What is anxiety?
Anxiety may be something you are familiar with, it is common in a variety of physical disorders, but most commonly in stress related disorders such as depression. Symptoms you might experience can range from feeling agitated, changes in appetite, problems with sleep, irritability, racing thoughts and a feeling of dread or panic. But what is the link between gut symptoms and anxiety?
Scientists who study the correlation between disease presentation and the bacteria that live inside our gut (gut microbiome), found that those who suffer with mental health problems also tend to have an imbalanced gut microbiome.
I personally have noticed that many of my clients who seek advice from me for help with gut-related symptoms such as IBS, also suffer with low mood and/or anxiety so, is it the bacteria driving our mood and behaviour?
The gut microbiome
Our gut is host to trillions of bacteria collectively called the gut microbiome, this unique collection of bacteria that co-exist with us, usually in harmony and communicate directly with our own cells sending messages to the brain via the gut-brain axis. This bi-directional highway between the gut and our brain consists of the nervous system, immune system and endocrine system hence; is known as the second brain and transmits messages from inside the gut to our brain, affecting our mood and how we “feel”. Changes in the balance of bacteria, overgrowth and not enough of the “good bacteria” can results in us feeling low, anxious and that gut feeling that something just isn’t quite right.
Our gut bacteria has far-reaching effects, not only reaching our brain but they also perform important functions in the immune system and metabolism by providing essential inflammatory mediators, nutrients and vitamins. However, if the balance of the bacteria is disrupted, we call this dysbiosis, which can happen after eating a poor diet, infection, illness, medication, and stressful events. In clinic I can utilise functional tests such as stool tests to “see” what is going on inside the gut and often see imbalanced gut bacteria in clients with anxiety and depression.
Feelings of anxiety, depression, low mood and low tolerance to stress are increased when our gut bacteria are out of balance. Dysbiosis can lead to a condition known as intestinal hyper-permeability (which is a bit of a mouthful) or leaky gut which can have far-reaching implications on our immune system and even lead to autoimmune conditions which is how I believe my own autoimmune condition; Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis began. After putting into practice my “own medicine” by radically changing my diet and healing my gut, my autoimmunity is in now in remission which I now help others to do the same.
Covid-19 & anxiety
A disruption to our gut microbiome also seems to play a part in symptoms experienced in Covid-19. The virus isn’t just having a physical impact, there is no doubt that the numbers of people complaining of anxiety have risen since the pandemic first broke out.
The psychological effects of Covid-19 have been one of the most devastating effects of the pandemic. I have seen more people with anxiety and IBS than ever before as conventional medicine fails to offer a suitable solution offering a sticking plaster to cover over symptoms by throwing increased medication such as Buscopan and more anti-depressants at the problem.
The worrying data suggests that one in eight people who have had Covid-19 are since diagnosed with their first psychiatric illness within six months of testing positive! There is also the long-lasting effects of anxiety, depression and insomnia that are becoming part of what is now known as “long-Covid”.
Recently analysis of date from long-covid sufferers is also showing a relation to onset of gastro-intestinal problems including IBS, IBD; Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis being triggered from Covid-19 infections and vaccinations. There have even been correlations made to pancreatitis, gastric ulcers and duodenal ulcers. The inflammation caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus appears to be systemic and not just targeting the respiratory system. Many clients have asked for my help since noticing much worse symptoms since having Covid-19 or having the vaccination so there appears to be a direct link between the virus and inflammatory conditions.
The good news is that there is a lot we can do by working together, reducing inflammation, restoring gut health, there is not better time than now to take the health of our gut more seriously and do all that we can to protect our mental health.
Inflammation; fire in the belly?
The gut is host to 70% of our immunity; that means that our gastro-intestinal tube and all of the cells lining it protect us from anything we eat that may do us harm. The food we eat is broken down, digested and absorbed in the intestines where immune cells present in the mucosal cells lining the gut are primed ready to take action.
Pathogenic bacteria have a lipopolysaccharide coating (LPS) which can be recognised by our immune cells lining our gut which activates an inflammatory response.
