Did you know there are over 40 million people in the US alone who suffer from anxiety? If you’re one of them, you know that anxiety is a really big problem. People struggle with it, sometimes all day, every day. And overcoming it can feel totally impossible.
But you know I’m not here to bring you down. What I’m here to do is share with you simple, DIY tips that make the impossible, possible so you can take charge of your life. If you or someone you know suffers from anxiety, then this post is dedicated to you.
It's Mostly in Your Head...
Remember that time I told you that anxiety really is all in your head? Well, that’s actually only part of the story! Over-activity in the right side of the brain and in the basal ganglia is a common root cause of anxiety, but to find other sources of anxiety you need to dig deeper. And by deeper, I mean lower.
You need to follow the path of the nervous system down, down, down into the rabbit hole of......your gut.
The Alliance of Your Belly & Brain
Many of you may not realize that your gut is intimately connected with your brain and central nervous system. There's a complex network of nerves that lives in and controls the movement of your bowels known as the enteric nervous system (ENS). And this neural network grows from the same embryological tissue as your brain. Ever experience butterflies in your stomach? Well, that's why!
This intimate connection is what is known as the gut-brain axis or, more specifically, the microbiome-gut-brain axis because it’s not just about the connection between your digestive system and your brain that's important. There’s a third factor here: your gut flora.
I’m talking about that complex and diverse community of microorganisms that lives in your digestive tract. Your digestive system is constantly talking to your brain and vice versa, and your gut flora has a major say in how this conversation unfolds. The bacteria that live in your belly can produce a wide range of neuroactive chemicals. Some of these molecules help regulate digestion, but others– such as GABA– can directly affect your mood and brain function (GABA is the neurotransmitter responsible for those precious moments of peace and calm).
Good Bacteria vs. Bad Bacteria
We all have a mix of helpful bacteria and not so helpful bacteria in our bellies (and elsewhere) - what’s known as our personal microbiome. When there’s plenty of the helpful kind of gut flora, the bad bacteria is kept in check. But when something causes the balance between them to shift (like stress, illness, medications, an unhealthy diet, or antibiotic use), we call that dysbiosis. The bad bacteria take over and crowd out the helpful kind, and the result can be a mix of physical and emotional symptoms.
Dysbiosis and Anxiety
People with anxiety tend to have tummy troubles but it turns out it’s not a one-way street! Remember when I said that gut flora can produce neuroactive molecules? All of the bacteria in your belly can send signals to your brain, so the unbalanced microbiome causing physical symptoms may also be sending signals that lead to inflammation in the brain. And the result? Brain fog, depression, irritability, and yes, anxiety.
Balancing Your Microbiome
The obvious next question is how do you re-balance your gut flora? One quick and easy way is through the use of probiotics. When I started to supplement with high-dose probiotics consistently I noticed a huge change in my mood. I felt happier, less worried... I literally started to feel calmer, more focused, and more grounded - all because I made a conscious effort to shift the community of bacteria in my gut!
Don’t Take My Word for It
Countless studies have shown that probiotics do more than just improve digestion. Besides having a positive effect on immune health and autoimmunity, they can also give your brain a boost. One study conducted at the University of Toronto and published in the journal BMC Gut Pathogens found that a two-month protocol of probiotics led to a decrease in depression and anxiety in participants.
“We were quite excited with the fact that these were positive results and we felt that probiotics truly have a role to play in the management of neurophysiological disorders such as anxiety, such as depression and other symptoms associated with that,” researcher A. Venket Rao told CTV News. “Rather than going into medications, which may result in side effects, it’s a safe, very easy way to manage problems.”
Probiotics & Where to Find Them
The easiest way to make sure that you have plenty of helpful bacteria in your gut is to eat probiotic rich foods. Some of my favorites are kimchi, sauerkraut, and natto (which also has the heart-healthy, inflammation reducing enzyme nattokinase). These types of fermented foods can be intense in flavor but you can gradually develop a taste for them like I did. If you're not used to eating funky fermented foods, I recommend starting with sauerkraut, then easing your way into kimchi and then finally getting accepted into the University of Natto.
That said, if you try probiotic foods and just can’t stomach them, you can also take a high-quality broad spectrum probiotic supplement. Just make sure you get one with bacteria that’s not sourced from dairy. A lot of people have subtle dairy sensitivities but don’t even realize it (I didn't for 23 years!). And for those of you out there suffering from anxiety consuming even a small amount of dairy can make dysbiosis and anxiety much worse which is why I don't generally recommend yogurt as a daily source of probiotics.
So there you have it! Start eating more fermented foods and/or take a high quality, dairy-free probiotic and you may just see your anxiety slowly melt away.
How easy is that? Isn't it so amazing that something as simple as snacking on healthy, yummy foods or taking a natural supplement can dramatically lower your anxiety?
To Your Infinite Potential,
Dr. Titus Chiu
p.s. Know someone struggling with anxiety? Share this article with them and help transform their life!