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How to reduce Anxiety and improve Mental Health by regulating your gut bacteria

How to reduce Anxiety and improve Mental Health by regulating your gut bacteria

How to reduce Anxiety and improve Mental Health by regulating your gut bacteria

In Australia, it’s estimated that 45 percent of people will experience anxiety or another mental health condition in their lifetime. In any one year, over 2 million Australians have anxiety. 1 It is in our nation’s best interest to look for ways to reduce anxiety and improve the overall wellbeing of the population.

An increasing amount of evidence demonstrates that the health of your gut has a significant impact on your mental health.  Many of the precursor nutrients required to build your neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine are made in the gut. When these are produced in sufficient quantities, your neurotransmitter levels decline.

So, if you experience anxiety regularly, it makes sense to find out if your gut health is optimal and if you can reduce anxiety symptoms by taking care of your gut microbiome.

Anxiety symptoms

Anxiety symptoms vary from person to person. They are common in people with mental diseases and a variety of physical disorders, especially in disorders that are related to stress. When you feel anxious, your body goes on high alert, looking for possible danger and activating your fight or flight responses.

Common symptoms of Anxiety

  • Nervousness, restlessness, or being tense
  • feelings of panic, dread or being in danger
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Rapid breathing, or hyperventilation
  • Increased or heavy sweating
  • Trembling or muscle twitching
  • Weakness and lethargy
  • Difficulty focusing or thinking clearly about anything other than the thing you’re worried about
  • Insomnia
  • Digestive or gastrointestinal problems, such as gas, constipation, or diarrhea
  • Strong desire to avoid the things that trigger your anxiety
  • obsessions about certain ideas, a sign of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Performing certain behaviours over and over again
  • Anxiety in regard to social situations and interactions
  • Anxiety surrounding a particular life event or experience that has occurred in the past, especially indicative of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
panic attack

A panic attack is a sudden onset of fear or distress that peaks in minutes.

Panic attack symptoms

  • Palpitations
  • Sweating
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Feeling shortness of breath or smothering
  • Sensation of choking
  • Chest pains or tightness
  • Nausea or gastrointestinal problems
  • Dizziness, light-headedness, or feeling faint
  • Feeling hot or cold
  • Numbness or tingling sensations (paresthesia)
  • Feeling detached from oneself or reality, known as depersonalization and derealization
  • Fear of “going crazy” or losing control
  • Fear of dying

Types of anxiety disorders

There are several types of anxiety disorders.

Agoraphobia 

People who have agoraphobia have a fear of certain places or situations that make them feel trapped, powerless, or embarrassed. These feelings lead to panic attacks. People with agoraphobia may try to avoid these places and situations to prevent panic attacks.

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)

People with GAD experience constant anxiety and worry about activities or events, even those that are ordinary or routine. The worry is greater than it should be given the reality of the situation. The worry causes physical symptoms in the body, such as headaches, stomach upset, or trouble sleeping.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) 

OCD is the continual experience of unwanted or intrusive thoughts and worries that cause anxiety. A person may know these thoughts are trivial, but they will try to relieve their anxiety by performing certain rituals or behaviors. This may include hand washing, counting, or checking on things such as whether or not they’ve locked their house.

Panic disorder

Panic disorder causes sudden and repeated bouts of severe anxiety, fear, or terror that peak in a matter of minutes. This is called a panic attack. Those experiencing a panic attack may experience: 

  • Feelings of looming danger
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain 
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat that feels like fluttering or pounding (palpitations)

Panic attacks may cause one to worry about them occurring again or try to avoid situations in which they’ve previously occurred.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

PTSD occurs after a person experiences a traumatic event such as: 

  • War
  • Assault 
  • Natural disaster 
  • Accident

Symptoms include trouble relaxing, disturbing dreams, or flashbacks of the traumatic event or situation. People with PTSD may also avoid things related to the trauma. 2

How the gut microbiome can reduce anxiety

The trillions of microorganisms in the gut, known as the gut microbiota, perform important functions in the immune system and metabolism by providing essential inflammatory mediators, nutrients, and vitamins. 

Increasingly, research has indicated that gut microbiota can help regulate brain function through the gut-brain axis.

gut brain connection

“The gut-brain axis (GBA) consists of bidirectional communication between the central and the enteric nervous system, linking the emotional and cognitive centres of the brain with peripheral intestinal functions.” 3

These interactions could occur in various ways: microbial compounds communicate via the vagus nerve, which connects the brain and the digestive tract, and microbially derived metabolites interact with the immune system, which maintains its own communication with the brain. 4

Recent research supports the notion that we can treat mental disorders and reduce anxiety by regulating intestinal microbiota.

Within those trillions of gut bacteria are about 1,000 different species, represented by some 5,000 distinct bacterial strains. Everyone’s gut microbiota is unique, but there are certain combinations and collections of bacteria that are found in healthy individuals.

