Does Gut Health Affect Anxiety?

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Does Gut Health Affect Anxiety?

Tessa Chatham Registered Nurse

Written by Tessa Chatham Registered Nurse

Tessa Chatham Registered Nurse

Tessa Chatham Registered Nurse

Tessa is a MSN prepared Registered Nurse with 12 years of critical care experience in healthcare. When not practicing clinical nursing, she enjoys academic writing and is passionate about helping those affected by medical aliments live healthy lives.

Dr. Katalin Karolyi

Reviewed by Dr. Katalin Karolyi

July 8, 2021 / Read Time 4 minutes

Anxiety Disorder and Gut Health

Gut health and mental health are surprisingly connected. The central nervous system comprises the sympathetic, parasympathetic, and the quasi independent enteric nervous systems that regulate involuntary bodily functions such as heart rate, breathing, and digestion. 

These systems are often referred to as the “fight or flight” and the “rest and digest” systems.

Anxiety disorder and the gut are linked through the enteric nervous system. The enteric nervous system may trigger emotional shifts experienced by people with mental illness, especially anxiety. 

The enteric nervous system is connected with irritable bowel syndrome, as well as functional problems related to the GI system such as:

  • Constipation 

  • Diarrhea 

  • Bloating 

  • Pain

  • Nausea

  • Upset stomach

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Connection Between Gut Health and Anxiety

Experts often connect the gastrointestinal system (GI) as your “second brain” because of its close connection with brain chemistry and various functions. 

The notion that your GI system is connected with mental health issues comes from the discovery that many of the same brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) are also seen in your gastrointestinal tract. 

The brain and gut talk to one another via signals and complex pathways. The brain-gut connection is meaningful regarding mental health and anxiety. 

Have you ever been told to “go with your gut” regarding a big life choice? This old saying suggests following your intuition instead of logic which mirrors your gut instincts versus your brain. Your brain and gut interact closely, which is why you may feel nauseated before a work presentation or experience intestinal pain during a breakup. 

Anxiety can result in GI problems such as:

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting 

  • Diarrhea

  • Constipation

Psychological factors influence the actual physiology of the gut, as well as symptoms. 

Some  psychological factors that can affect the movement and contractions of the GI tract are: 

  • Stress 

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

Gut Health and Emotions

Emotions such as anger, anxiety, depression, sadness, elation, and all others in between can trigger symptoms in the gut. Gut bacteria produce hundreds of neurochemicals that the brain uses to regulate basic emotions as well as process mental activities such as learning, memory, and mood. Gut bacteria manufacture about 95 percent of the body’s total supply of Serotonin, a chemical used for mood and GI activity.

Gut bacteria and mental health are interconnected. The brain sends signals to the gut after emotions are experienced, and the gut sends signals to the brain, which may trigger emotion.  While healthy gut function has been linked to standard central nervous system (CNS) function, it is known that hormones, brain chemicals, and immunological cells are released from the gut to the brain.

Gut Microbiome

The gastrointestinal tract is lined with bacteria (microbiome) that helps:

  • Digest food

  • Regulate the immune system

  • Protect against other bacteria that cause disease

  • Produce vitamins

Some of the vitamins produced include B vitamins B12, B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), and Vitamin K, which are needed for blood-cell renewal, blood function, and blood coagulation. 

The accumulation of microbiomes can weigh as much as 0.5 pounds within your body. 

Bacteria is usually viewed in a negative light, but gut bacteria is generally beneficial and necessary.

Can Probiotics Help With Anxiety?

Recently, the effects of the microbiome and mental health have been studied. One study determined that by modulating gut microbiome composition through proper nutrition and probiotics, anxiety and depression symptoms were decreased. 

Probiotics are a combination of live beneficial bacteria and yeasts that naturally live in your body. These are available as supplements to take by mouth to increase your gut’s “good” bacteria. Some studies suggest that probiotics could alleviate depression and anxiety symptoms with adjunct therapies for mood or emotional disorders by managing the signals between the gut and brain.

How to Improve Gut Health

Gut health has to do with nutrition and your environment, most of which you have complete control over. 

The following are tips for a healthy gut:

  • Take probiotics

  • Eat fermented foods

  • Eat prebiotic fiber

  • Eat less sugar and sweeteners

  • Reduce stress (psychological)

  • Avoid taking antibiotics unnecessarily

  • Exercise regularly

  • Get enough sleep

  • Drink plenty of water 

Diet changes that can help maintain excellent gut health are:

  • Reducing sugar intake

  • Taking probiotic supplements

  • Drinking enough water

Drinking enough water is suitable for the mucosal lining of the gastrointestinal tract and is also good for microbiome health.

Environmental factors also help maintain gut health, such as:

  • Getting enough sleep

  • Exercise

  • Avoiding stress

  • Avoiding excessive use of antibiotics

Some illnesses require antibiotics but ask your doctor if there are alternatives. Otherwise, antibiotics are safe to take when needed.

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  2. 2

    Get private and secure emotional support weekly from your dedicated therapist.

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    Experience comprehensive care with unlimited access to your care team and primary care physician.

Anxiety Treatment Online

Anxiety treatment is available online with prescription medications, probiotics, and online therapy sessions. Anxiety is one of the most common and treatable mental illnesses. 

If you have symptoms of anxiety or gastrointestinal issues that may be related to untreated anxiety, talk with a PlushCare doctor today to see which treatment options are available. If you have already been diagnosed with anxiety, make an appointment to see if you can maximize your treatment options. 

Click here to see if Plushcare therapy is available in your state, or click here to schedule an appointment.

Read More About Gut Health and Anxiety


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