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Nowadays many people exposed to constant or high stress develop and live with anxiety. Without a doubt, it’s a challenge to maintain our emotional and mental equilibrium in today’s stress-filled culture. 

Questioning the relationship of how different parts of our bodies respond after a stress response is sensible. Our human bodies really do know how to tell us when something is wrong.

For example, our stress hormones can have an impact on our gut barrier functions. Heartburn, indigestion, abdominal cramps and pains, fullness, bloating, nausea, diarrhea, and constipation can all be consequential symptoms of stress. (5)

One study carried out at the Department of Gastroenterology, School of Digestive and Liver Diseases in India, revealed that 44 percent of patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), also experienced anxiety. 

The study concluded that IBS accounts for a large proportion of referrals to gastroenterology clinics, and therefore the cost burden on IBS patients and society is deemed significant. (1)

The high prevalence of psychiatric comorbidities such as anxiety and depression in the IBS samples from the study also suggested that these disorders should be properly screened for in GI clinics. (1)

A Contented Gut For A Cheerful Mind

Medical experts are beginning to ask, might this work the other way round also? Might improving gut health in return help mental health? 

Although this field of research is still in early stages, a number of different studies have found that regulating gut bacteria may decrease anxiety. This theorization implies that gut health can influence mood, just as much as mood can influence gut health. (6)

A team from Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine set out to see if there was evidence to support the improvement of anxiety symptoms by regulating intestinal microbiota. They looked at 21 studies that included 1,503 people. (2)

Fourteen of the 21 studies used probiotics as interventions to regulate intestinal microbiota (IRIFs), while seven used non-probiotic methods such as dietary changes. Probiotics are living organisms found naturally in some foods that are also known as “friendly” bacteria because they fight harmful bacteria and keep them from colonizing the gut. 

Probiotics supplements in seven of the studies included in their analysis contained only one type of probiotic, two studies used a product containing two types of probiotics, and the supplements used in the other five studies included at least three types.

Overall, 11 of the 21 studies showed a positive effect on anxiety symptoms by regulating intestinal microbiota, meaning that more than half of the studies showed this approach to be effective. 

Of the 14 studies that had used probiotics as the intervention, more than a third found them to be effective in reducing anxiety symptoms, while six of the remaining seven studies that had used non-probiotics as interventions found those to be effective – a 86% rate of effectiveness. (2)

The Gut Health Quiz by Dr. Nandi is a great way to find out if your intestinal microbiota, gut bacteria, and hormones are looking after the health of your gut – and maintaining the right balance for your physical, and mental health. 

Anxiety, Hormones, And Gut Microbiome

The ‘gut-brain axis,’ or the communication network between the gut and the brain, has significant implications for both our physical and mental health. (6)

The important thing to remember is that communication between the brain and gut is bidirectional. The gut, in addition to being lined with 500 million nerve cells, communicates with the brain via the vagus nerve. 

The gut also produces a variety of hormones, each of which sends its own signal to the brain. Last but not least, the bacteria in the gut (the microbiome) play a role in regulating this link. (7)

“Our gut contains direct communication pathways to the brain, so they are constantly communicating,” says City Dietitians founder, Sophie Medlin. 

“It isn’t in any way the sufferer’s fault if their anxiety causes gut symptoms or if their gut symptoms cause anxiety. These two things go hand-in-hand by design. When our digestive processes are affected by stress over the long term, the environment in our colon becomes more favorable to bacteria that cause conditions like IBS.’’

She adds “We have also recently learned that our gut bacteria interact with our brain by producing neurotransmitters. This can make anxiety and depression better or worse depending on which bacterial species are more common in our body.” (2)

Advice On Diets Creates A Healthy Gut 

Knowing what your stomach needs takes practice, and at the beginning of recognizing this, fortunately, there is advice.

We are talking about eating healthy foods and taking probiotic supplements if necessary. Using known tools, creating health maps, and gaining dietary advice are all prudent ideas. If you ask your body what’s up, it may tell you that you are eating the wrong foods! 

The Gut Health Quiz by Dr. Nandi is a great way to kick off your knowledge of your gut”s health. After receiving the results, you can start to figure out a ‘gut health and anxiety diet’ for your individual needs.

Mental Health For Gut Health 

The benefits of less anxiety are numerous – better sleep patterns, improved relationships, increased productivity at work, reduced depression, and improved immunity. (3)

Relaxation techniques such as mindfulness meditation, exercising regularly, asserting yourself when necessary, and setting realistic life and work goals, are all proven ways to reduce anxiety. (4)

One of your body’s last resorts to getting your attention is to create discomfort and pain (sometimes in the gut) – which of course can lead to more anxiety. Part of understanding your body’s communication is all about choosing to be gentle and kind with yourself. 

If you can try to maintain normal emotional states independent of external stressors, you can create an entirely new internal body order for yourself. You can then release any potential energy locked up in your anxieties, enabling you to live a more fulfilling life.

Sources:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5733421/
  2. https://www.bmj.com/company/newsroom/anxiety-might-be-alleviated-by-regulating-gut-bacteria/ 
  3. https://healthinfo.healthengine.com.au/reducing-stress#c2 
  4. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/8133-stress-10-ways-to-ease-stress 
  5. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/irritable-bowel-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20360016 
  6. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/09/gut-feeling 
  7. https://patient.info/news-and-features/whats-the-link-between-anxiety-and-gut-health

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