If you’ve been a health enthusiast for more than a week or are struggling with your own gut issues you’ve likely heard the phrase gut-brain connection. At first glance it can be easy to dismiss this as the foundation of your issues, but the connection is well researched and supported by many health professionals.
In fact, those with high levels of anxiety may find themselves on the gut-brain cycle where poor gut health leads to anxiety and vice-versa. The gastrointestinal tract is highly sensitive to emotions like anger, sadness, elation, and anxiety. For instance, have you ever felt nauseous from bad news? Get butterflies in your stomach from excitement? Lost your appetite from
anger? These are just a few minor ways that show the gut and brain are connected.
What is the Gut-Brain Axis?
In technical terms this connection is referred to as the gut-brain axis. It indicates the very real and physical-chemical connection between the gut and the brain. The body consists of millions of nerves and neurons that run all over, including between the brain and gut.
Neurotransmitters are the chemical portion of this physical pathway that act as messengers throughout the body, sending signals from one location (like the brain) to another (like the gut). Their primary role is to transmit signals to target cells from nerve cells, from muscles to glands and other nerves.
The connection? These neurotransmitters, along with other chemicals, are produced in the gut and impact the brain. In the same way, the brain has a direct effect on the stomach. A small example of this is how just the thought of eating causes stomach juices to be released in preparation for digestion before food ever reaches the gut.
Anxiety and Gut Health
Now that we understand just how closely the two are connected it is easy to see that anxiety can be both the cause and the result of intestinal issues. The two are intimately and intricately connected. If you’ve struggled with GI upset for any period of time with no clear cause or answers, anxiety may be playing a role.
Anxiety – The Cause
Common gastrointestinal symptoms like heartburn, loose stools, and abdominal cramps may be a red flag that your anxiety is causing some deeper issues. Living with these side effects of stress can cause significant quality of life interruptions and lead to more serious health concerns. If you’re experiencing these symptoms without any known cause, consider speaking with your healthcare provider to determine if anxiety could be the cause and work together to mitigate the stress and anxiety in your life.
Anxiety – The Result
One of the primary causes and effects of poor gut health is inflammation of the
gastrointestinal lining. When the gut is unhealthy, and the microbiota are out of balance this results in gut dysbiosis. Gut dysbiosis and inflammation have both been linked to numerous mental illnesses including depression and anxiety.
While there are many pharmaceutical approaches to anxiety and mental health, those with poor gut health at the root may benefit from natural approaches to mitigating their symptoms.
One study to note found that when comparing probiotics and antidepressants in mice the probiotics were more effective at improving key neurotransmitters for mood including; GABA and tryptophan. Alluding to a method of improving gut health as a means of improving anxiety.
The inverse of this is true as well. Gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a natural neurotransmitter necessary for nervous system balance and ultimately mood. By supplementing with GABA you can improve your stress response, anxiety, and your gut health at the same time.
Ashwagandha is another herbal supplement that may improve your gut health on multiple levels. Primarily, it can reduce cortisol levels, the potentially damaging hormone released from chronic stress which has earned it the nickname stress hormone. Reducing this hormone can improve anxiety, which ultimately improves gut health.
Thinking you may be experiencing gut related anxiety or anxiety related gut issues? You may benefit from a conversation with your healthcare provider to determine whether supplements, lifestyle changes, counselling, or all would improve your symptoms.
Adding a natural, herbal supplement to your regimen allows you to take a natural approach first with compounds that can improve other areas of health simultaneously. Many pharmaceuticals can exacerbate existing health issues and often lead to significant fluctuations in weight and sleep issues. Natural remedies like GABA and ashwagandha may actually improve these areas.
As with any condition always speak to your healthcare provider before starting or stopping any medication or supplement.