Combat anxiety disorder by understanding and regulating your gut health
Combat anxiety disorder by understanding and regulating your gut health
The relationship between Anxiety disorder and gut health is becoming more apparent in recent times. Anxiety disorders are one of the most common forms of mental illness, with one-quarter of Australians experiencing an anxiety condition in their lifetime1. With increasing numbers of us struggling with our mental health these days, it’s vital that we find effective ways of dealing with anxiety.
A prescribed pharmaceutical medicine can mask the symptoms of mental health, without fully addressing the underlying causes of our anxiety issues. In order to restore ourselves to optimal health, we need to look at natural remedies for anxiety and the important relationship between our gut health and our mental health.
We call the gut our second brain so its no surprise that the two are irrefutably linked. The brain is really just an organ, like our heart, lungs, and liver. Our minds and bodies are not separated; our physical health is deeply connected to our mental state.
The gut-brain axis is a structure in our bodies that manages the relationship between nutrition and mental health. It “is a bidirectional communication network between the central nervous system (which is comprised of the brain and spinal cord), the enteric nervous system of the gut, and our gut microbes” 2.
Functional Medicine practitioners investigate the underlying causes of anxiety disorder through the analysis of the gut microbiome. By ensuring a person has key nutrients present, that their neurochemistry is balanced and by clearing toxic burdens and pathogens, we see a significant and positive change in our patient’s mental health.
What’s the difference between experiencing anxiety and having an anxiety disorder?
Anxiety is what we feel when we are faced with threats, danger or when we are stressed. We will feel upset, uncomfortable, and tense. Anxiety is an appropriate response to stressful life experiences, such as the death of someone close, a job loss or a relationship breakdown. This anxiety usually only lasts for a limited time.
Anxiety disorders are distinct from this short-lived state. They are a group of illnesses characterised by persistent feelings of high anxiety, and extreme discomfort and tension 3. They can affect the way a person thinks, feels and behaves and, if not treated, can cause considerable distress and disruption to the person’s life. A person can experience feelings of losing control and impending doom, as well as anxiety symptoms such as breathlessness and palpitations, sweating, trembling, feelings of choking, nausea, abdominal distress, dizziness and pins, and needles.
Common types of anxiety disorders
- Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) – persistent, excessive or unrealistic worry
- Social phobia – the difficulty to interact in social situations, increased self-consciousness, inability to relax and relate in social situations, particularly large groups, with new people and in unfamiliar environments
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) – uncontrollable compulsions or obsessions
- Panic disorder – characterised by panic attacks associated with an overwhelming sense of disaster
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – a type of anxiety disorder which occurs after seeing or experiencing a traumatic event(s) that involve the threat of injury or death
- Phobia – intense, irrational fear of everyday objects or situations
- Hypochondriasis – a belief that physical symptoms are a sign of serious illness, even when there is no medical evidence to support the presence of an illness; unrealistic fear of having a serious disease
Anxiety and Gut Health
Combating anxiety disorder through regulating gut bacteria
Anxiety disorder and gut health are very closely linked. There are over 100 trillion bacteria present in and on our bodies at any given time. Most of them are good bacteria with around 90% of them residing in our gastrointestinal tract.
Through medical tests conducted at Advanced Functional Medicine, the symptoms of anxiety disorder can be traced to underlying issues with the balance of these bacteria that live in our gut. Research shows us that using probiotics can rebalance the microbiota of the gut to improve a person’s overall health.
Probiotics can give powerful symptom relief not only for anxiety but a wide range of issues such as constipation, diarrhoea, bloating, cramping and other disease states.
A great way to ensure good gut health is to use a high strength probiotic supplement. There are many different strains, so let us guide you in choosing the right probiotic, in the right dosage, to help return your gut biodome to its optimal state.
Living a healthy lifestyle
In conjunction with probiotic supplements, the best way to boost good and diverse range of gut bacteria is to eat a healthy, well-balanced whole food diet consisting of plenty of vegetables, fruit, protein sources, quality fats and minimal to no refined foods.
Eating processed foods and foods with added sugar, alcohol, environmental toxins, pesticides and a range of other chemicals all influence our microbiome balance and harm our good bacteria.
A healthy diet and lifestyle with adequate and quality nutrition, sleep, movement and positive thoughts should never be underestimated. These are major contributing factors to the recovery from the symptoms of mental health.
When our nutrients are out of balance, it affects how our brain functions and ultimately, our mental health. The key imbalances are:
High copper and low zinc
Copper and zinc are two important minerals in our body and required for a multitude of functions and processes. The more of one element you retain, the less of the other you will have in your body. The ratio between copper and zinc is a fine balance and can cause a wide variety of physical health problems, as well as mental health issues including anxiety, panic attacks, general inner tension, despair and depression, being overly sensitive, obsessive thinking, mood swings and paranoia. The ratio between zinc and copper can effect both anxiety disorder and gut health.
