Gut health issues are extremely common especially if you are eating a Western diet. If you’ve ever experienced; excessive gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, heartburn, regular discomfort after eating, exhausted all the time for seemingly no reason, anxiety or depression, skin issues, weight fluctuations, poor immunity, hormone imbalances, brain fog, food intolerances and even autoimmune issues it’s likely you have or have experienced poor gut health.
Many of these symptoms are often confused as normal but they’re not and it’s important that you take the necessary steps so you can have optimal gut health and begin living a fuller, happier life!
The two symptoms of poor gut health that interest me the most are anxiety and depression. You may have heard by now that your gut and your brain are directly connected or that your gut is your second brain. I also learned this and still didn’t link it with my anxiety until I started to feel the difference! If you’re ready to start improving your gut health and ease your anxiety make sure you check out my (free!) Ultimate Guide to Easing Anxiety through Food HERE.
The Link Between Gut and Mental Health
90% of your serotonin aka the “happy hormone” is made in your gut so it comes with no surprise that if your gut is out of whack you may have difficulty feeling joy, interest and energy aka depression. The second brain everyone talks about is actually called the enteric nervous system (ENS). This is what controls your emotional status and gives you those “butterflies in your stomach” and what causes your stomach to hurt when you feel upset.
Harvard Health Publishing states, “A troubled intestine can send signals to the brain, just as a troubled brain can send signals to the gut. Therefore, a person's stomach or intestinal distress can be the cause or the product of anxiety, stress, or depression. That's because the brain and the gastrointestinal (GI) system are intimately connected.”
Since they are so closely connected it explains why when some people get stressed they also have IBS symptoms or how you start feeling nauseous when you feel nervous.
This connection can work both ways. For example; when the gut is imbalanced it sends a signal to the brain that can cause feelings of anxiety or depression (depending on the imbalance in your gut) and vice versa when you’re feeling anxious your brain sends a signal to your gut and can cause stress which in turn causes unwanted symptoms. This is also why it’s so common for IBS and anxiety to come as a package deal.
It has not yet been proven that your poor gut health can cause anxiety BUT it does significantly exacerbate the symptoms of anxiety which means if you improve your gut health you will also significantly improve your anxiety. Anxiety doesn’t ever really go away, you can only manage it enough to feel like it’s no longer affecting your day to day life.
If you suffer from depression however, it has been proven that your gut health can actually cause depression which means you can completely get rid of your depression which is really exciting.
So, How Can Food Help?
Okay, now that we know how important the link between our gut and mental health is how can we begin to fix it?
Most people think of adding in yogurt or simply taking a probiotic but I do not recommend this as most of the yogurts that are found on the shelves today are not going to be beneficial for your gut health and will actually do the opposite of what you’re trying to achieve. They are often stocked full of added sugar which is one of the first things you’re going to want to slow down on if you’re looking for an optimal bacteria balance.
Simply adding a probiotic will not do that much if you continue the same eating habits you’ve always had. You can’t supplement your way out of a poor diet. You want to make sure your body can even absorb what you’re putting into it first before supplementing (adding in) vitamins or probiotics. Otherwise you’re just spending a lot of money and aren’t reaping any of the benefits. If you are ready to start supplementing in a probiotic I always suggest purchasing a soil-based organism (SBO) probiotic like this one; SBO Probiotics
Packaged foods are also something you will want to minimize or swap out. These are also often full of added sugars and other not-so-amazing ingredients. If your ingredients aren’t easily recognizable and easily read (i.e. less than 3 syllables) ditch it and find a healthier swap. Packaged paleo foods are often a nice way to eat your favorite foods in a healthier way some great brands are Simple Mills, Siete, Primal Kitchen and Purely Elizabeth.
Eating probiotic rich foods will be your first step. My favorite probiotic rich eats are fermented foods such as; kimchi, kombucha and sauerkraut. These foods are naturally rich in good bacteria and will help your body get back to a more balanced state. You can find a comprehensive grocery list in my (free!) Ultimate Guide to Easing Anxiety Through Food.
Another great way to quickly heal your gut would be to add in l-glutamine to your diet. This is one of the most important amino acids for our intestinal health so this is one supplement you will want to look into. I swear you can feel it working and it quickly soothes your gut.
Some non-food related strategies you can add to your routine would be meditation. It releases stress and lowers your feelings of anxiety by calming the brain. This one takes practice but the sooner you start the sooner you’ll start feeling the amazing effects. Remember… the gut and the brain are directly connected so when you soothe one you soothe the other.
*Even if you suffer from anxiety or depression that is beyond what your food can fix, it is still important that you eat a gut-friendly diet so as to maximize your attempts to feel better. That’s why I love to work with my clients in conjunction with a therapist. The results are insane when these practices are paired together. Which brings me to my next point...
Getting the Right Support
Like most things, getting support will be extremely beneficial in speeding up the process to feeling better. My first recommendation to everyone suffering from anxiety or depression is always to find a good cognitive behavioral therapist in your area. Cognitive behavioral therapy is more than just talk therapy and they dig deep and provide you with strategies that you can begin working on right away. It’s great and you feel much more successful in your attempt to achieve a healthy mind and body.
My second suggestion is to then find a great health coach that focuses on helping people with mental health that can walk you through how to eat for optimal gut health which will speed up the process of achieving a healthy mind and body. Double win. Just like I said before when these two practices are paired together your chance of decreasing your anxiety and getting rid of your depression, naturally, will be practically guaranteed!
If you want to learn more about how a health coach can help you to ease your anxiety and depression set up your free consultation call with me HERE. Or if you want to get started right away download my (free!) Ultimate Guide to Easing Anxiety Through Food HERE.
Hey! My names Ashleen.