Eating for Anxiety: The Gut Brain Connection

Eating for Anxiety: The Gut Brain Connection

What is the gut brain connection, how does the human microbiome affect mood, stress, and anxiety, and how to nurture a healthy gut microbiome for optimal health. 

We often refer to being “hangry” (hungry and angry) as an emotional state - a feeling brought about by your stomach that affects the mind and your mental state. We’ve all experienced it - that feeling when your blood sugar has dropped and we feel irritable, moody, and maybe even a little sassy. 

It’s safe to say that we are all familiar with how the gut can influence the mind - but does the gut-brain connection go beyond feelings of hunger or “hanger”? Can our microbiome influence emotions, mood, and cognition? Many recent scientific studies have revealed evidence that the gut-brain connection could have an even bigger impact on our overall health and mental state than we ever imagined. 

What is The Gut Brain Connection?

The gut brain connection (or gut brain axis) is a two directional pathway that intricately connects your brain and gut, including the gut microbiome. Neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, GABA, and acetylcholine are able to travel along the gut-brain axis pathways to relay information! The gut microbiome includes the entire population of microorganisms that live within the human gastrointestinal system - trillions of microorganisms that can be beneficial, or detrimental if dysbiosis (an imbalance in good vs bad bacteria) occurs. Your microbiome is unique to you - as a result of your DNA and environmental factors such.

Impact on Anxiety and Mood

Your gut microbiome is extremely important for supporting healthy digestion and a strong immune system. Sometimes referred to as the “second brain”, your gut microbiota are also able to produce neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters can alter your biochemistry, impacting mood, and causing stress and anxiety responses. 

When you are feeling nervous or anxious, your brain releases hormones that impact the digestive system - causing you to experience indigestion, upset stomach, irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, or loss of appetite. But, as we mentioned earlier, this communication pathway is bidirectional. This means that your gut can also communicate messages back to your brain - meaning your gut microbiota can influence mood, stress related behaviours, anxiety, and depression. (1,2,3

Recent research has suggested that the gut microbiome plays such an important role in human mood and behaviour, that focusing on treatments that promote a healthy gut microbiome could play a role in the treatment of mental health disorders.(3)

salad in white bowl from overhead with avocado, beets, carrots, chickpeas, and almond butter dressing

Nurturing a Healthy Microbiome 

Here are 4 ways to support your gut brain connection - to help balance mood, reduce stress, and anxiety. Note that diet is just one part of your ever-changing and dynamic gut microbiome- genetics, metabolism, age, antibiotic treatment, stress and even geography can factor into the equation when it comes to gut flora! (4,5

1. Avoid processed foods - focusing your diet on whole foods and eliminating processed foods, refined sugars, and refined carbohydrates is a great way to support a healthy digestive system and therefore to nurture a healthy gut microbiome

2. Probiotics - incorporating probiotics or probiotic rich foods can help introduce beneficial microbes into your gut, helping to replenish the digestive system with beneficial bacteria. This can be especially helpful after periods of antibiotic use. Look for a high quality probiotic that has strains of bacteria that are specific to your unique needs. We love using this plant based yogurt or this plant based cultured probiotic supplement!

3. Consume Adequate Fiber - Fermentable fiber promotes the development of beneficial microflora in the gut! Consuming fiber rich foods such as fruits and vegetables, flax seeds, chia seeds, beans and pulses is a great way to support a healthy microbiome. Adults need 25-38 g of fiber per day (females 25 g; males 38 g), but our actual intake is typically much lower - usually around 15-20 g daily! Fuel up with fiber with our delicious superfood mix, Daily Nourish

4. Incorporate Healthy Fats - a diet high in saturated fats may have negative effects on your gut microbiome, as suggested by this review. Instead, focusing on healthy fats, which play a vital role in promoting overall health, could be beneficial. Healthy fats are essential for brain development during pregnancy and early childhood, and for promoting brain health throughout adolescence and adulthood. Some great sources of healthy fats include extra virgin olive oil, organic nut butters, avocado, and hemp seeds!

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