Research is showing that the bacteria in your gut can directly affect your behavior and emotions…. (and your dogs behaviour too) This might be surprising for many; however it’s a critical, and often overlooked factor in treating anxiety.
Healing and restoring balance to one’s digestive tract can make a huge difference in symptoms. Your digestive tract can be damaged by chronic stress, medication use and exposure to foods that aren’t great for your body (to name a few). Many factors besides poor digestive health may contribute to your symptoms. Maybe you’re in an unhealthy relationship, suffer from low self-esteem, struggle with panic attacks, or worry needlessly about little things. No matter what the issues that are contributing to your anxiety, experiencing it can leave you feeling isolated, scared and mentally exhausted. When it comes to treating emotional distress, utilizing multiple agents of change is the most beneficial way to experience relief. For example, when treating anxiety, it’s extremely beneficial not only to receive therapy, but also to change your diet, exercise, patterns of self-talk, methods of self-care and introduce relaxation techniques. Working on balancing your gut flora can be a very healing addition to the aforementioned therapies. While research is still emerging, science is supporting the idea that your gut bacteria affects your emotional health. Dr. Michael Gershon first brought this groundbreaking science to the public with his lab studies with rodents. He was first prompted to study the connection because of his interest in serotonin; 90% of our serotonin is produced and manufactured in the gut! He wrote, The Second Brain, which describes the role of the digestive tract in regulating emotional health and decision making.
Some fascinating research has been conducted to further this idea. Researchers swapped the bacteria in anxious mice and fearless mice by changing diet, adding antibiotics or adding probiotics. They found that the timid mice actually started taking more risks and acting more gregarious and the opposite also happened: the fearless mice acted more timid.
But, how do the brain and the gut communicate? The brain and the gut are in constant communication via the vagus nerve, a large nerve that connects the two. The concept of “gut feeling” and butterflies in your stomach is actually a real thing! In a study conducted in Ireland, researchers found that when the vagus nerve was cut in mice, they no longer saw the brain respond based on changes to the rodent’s gut flora. Scientists have also begun to study certain neurochemicals that have not been described before being produced by certain bacteria, thus suggesting that gut microbes can produce their own version of neurotransmitters. This is another way that gut microbes may communicate with the brain. Pretty fascinating, right?!
Here are 4 tips on how to nourish your digestive tract.
1.) Start eating more and more WHOLE foods. Limit processed foods, sugar, alcohol and caffeine. Choose fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, and lean proteins.
2.) Increase your body/food awareness. Notice how you feel after eating. Take note of fatigue, bloating, anxiety, gas, reflux or any other symptoms that you might be experiencing. This will allow you to start mapping patterns and become aware of what foods might be troublesome for you. If you continually eat foods that don’t react well to your body, it can damage your delicate digestive lining and balance of good bacteria. Log your findings for at least a week.
3.) Eat foods rich in probiotics. This can include yogurt, kefir, fermented foods and sauerkraut.
4.) Reduce Stress. Stress can damage your very thin digestive lining. Practice relaxation techniques, meditate, use positive self-talk and engage in activities that bring joy. Managing stress will help you to heal from the inside out and also reduce anxiety symptoms.
Meghan About the Author: Meghan ToupsIs a Nationally Certified Counselor and Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Georgia. Meghan also received her health coaching certification and training from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, where she was trained in more than one hundred dietary theories and studied a variety of practical lifestyle coaching methods. Feel free to contact Meghan HERE.