Anxiety and gut health linked? Well, it would sound absurd to anyone reading or hearing this statement for the first time.
Well, in today’s world, the sad truth is that things like stress, anxiety and depression have become inevitable. It may be because of exam-stress, financial pressure, peer pressure and what not. It seems like it has become hardwired in our society.
And I am pretty sure that anyone who hears about the gut-brain relation or the gut-brain axis for the first time would ask, “How can my mind be affected by what I eat?”, “Aren’t they two entirely separate body systems?” and a lot of other questions too. But to your surprise, your gut microbiome is linked to your mental health too!! The better your gut, the better your mood! And vice versa!
What do I mean by good “gut health” ?
So, before I start getting into the explanation that why Anxiety and gut health are linked, you must have a clear idea of what do I mean when I say a good gut health or gut microbiome. Because only if you have a good gut, you can have a good state of mental health.
So what’s a good gut health?
See, the usual definition or idea that pops up in everyone’s mind when they hear gut health is good digestion. But there are other things too that help us determine how good our gut is like our immunity, heart health, amount of good bacteria present in it and obesity levels. So you can check if you’ve got good gut health by checking whether all these things I’ve mentioned are at appropriate levels in your body or not.
What are the factors influencing it?
- Dietary lifestyle
- Physical activity levels
- Consumption of alcohol, cigarettes, medications/drugs
- Mental health
- Exposure to harmful microbes
How are brain and gut related?
There are many ways by which this gut-brain axis exists. You can study each of them in some of the really detailed studies available on the Internet but not all people can understand them pretty well. So here are the major ones –
- The gut bacteria produce neurochemicals – Bacteria such as Streptococcus, Enterococcus, and Escherichia have the ability to produce neurochemicals (which affect memory, mood, learning, emotions, sleep etc.) like serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. If I put it in figures, 95% of the serotonin in the brain is produced by these gut bacteria, 50% of dopamine is synthesized through the Gastrointestinal tract and norepinephrine is also substantially produced in the gut.
- A problem in the gut can be a problem for the brain – According to this study, Dysbiosis (which is the reduction of microbial diversity in the gut) and inflammation in the central nervous system have been linked as the potential reasons for mental illnesses.
- Mighty probiotics!! – Probiotics, or “live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host.” according to WHO, play an important role in the Gut-brain axis. They reduce inflammation, which can contribute to depression, release chemicals/neurotransmitters which affect mood, sleep etc. and also our stress response. Many studies suggest that more intake of probiotics leads to a more calm, stress-free mind. But since almost all of these studies are quite small, there is more research to be done on the subject in order to prove this relation true.
Ways to improve gut health!
Now, that you have known the basic ideas behind the gut-brain axis, I think now you might be curious about how to improve your gut health. So here are some tips you could follow –
- Have diversity in your diet
- Have lots of green leafy vegetables, fruits, legumes, beans etc.
- Eat fermented foods
- Increase probiotic intake