Little did I know when I chose a nutrition career path that I would also be treating anxiety and depression right alongside cancer and autoimmune disorders.
I’ve found both to be a symptom of our lifestyle that we endure along with our inability to get a good night’s sleep or eat a proper meal during our work day. We have come to accept completely unacceptable impacts on our life. Genetics, diet, and lifestyle most definitely play a part, but in my practice the defining factor to anxiety is somewhat unexpected for most, the status of their gut health.
The importance of your gut flora and the influence it has on your health is something I can’t emphasize enough. Your gut is your second brain, it is where the majority of your immune system lies, it signals for the release of serotonin (known to influence mood) more than your brain does. Your gut is also home to billions of bacteria, that form the cornerstone for good mental, physical, and emotional health. Optimizing your gut health is one of the best strategies you can use to fight anxiety and in recent years more research has been conducted on this principle than ever.
In recent years, science has become increasingly focused on the gut/brain connection. With studies indicating a powerful correlation between the two. For a nutritionist, this is very powerful and exciting news. The mere proof that microflora affects behavior and mood even further proves, “You are what you eat.”
Recent research by UCLA has shown the following results:
- Aggressive mice became calm when researchers changed their gut microbes by altering their diets with the addition of probiotic yogurt. In addition, the addition of this bacteria also showed a redistribution of brain receptors that are affected by anti-anxiety medications. When researchers snipped the vagus nerve (communication between brain and gut), this was no longer detectable.
- Researchers found that human subjects who took prebiotics had lower levels of cortisol — a stress hormone which has been linked with anxiety and depression – in their saliva when they woke up in the morning.
- Studies on human patients indicate that probiotics improves moods, especially the concoction of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium
- Actual differences in brain chemistry were also reported, as stress hormone release and levels in the blood decreased when the test subject was dosed with probiotics
The above findings only tip the iceberg on gut and mental health connections, while promising, we must always consider gut health as one facet of mental health treatment. That said, if you are looking to decrease anxiety and live a healthier lifestyle, there are three really easy and unexpected ways you can simultaneously treat the gut and treat your anxiety too.
4 unexpected ways to treat anxiety
1. Start every day with a probiotic
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeast that are good for your health and digestive system. Growing research indicates Lactobacillus bacteria in particular to impact mental health. Choose a non-dairy probiotic supplement that offers a minimum 50 B (or more) strands for best results. I prefer the Renew Life or Dr. Ohhira brands.
2. Introduce fermented foods and beverages daily
One of the easiest and most impactful ways to promote gut health is to introduce fermented foods. I recommend minimum 1-2 servings daily.
In addition to being loaded with immune boosting vitamins and antioxidants, fermented foods can provide more probiotics than many supplements. Some examples of fermented foods include:
- Unpasteurised, raw sauerkraut (preferred brand is Sonoma Brinery)
- Organic tempeh (preferred brand is Lightlife)
- Coconut yogurt (preferred brand is Tula’s CoCo Kefir pictured)
- Coconut water kefir (preferred brand is Tonix or Healing Movment)
- Miso or miso broth
- Microalgae like spirulina, chlorella, and blue green algae (preferred brand for spirulina and chlorella is Organic Burst and for blue green algae it is E3 Live)
- Kombucha tea (preferred brand is GTS Synergy’s Anniversary edition)
3. Increase consumption of mood boosting and prebiotic foods
Probiotic rich foods are important, but they are far from the only thing your gut needs. Prebiotics nourish probiotics and have been shown to have an anti-anxiety effect and have also been shown to decrease depression symptoms. They also contain fibers and natural sugars that feed probiotics. Think of them as the gasoline which fuels probiotics. The combination of the two helps good bacteria to flourish and build our gut biome.
Prebiotic rich foods include:
- Dandelion Greens
- Onion and Garlic
- Root Vegetables (sweet potatoes, yams, carrot, parsnip, turnip, rutabaga, jicama, beets)
- Organic wheat or oat bran
4. Radically reduce your sugar intake
You can take probiotic supplements and eat fermented/probiotic and prebiotic foods, but if you fail to reduce your sugar intake you will sabotage your efforts to rebuild your gut flora. This would be similar to driving your car with one foot on the accelerator and one on the brake simultaneously. When you consume sugar at the level of the typical American you are virtually guaranteed to have a preponderance of pathogenic bacteria, yeast and fungi, no matter what you are taking or eating.
It’s really exciting that all of this research can provide answers to this perplexing mental health issue that is plaguing too many of our friends and families. Also, I believe these recommendations cannot only help anxiety and depression, but there are possibilities to help more serious issues like autism, ADHD, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
By guest expert and holistic nutritionist Elissa Goodman
About Elissa Goodman
Elissa helps people find their true balance and well-being, and increase their overall quality of life. She earned her certification at the American University of Complementary Medicine in L.A and now offers personalised nutritional counselling and works with people suffering from a range of issues including: Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), auto-immune disorders, anxiety, thyroid irregularities, weight gain, respiratory problems and allergies. Elissa is also the creator of two of the most sought after soup and juice cleanse programs in L.A. at M Café and Erewhon Natural Foods market, as well as her notable soup cleanse that is gaining buzz among her celebrity clients. She has been featured on NBC-TV, Marie Claire, Huffington Post, Byrdie, and Mind Body Green to name a few.