Low vitamin B6
A low Vitamin B6 deficiency reduces neurotransmitter synthesis and is linked to depression and anxiety. Vitamin B6 works synergistically with magnesium to alleviate stress in healthy adults. It also relieves premenstrual syndrome-related anxiety. Good food sources of vitamin B6 include pork, poultry, fish, eggs and avocado.
Low vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 works synergistically with folate to support homocysteine metabolism, methylation, and healthy neurotransmission. Symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency can include cognitive decline, irritability, personality changes, depression and psychosis. Good sources of vitamin B12 are found in animal products, including meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy.
Low vitamin B3
Vitamin B3, also known as niacin, plays a key role in regulating mental health and supports the functions of more than 200 enzymes in the body. It is a water-soluble vitamin, which means that the body can’t store it. Vitamin B3 deficiency can disrupt dozens of processes in the body and can lead to a disease called pellagra. Meats and meat alternatives, such as soy, are the richest sources of vitamin B3.
Some amino acids are also known to work well in supporting mental wellbeing, including gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), 5HTP, tryptophan, tyrosine, phenylalanine, and methionine.
Folate is a member of the B vitamin family found naturally in leafy greens, liver, and legumes. It is also present in a synthetic form, folic acid, in fortified and processed foods. Research indicates that if folate is not metabolised properly it can negatively impact mental health. Folate needs to be converted to methylfolate so it can be used in the methionine cycle. This is processed through the MTHFR enzyme.
Many people suffering from anxiety have a genetic down-regulation of the MTHFR and other associated single nucleotide polymorphisms (the most common type of genetic variation among people). These genetic polymorphisms are often present in patients with anxiety disorders. MTHFR can greatly affect anxiety disorder and gut health.
A good anxiety disorder and gut health diet includes:
- A balanced, whole food, low-GI, high fibre diet to ensure healthy blood sugar balance
- Complex carbohydrates and high tryptophan foods such as pumpkin seeds, fish, chicken and sesame seeds to boost serotonin levels
- Magnesium-rich foods to calm nervous system response such as nuts and seeds, green leafy vegetables and raw cacao
- Eating regular meals and avoid missing meals
- Emphasising warm grounding foods such as root vegetables, warm soups and stews
- Including herbal teas to support GABA production: chamomile, saffron, lemon balm, passionflower and valerian
- Avoiding stimulants such as sugar, alcohol and caffeine
- Avoiding tyramine-rich foods such as aged cheeses, fermented foods. These can cause the release of catecholamines which can increase anxiety
- Avoiding food additives such as aspartame and MSG
Supplements that support anxiety disorder and gut health
When diet is not enough and imbalances are severe, Functional Medicine Practitioners will prescribe supplements after a thorough assessment to determine the root causes of anxiety. Natural supplements will work to balance the neurotransmitters and other biochemical pathways of the body. Some useful supplements in the treatment of anxiety include:
- Magnesium, calcium and GABA to calm the sympathetic nervous system
- Vitamin C to support the adrenal glands
- Activated B Complex to support overall mental health
Herbal medicine treatments
In functional medicine, herbal preparations are often used to ease anxiety. Some of the most effective herbs to ease anxiety include:
- Withania – an adaptogen herb (a natural substance that increases your body’s resistance to stress in non-specific ways) that helps the body adapt to stress and improve stamina for those suffering from lack of sleep.
- Rhodoila – also an adaptogen herb that improves symptoms of stress, such as fatigue, exhaustion and anxiety. It has also been shown to improve symptoms of burnout, which can occur with chronic stress.
- Passionflower – one variety of passionflower, Passiflora incarnata, can help treat anxiety, insomnia and certain forms of pain by increasing levels of GABA.
Herbal medicine is used to assist with blood sugar balancing, a key driver of anxiety in many individuals. Herbs commonly used to regulate blood sugar include:
- Gymnema sylvestre – contributes to favorable insulin levels by increasing insulin production and regenerating insulin-secreting islet cells.
- Goat’s rue – a herb that also contains properties to reduce blood sugar levels. It is often used in the management of diabetes, in conjunction with conventional treatment.
Lifestyle measures that can help combat anxiety include:
- Doing regular exercise which is very important for all mental health disorders
- Performing slow abdominal breathing techniques which are very effective in controlling anxiety and preventing panic attacks
- Meditating and doing yoga and Qigong
- Ensuring good sleep hygiene
- Acupuncture and massage can be very effective in reducing anxiety and alleviating stress
- Counselling and hypnotherapy to address underlying psychological issues
- Lifestyle counselling to look at lifestyle factors e.g. work/life balance
Functional Medicine can help you overcome your anxiety disorder
Functional Medicine practitioners look at an individual’s health holistically; account for the many factors that impact your mental health.
Many of our patients, in conjunction with treatment and advice from their GP, no longer use their pharmaceutical medications, despite some having relied on them for many years.