Anxiety is a prevalent mental health issue that affects women of all ages and backgrounds. It’s estimated that almost 1 in 5 women will experience anxiety at some point, with many sharing it daily. While there are a variety of treatments available to help manage symptoms, many people are unaware that physical health can have just as much of an impact on anxiety levels as psychological health. In particular, gut health has been linked to reducing stress and improving mental well-being. Let’s take a look at the link between gut health and anxiety.
What is Gut Health?
I know that terms like Gut Health can get thrown around, but do we know what that means? Hopefully, I can simplify this for you. Gut health refers to the overall condition of your digestive system and the bacteria contained within it. The bacteria in our gut play an essential role in breaking down food into nutrients, so a healthy balance of good bacteria is critical for proper functioning. Poor gut health can lead to digestive issues such as bloating, indigestion, constipation, or diarrhoea which can cause irritation and discomfort – but it can also affect our mental state.
How Does Gut Health Impact Anxiety?
Scientists have long studied the connection between our gut and brain, but more recently, this link has been further explored in relation to anxiety. It is believed that the bacteria in our guts may be able to send signals directly to our brains, influencing our moods and emotions. Studies have shown that people with higher levels of certain bacteria in their gut had lower anxiety levels than those with lower amounts. Furthermore, when participants were given probiotic supplements (a supplement containing beneficial bacteria), they experienced reduced anxiety levels.
If you’re looking for ways to reduce your anxiety levels by improving your gut health, there are several steps you can take. Firstly, eating a healthy diet containing plenty of fiber-rich fruits and vegetables and fermented foods like raw yogurt or kimchi is essential. These foods provide beneficial bacteria for your gut and essential vitamins and minerals that can help reduce stress levels. Additionally, reducing your intake of processed foods and sugar can be helpful as these can disrupt the balance of bacteria in your gut. Finally, taking a probiotic supplement may also help boost the number of beneficial bacteria in your intestine, which could, in turn, help improve your mental well-being.
What the experts say…
If you have ever felt chronic fatigue, worry, anxiety or simply unable to cope, there is a good chance you have suffered from chronic stress, as these are some of the most common symptoms. What you may not be aware of is just how dangerous the effects of chronic stress are. It can lead to an endless array of health problems including anxiety disorders, major depression, insomnia, infections, allergies, autoimmune disease, diabetes, weight gain, heart disease, chronic fatigue syndrome and, of course, digestive problems.
Your brain and digestive system are in constant communication via what is referred to as the gut-brain axis. Your brain through various hormones and nerve pathways controls normal digestive function. Stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, can influence your digestive function via the nerves that travel directly from your brain to your gut. This communication superhighway travels both ways, which means that digestive problems can affect your mood and behaviour too.Ben Brown is a naturopath, science writer and speaker. He teaches nutritional medicine and is on the advisory board at the UK College of Nutrition and Health (BCNH). He works in the research and development of nutraceuticals.
Managing anxiety is no easy task, but improving your gut health may be an effective way to support yourself toward better mental well-being. Eating a healthy diet rich in fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, fermented foods like yogurt or kimchi, and reducing processed food intake can improve gut health. Additionally, probiotic supplements may also assist in creating a healthier balance of beneficial bacteria within the intestine, which could positively affect mental well-being too! Ultimately, listening carefully to what works best for you is vital; by understanding the connection between our gut and brain, we can work together towards achieving improved mental clarity and peace of mind for ourselves!