gut health and anxiety

How a Healthy Gut Can Aid Anxiety

Anxiety is one of the most common and impactful mental disorders in the United States today. Nearly one in five Americans suffer from anxiety, amounting to almost 40 million people. And for each of those 40 million people, the symptoms of anxiety are going to differ.

One of the most common symptoms of anxiety is nausea, cramping, or other stomach-related issues. But did you know that it may not just be a trick of the brain. Read on to learn about the connection between gut health and anxiety.

An Overview of Gut Bacteria

Many of us may not be thrilled to learn that our guts are full of bacteria, but they play important roles. For one thing, they help regulate your body’s pH level, or how acidic or basic your system is. This is hugely important for maintaining good health; a pH level that’s too far out of balance can be fatal.

Your gut bacteria also help aid in various digestive properties. They help deal with any foreign toxins you may ingest, as well as breaking down food, keeping you from bloating, and generally keeping everything running smoothly. You have to have a proper balance of the right kinds of bacteria in the right amounts to maintain your gut health.

What Is miRNA?

Studies that look at the connection between mental health and gut bacteria use miRNA as their primary measuring stick. miRNA is micro RNA molecules that are only about twenty-two nucleotides in length. They determine which genes get expressed, including genes that are believed to contribute to anxiety and depression.

miRNA are also influenced by the presence of gut bacteria. One study using mice examined the miRNA levels of three different groups: germ-free mice which had no gut bacteria, ex-germ-free mice which had had gut bacteria implanted later in life, and mice with normal gut bacteria. They found that the germ-free mice had significant changes to the miRNA in their amygdala and prefrontal cortex, both of which are significant in emotional regulation and impulse control.

The Connection Between Gut Health and Anxiety

So in layman’s terms, the healthier your gut bacteria are, the more your miRNAs behave how they’re supposed to. Imbalances in your gut bacteria can alter your miRNA diversity, which can be one of the contributing factors in anxiety and depression. And it may surprise you to learn that you’ve probably heard about this connection before.

When you experience anxiety, whether on a clinical level or a normal, got-a-job-interview level, you may have butterflies, nausea, or stomach cramping. You may also find yourself running to the restroom more often during stressful situations. This isn’t just some odd psychological fluke; it’s that connection between your miRNA and your gut bacteria making itself known.

How Antibiotics Can Affect

As the name suggests, antibiotics are drugs designed to kill bacteria. While this is helpful when you’re fighting off an infection of some sort, these antibiotics aren’t targeted. Too many of them can wipe out some of your gut flora, including the good bacteria that you rely on to keep you healthy.

In some cases, your doctor may recommend you take probiotics or eat yogurt while you’re on antibiotics. We’ll talk more about this in a moment, but those are helpful in restoring some of that good bacteria to your gut. So if you find yourself feeling more anxious after a course of antibiotics, it may be that you’ve got an imbalance in your gut flora.

How to Restore Balance

So if your gut flora is out of balance and your anxiety is acting up, how can you restore it? Well as we mentioned, eating yogurt can help to some degree. But there are also some other medication options that can help you get your body back in balance. 

Taking a probiotic supplement can be a good way to restore a healthy population of gut flora. If you have chronic problems with anxiety, talk to your doctor about if taking regular probiotic supplements can help you. In extreme cases, doctors can also perform a fecal microbial transplant, but we’ll let you look into that option on your own.

A Healthy Diet

A healthy diet is one of the best ways to ensure that your gut bacteria stay in good balance. We’ve mentioned yogurt a few times now, and it is one of the best probiotic foods out there. So while we aren’t saying eating frozen yogurt is a cure for anxiety, we are saying there’s a chance it could help.

Cottage cheese, kimchi, sauerkraut, and other fermented foods are good probiotic options. You may also want to include some prebiotic foods in your diet, such as onions, garlic, asparagus, and oats. In addition to keeping your gut flora healthy, eating a healthy, balanced diet can also give you more energy and make you feel better overall, which can be important for reducing anxiety.

How to Reduce Stress and Anxiety

While maintaining a healthy gut bacteria balance can help mitigate some of the symptoms of anxiety, it’s also important to treat the larger problem. Try to find ways to reduce your stress and anxiety overall. If you can, seeking out help from a mental health professional is a good idea.

In your day-to-day life, when you find yourself feeling stressed or anxious, try to focus on taking deep, even breaths. Focus on the air moving in and out of your lungs, and accept whatever anxiety you may be feeling at the time, rather than trying to fight back against it. Regular exercise, even for just fifteen minutes, can also work wonders for reducing anxiety. 

Find Healthy Coping Mechanisms

Dealing with anxiety can be a long, difficult journey. Knowing the connection between your gut health and anxiety can be a step in the right direction to getting you into a healthy, happy frame of mind. But it’s important that you have healthy coping mechanisms to deal with your anxiety.

If you or a loved one need help coping with anxiety, depression, addiction, substance abuse, and more, reach out to us at Northbound. We help clients and families heal from addiction and mental disorders. Get in touch with us today to start your journey to health and wellness.

Article Reviewed by Paul Alexander

Paul AlexanderPaul Alexander is the founder and CEO of Northbound Treatment. He received his Certified Addiction Treatment Specialist training at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, CA, and was awarded Outstanding Alumni Service Award in 2002. Paul holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Criminology, Law and Society, Summa Cum Laude, from University of California, Irvine, and a Juris Doctorate degree from Loyola Law School of Los Angeles. He believes wholeheartedly in transformational leadership, organizational health and effective, fully integrated substance use disorder treatment.

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