Patients with various psychiatric disorders including depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and autism spectrum disorder have been shown to have significant differences in the composition of their gut microbiome. 5

Most common gut issues that cause anxiety

Your gut microbiome can contribute to anxiety by influencing your stress response, causing chronic inflammation and producing harmful peptides. 

Candida overgrowth

Candida or Yeast overgrowth can be caused by antibiotics, a diet high in refined carbohydrates, alcohol, birth control or chronic stress. It coats the lining of your intestinal tract and suppresses your ability to produce or secrete serotonin, leading to anxiety, depression and mood swings.

Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)

SIBO occurs when healthy bacteria in your colon and large intestine overgrow and colonize the small intestine. This leads to nutrient malabsorption, which can present as weight gain, fluid retention, depression and changes in mood. SIBO can also cause fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue and IBS, all of which are linked to patients with anxiety.

Parasitic and fungal infections

These can take residence in your small intestine and colon, causing many adverse gut symptoms. 

Leaky Gut

Also known as increased intestinal permeability, leaky gut is a digestive condition in which bacteria and toxins are able to “leak” through the intestinal wall. Gut microbes help to control leakage through both the intestinal lining and the blood-brain barrier, which ordinarily protects the brain from potentially harmful agents.

Gut infections such as candida and SIBO, an inflammatory diet, toxins, and stress can break down your intestinal wall and cause leaky gut. Symptoms of a leaky gut include irritability, fatigue, brain fog, anxiety, and depression. These symptoms are due in part to how a leaky gut interferes with nutrient absorption, specifically B vitamins, which are responsible for the production of neurotransmitters that help regulate mood. 

An undiagnosed food sensitivity or allergy may be causing your anxiety as certain foods can create mental symptoms, including depression, nervousness, anger, loss of motivation, and brain fog. 

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

IBS can exacerbate anxiety and makes you feel more anxious and depressed. The colon is partially controlled by the nervous system, which responds to stress signals. Most cases of IBS go undiagnosed, and an estimated 50-90% of those who do receive treatment for IBS also suffer from anxiety or another mood disorder. 6

How to regulate your gut bacteria, manage your stress and reduce anxiety

  1. Do not overuse antibiotics which can deplete good gut bacteria. Don’t be so quick to ask for antibiotics to fight viral ailments like the common cold. If your doctor prescribes one, ask if you really need it, what is the shortest treatment course, and whether there are alternative methods.
  2. People who experience anxiety symptoms can take steps to regulate the microorganisms in their gut using probiotic and non-probiotic food and supplements, suggests a review of studies. 7
    • Eat more fermented foods. Bacteria are living organisms that need to eat. A healthy, varied, balanced, high-fibre diet with complex carbohydrates is good for the bacteria living in your gut and encourages a diverse ecosystem. Choose naturally fermented foods containing probiotics (live bacteria), such as sauerkraut, pickles, miso, certain types of yogurt, and kefir (a yogurt-based drink).
    • Try probiotic supplements –
      Studies have shown that probiotics effectively mitigated anxiety and depressive symptoms similar to conventional prescription medications. 8 They are also touted as a remedy for common digestive problems like irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, and infectious diarrhea. 
    • Probiotics and fermented foods can worsen symptoms in individuals. This is a sign of a heavy bacterial overload and gut dysbiosis, therefore, testing and treatment by a suitable practitioner is required.
  3. Avoid replacing highly processed, high-sugar and high-fat foods with various whole foods. These foods include:
    • Collagen-boosting foods. Foods like bone broth and salmon can help protect your intestinal wall and improve digestion. 
    • High-fibre foods. Broccoli, brussel sprouts, oats, peas, avocados, pears, bananas and berries are full of fibre which aids in healthy digestion.
    • Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids. Salmon, mackerel, and flax seeds are packed with omega-3s which reduces inflammation and improves your digestion. 

How we can help you reduce anxiety

At Advanced Functional Medicine, we provide functional testing options for the gut microbiome and digestive system so that we can get to the root of your disorder and reduce anxiety symptoms. 

Our comprehensive testing

Once we have a clear picture of your gut health, we can work together to make the changes necessary for you to reduce anxiety or even become free anxiety-free. Call us or fill out the form below to find out more.

Contact Us

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Jarrod Cooper – ND

Jarrod Cooper – ND

Jarrod Cooper - ND is the founder of Advanced Functional Medicine Australia. He is a Naturopathic Doctor with extensive functional medicine training from leading practitioners in the USA and worldwide.

He is leading the way with advancements of functional medicine, clinically implementing worldwide best practices in Functional Medicine throughout Australia.

Jarrod consults in person from Perth, Western Australia and also online via Telehealth throughout Australia and worldwide.

If you are looking for personalised treatment, we highly recommend contacting Jarrod Cooper’s Advanced Functional Medicine clinic in Australia.

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