Feeling Anxious? It Might Be Your Poop! (Like, Seriously)

Ok, so I'm not really saying you need to get up close and personal with your poop to understand why you're anxious.

 
Anxiety may not be all in your head after all. Everyday researchers are finding more evidence to suggest that a large part of mental health concerns are connected to what's going on in your gut.
 

What I am saying is that it's worth your time to be conscious of what's going on within your intestinal tract, which I will lovingly refer to as your gut from this point on.

If you're human, you have likely felt the grips of anxiety at some point in your life.

Even if it was just because of ongoing test anxiety...or knowing that there was a chance that you could get laid off from work. Regardless of what your scary scenario may have looked like, chances are you have felt the physical symptoms and mental distress of feeling anxious.

But sometimes everything in your life can be alright, or at least okay, and you still can't shake that nagging feeling that something awful is about to happen.

Decades of research about cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) show a clear relationship between what we think and how we feel--but, what if there were more to it? Like, creepy little critters living in your bowel.


Your other brain

We all know about the brain in our heads, but did you realize that we actually have a "second brain" in our digestive track?!?

It's called the enteric system and it's responsible for producing those lovely neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrine that contribute to our level of happy OR anxiety and depression.

In fact, researchers are learning tons more about gut health and how the proper balance of friendly bacteria can absolutely factor into your overall happiness.

So, why might my gut bacteria be jacked up and all out of balance?

Well, I'm so glad that you asked.

There are several factors that contribute to an unhappy gut biome:

  • Diet- Processed foods tend to disrupt the fine balance between healthy and unhealthy bacteria and yeast in your gut. Your best bet is to stick to a whole foods diet, meaning it's not in a box on the shelf in the grocery store and more than likely, it's not from a fast food restaurant.

 

  • Antibiotics- Oh, where would we be without antibiotics? They're great for serious infections that wouldn't heal on their own otherwise. But we all know, that until recent years, antibiotics have been over prescribed in many instances, causing some people to be resistant to their beneficial effects and wreaking havoc on our gut. Remember, antibiotics aren't just killing the bacteria that are making you feel bad...they're out for eeeer bacteria in your gut--good or bad! And we need the good bacteria!

 

  • NSAIDS- AKA Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs...You know, like Advil, Motrin. Yes, they make you feel better. Your headache or any ache in your body is wiped out and you're feeling good. But did you ever notice that the bottle suggests that you take these medications with food and that you don't take them over an extended period of time. Now why might that be, you asked? Well because they can cause bleeding in the lining of the intestinal tract. Remember, we're trying to take care of our gut. We want it to be a happy, balanced place, so that we feel good physically, mentally, and emotionally.

 

  • Stress- A completely stress-free life is unrealistic, and at times stress can even be beneficial--however, prolonged, unresolved stress can wreak havoc on our bodies. 

So, what can I do?

The goal is to encourage or maintain the growth of good bacteria in your gut. You can support an optimal gut environment in the following ways:

1 // Fermented Foods

Eat fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles, yogurt, kombucha, and kefir. Fermented foods produce their own healthy bacteria aka probiotics, which can help to correct any microbial imbalances within the gut. 

2 // Supplement with Probiotics

If fermented foods make you want to gag, or if you're trying to stay away from dairy, you may want to take a probiotic supplement. One of my favorites (shown below) is Garden of Life Raw Probiotics for Women. In addition to providing over 85 Billion live cultures, this particular product also contains vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and prebiotics (the short definition--prebiotics create an optimal environment for the growth of good bacteria). 

 

Even if you're one of my male readers, you can't go wrong with the Garden of Life brand. Sometimes, I change things up and try other probiotics just to see which bring the most personal benefits, and so far, I like this brand the best.

3 // Avoid Excess Sugar

I mean, as good as it tastes, when has sugar ever really been good for us? Think of it this way--fermented foods and probiotics are feeding the good bacteria, while sugar is feeding the bad bacteria. It's hard to eliminate sugar all together, but being mindful of your sugar intake will allow you to better manage the health of your microbiome.

4 // Lifestyle changes

How are your eating habits? Are you getting enough fruits and vegetables? What about water? Did you get enough sleep last night? What about your stress level? Are you taking time out to do things that you enjoy?

Exercise, proper rest, eating right, and stress reduction all contribute to a healthy gut that is conducive to the maintenance and production of healthy bacteria.

Remember, it's not one of area of your life that makes you healthy. It's all of these areas integrated, working together collectively.  


Are you taking good care of yourself?


Would you like to know more?

I have unapologetic nerd tendencies, and if you're like me, you want to know more about the research behind various findings and ideas. If you'd like to know more about this brain-gut connection and how the gut can influence mental health, check out these articles:

The effects of probiotics on depressive symptoms in humans: a systematic review

Gut Microbiota and Inflammation

Fermented foods, microbiota, and mental health: ancient practice meets nutritional psychiatry

Read about it..

Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride, author of Gut and Psychology Syndrome: Natural Treatment for Autism, Dyspraxia, A.D.D., Dyslexia, A.D.H.D., Depression, Schizophrenia, provides a fantastic overview of the connection between the gut and mental health. Check out her best-seller on the subject below:

I also really enjoyed The Mind-Gut Connection, by Dr. Emeran Mayer:

Have you noticed a gut-health/mood connection in your own life? We'd love to hear about it. Share in the comments below!