It is the long-term activation of this immune response which can make brain functions change which finally lead to the kinds of mental disorders like anxiety disorder which I commonly see alongside IBS symptoms.
The gut-brain axis provides the perfect route to explain the commonality of anxiety and IBS. The positive news is that by making some simple dietary changes we are able to modulate and shape the gut microbiome into a healthy, happy balanced family of bacteria that can have a beneficial impact on mood, reducing anxiety symptoms. Find out more about improve your immune system through your gut here.
Gut health modification – everyone can do this!
The upshot is the gut microbiome can be modified through making some simple changes to diet and sometimes through probiotic supplementation. The gut responds to these changes almost instantly and the entire gut lining is shed and replaced every 3-5 days, so you can have a new, healthier gut in just a matter of days. My belief is that the greatest effect is achieved by altering the diet to include food that directly helps to feed the gut microbiome to flourish in balance rather than relying on supplements alone and the key to longterm gut health is consistency.
However, when comparing results from a collection of scientific studies which looked at the effects of various probiotics Vs. dietary modifications and anxiety symptoms, they all showed positive outcomes regardless of the intervention. The results also demonstrate that these kinds of modifications are easily achieved with a little guidance to get the right fit for you and are well worth a try with little or no (literally none that I could find) negative side effects.
Folate and Depression
Scientific evidence suggests that diets low in folate correlate with worse mental health conditions. Folate provides essential co-factors for making neurotransmitters and has a “calming” effect on the nervous system. Folate if found in a variety of dark, green leafy vegetables/salads. You can find my Top 10 Folate Rich Foods and recipe here.
Dietary interventions focused on increasing plant-based foods which are comprised of soluble and insoluble fibres provides substrate for the gut bacteria to feast upon, in turn they produce serotonin; our happy hormone! but the question is; how much fibre do you need to eat to have an effect?
Gut health diet; start today
This is the reason I created my Good Gut point system, the more I researched, the more supporting science I found of the correlation between disordered gut bacteria and mental health issues. So, how and what do you eat to start improving the health of your gut and balance of bacteria?
The food of choice for a healthy gut microbiome is diversity, fibre and consistency. Fibre is a nutrient that we don’t digest and absorb but is needed to feed the trillions of bacteria in our gut. The recommended daily intake of fibre is 30g per day. However, scary statistics in the UK showed that substantially low levels of the population actually meet this daily fibre recommendation.
What I find even scarier, is that a very sad 10 percent of young children are meeting the daily recommendation! and when it came to the teenagers, this figure dropped to just 4 percent! This is worrying as rates of teenage depression, anxiety and sadly suicide have been rising over the last decade and significantly worse since Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown.
The problem I identified with all of this data was in telling people how to include enough fibre and what the recommended daily intake of 30g fibre should actually look like on the plate, hence my very simple to use infographic GG point system poster. You could have a go at introducing more fibre by simply following my GG point system, count the points aiming for 30 points per day = approx. 30g fibre per day. If you aren’t used to including high fibre foods, always start increasing the fibre slowly and building up over time. Increasing fibre can create changes in bowel regularity so it is always important to make sure you are drinking enough water to keep the fibre moving through the bowel.
Try a change of diet today and supercharge your gut microbiome to start transmitting positive, happy messages from gut and brain. Your gut bugs may just thank you in the very best way by putting a smile on your face.
If you would like to commit to improving your health with my full support and guidance, you can work with me to help transform your gut health right away. I have over 9 years experience working with gut dysfunction, dysbiosis, IBS, reflux, and imbalances and can help you get on track for a healthier, happier you.
Your diet, lifestyle, environment and history all play a part in creating the unique person that you are, therefore a unique approach with a personalised nutrition plan so that all of these factors can be taken into consideration is the quickest route to improving your gut health and supporting your mental health.
Contact me to see how I can help you
If you would like to find out more about how I can help you and discuss any health concerns or conditions you may have, why not book a free 15 minute friendly, non-obligatory chat with me so I can hear a little more from you and see if working with me is right for you. Book discovery call.