body.
Dysbiosis #1: Loss of Beneficial Bacteria
One significant type of dysbiosis is the loss of beneficial bacteria that normally contribute to a healthy gut microbiome. These beneficial microorganisms support digestion, synthesize essential nutrients, and maintain a balanced immune system. In dysbiosis, factors such as antibiotic use, an imbalanced diet, or environmental stressors can diminish the population of these beneficial bacteria. As a result, their absence can lead to digestive issues, inflammation, and an increased risk of developing various health conditions as well as anxiety and depression.
Dysbiosis #2: Overgrowth of Pathogenic Bacteria
Another kind of dysbiosis involves the overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria, harmful microorganisms that can disrupt the balance within the gut microbiome. A diet high in ultra-processed foods, chronic stress, or prolonged use of certain medications can create an environment in which pathogenic bacteria dominate. This overgrowth may lead to an inflammatory response, compromised gut barrier function (AKA leaky gut), an increased risk of developing gastrointestinal issues, and mental health disorders.
Dysbiosis #3: Loss of Overall Bacterial Diversity
Finally, a reduction in the overall diversity of bacterial species within the gut microbiome also signifies dysbiosis. A diverse gut microbiota is essential for ensuring a well-functioning digestive system. On the other hand, with less diversity, the gut’s ability to respond to changing conditions is reduced. So, factors such as a diet with limited nutrient variety, exposure to environmental toxins, and stress can contribute to lower bacterial diversity and, therefore, increased anxiety.
Work with a Holistic Specialist
Collaborating with a holistic nutritionist or registered dietitian can provide personalized plans for your unique needs. Through a holistic approach, the emphasis is on addressing the root causes of anxiety rather than simply alleviating the symptoms. Focusing on the gut to reduce anxiety ensures a more sustainable and integrative path to well-being. Book a one-on-one session with me to take that first step.
Eat Prebiotic and Probiotic-Rich Foods
Nourishing your gut with prebiotic and probiotic-rich foods is a proactive step toward optimizing the gut-brain axis. Prebiotic foods like garlic, onions, and bananas fuel beneficial gut bacteria, promoting their growth and diversity. Probiotics, present in fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi, introduce live beneficial bacteria into the digestive system. This combination helps create a balanced and thriving gut microbiome, positively influencing the production of neurotransmitters and supporting overall mental health. (Pssst: want pre-and-probiotic rich foods delivered to your door? Check out the gut health version of my delivered S.O.U.P. Cleanse).
Implement Stress-Management Techniques
Stress significantly impacts the balance of the gut-brain axis, contributing to gut dysbiosis and uncontrolled anxiety. Incorporating stress-management techniques into your daily routine, such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, or yoga, is vital. These practices help bring down stress, which promotes a healthier gut environment. By reducing chronic stress, you create a more supportive environment for a functioning gut-brain axis that positively influences well-being.
Cut Out Unnecessary Medications
While medications are needed for certain health conditions, it’s crucial to reassess and minimize unnecessary medications whenever possible. Some medications, particularly antibiotics and certain over-the-counter drugs, can disrupt the balance of the gut microbiome. Connect with your healthcare provider to review your medications and explore alternatives or adjustments that may have a milder impact on the gut.
Balancing the gut for a healthy gut-brain axis may be overwhelming if you don’t know where to start, causing more anxiety instead of reducing it. Let me give you a hand! My Gut Health Cleanse has everything you need to promote a healthy gut for a healthy life. The 5-Day EG Kitchen Cleanse includes probiotics with evidence-based strains to improve your gut health, my Super Seed Bars with fiber for your gut bacteria to feed off of, bone broth to strengthen your gut lining, and sauerkraut for its fermented goodness that diversifies your gut microbiome. I created this cleanse specifically with gut health (and flavor) in mind, so it’s the perfect way to jumpstart your journey toward a healthier you.