know your dna logo
search iconmenu Icon

The Relationship Between Gut Health and Anxiety

Updated on October 8, 2021
Written by
Emjay B
KnowYourDNA is reader-supported. This means we may receive a commission when you buy something from one of the links on this page.
The Relationship Between Gut Health and Anxiety 5

Anxiety is the human body's natural and intuitive response to stress. It's a feeling of nervousness and uneasiness that you can't seem to shake off. It's essentially that feeling of dread when you're afraid of what's about to come – a job interview, a speech, or a first date.

For most people, feeling anxious is normal. Most of the time, with the right coping mechanism, the feeling will go away on its own. However, some people's feelings of anxiety get so overwhelming that their life takes a turn for the worse - this is when anxiety becomes a disorder.

Anxiety disorders can significantly affect the quality of life. When this happens, it's time to seek treatment.

How Does Anxiety Manifest?

Anxiety manifests in many different ways and is typically central nervous system-related symptoms. Mentally, someone with anxiety can have: 

  • racing thoughts
  • uncontrollable over-thinking tendencies
  • difficulty concentrating

They seem to be constantly irritable, are experiencing appetite changes, and have the urge to run away or escape a stressful situation. Some even display depressive symptoms.

 Physically, the symptoms may include:

  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Fainting
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Lack of energy
  • Fast and heavy breathing
  • Hair loss
  • Hot flushes
  • Nausea
  • Shaking
  • Sweating

One of the symptoms of anxiety is stomach upset. Most people refer to it as "butterflies in the stomach" when they are anxious about something.

It turns out, this isn't merely a figment of the imagination. Recent studies have shown an intimate connection between the gut and brain called "The Gut-Brain Axis." 

KNOW YOUR DNA

Best Gut Health Test

We took and reviewed the 6 best microbiome testing kits. Read our review to see what we liked and disliked about each.

The Gut-Brain Axis, Explained

The Relationship Between Gut Health and Anxiety 6

If you've ever wondered why stressful situations make you nauseous and why your stomach is in knots when you're anxious, the existence of the "gut-brain axis" is the reason.

Experts say the connection between the gut and the brain is real. The brain directly affects the gastrointestinal tract (or the GI tract), thereby producing digestive symptoms. 

The gut brain, as it is often called, is very sensitive to feelings of happiness, sadness, anger, and anxiety – and its response triggers the symptoms that you feel in your gut. 

However, the connection goes both ways. Simply thinking about your food can already stimulate the production of stomach juices way before the food gets in there. 

A problem in the brain will send signals to the intestines and vice versa. Thus, intestinal or stomach distress may be the product or the cause of stress, depression, and anxiety.

Alleviating Anxiety Through the Gut

A review of numerous studies on the relationship between anxiety and gut health revealed that anxiety symptoms might be regulated by regulating the many types of bacteria in the intestinal microbiota. This is made possible by the gut-brain axis.

There were two types of interventions used in the studies: probiotic and non-probiotic ways. Although research shows that non-probiotic interventions worked better than giving probiotics, further studies are needed to clarify this conclusion.

Despite the unclear intervention, what is an important takeaway is knowing that it's possible to relieve anxiety symptoms by regulating gut microbiota. Maintaining a healthy balance between harmful bacteria and beneficial bacteria is vital. 

Knowing the state of your gut would be beneficial for you. There are microbiome tests that you can take at home. The Thryve Gut Health Program gives you great information about the health of your microbiome. They also provide customized food and probiotic recommendations.

Anxiety Management Tips

Every day, day in and day out, we are bombarded with various stressors, pulling us into many different directions. It's a stressful predicament to be in, and we couldn't help but feel anxious. Unfortunately, this is a fact of life, and we all need good coping strategies because they are important for good mental health. 

Here are some excellent tips on how to properly manage your anxiety.

Diet

Because your gut health is related to your mental health, it is very important to eat healthily. The adage "you are what you eat" holds.

To achieve a healthy gut, you need to say no to certain beverages and foods like processed, sugary, and artificial ones and choose healthier alternatives.

An excellent nutritional plan will ensure the health of beneficial bacteria in the gut. Foods rich in essential nutrients such as B6 and B12 vitamins, calcium, magnesium, beta-carotene, and zinc should be a part of your healthy diet.

Some of the recommended foods for your daily diet are:

  • Avocados
  • Berries
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Carrots
  • Flax seeds
  • Mackerel
  • Peas
  • Pears
  • Salmon
  • Tomatoes

It is best to avoid alcohol and beverages rich in caffeine and limit eating high-fat dairy food. Additionally, stop eating processed foods like deli, canned, and salted meat. Fried food and food with a lot of refined sugar can trigger anxiety and depression, so you should avoid these types of food, too.

Fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh, yogurt, and miso are also highly recommended. 

A healthy mix of prebiotics, probiotics, and non-probiotic foods can add variety to your diet, so you may want to consider adding these to your meal plan. Having a probiotic supplement can help, too.

Exercise

The Relationship Between Gut Health and Anxiety 7

Constant exercise is one of the most important components of a stress management program which can help lessen anxiety symptoms. 

KNOW YOUR DNA RECOMMENDS

ONNIT - TOTAL GUT HEALTH

This supplement comes packed with digestive enzymes, prebiotics, probiotics, and betaine HCL to support your gut.

The most significant health benefits come from doing moderate physical activity such as brisk walking for at least 2 ½ hours per week. You can also do vigorous exercises such as swimming or jogging for 1 ¼ hours weekly.

Exercise shouldn't be a chore. Make it fun by doing what you love and doing it with a friend. You can dance, jog, walk, or dance for 30 minutes each day. 

Sleep

Research shows that longer sleeping time and higher sleep quality are crucial in the health of the gut microbiome. Furthermore, sleep is considered restorative, meaning it is when healing inside the whole body occurs. 

Sleep is essential for proper brain function - and it also affects your mood. The neurotransmitters in the brain that regulates mood are replenished through sleep. This shows that the better your sleep quality and quantity are, the better your mood - which helps alleviate anxiety symptoms.

Deep Breathing Exercises

With anxiety often comes shallow, rapid breathing. This is an improper way to breathe and disrupt the normal balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the body. 

There are different types of deep breathing exercises, and the key is knowing which one works best for you. 

For deep breathing exercises to work, you must listen to what your body is telling you. Then, recognize how anxiety is affecting your life and resolve to find a solution. If, however, this exercise doesn't work and you're still very anxious, consult a health professional so you can get help.

Yoga

The Relationship Between Gut Health and Anxiety 8

People who experience anxiety turn to yoga to help manage their symptoms and find relief during highly stressful times. It boosts mood and helps quiet negative thoughts.

A study conducted on women diagnosed with stress, anxiety, and depression showed that yoga plays an effective role in reducing symptoms.

Yoga allows you to focus on feeling and experiencing your emotions while bringing you to a calmer state of mind. While it takes practice to "be there," yoga is worth a try.

Meditation

Similarly, meditation has been used for the same purpose. 

Mindfulness meditation has been used to slow down racing thoughts, promote a feeling of calmness, and decrease negative thoughts. It has also been linked to a healthier immune system

Supplements

Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) supplements have been known to relieve anxiety. They also help improve mood and sleep. Zinc, L-glutamine, and Omega-3 work wonders, too.

Healing the Gut-Brain Axis

It is possible to improve brain and mental health by ensuring the healthy balance of good and bad gut microbes. The link between gut health and anxiety cannot be denied.

The gut-brain axis provides a strong connection between two of the most important organs in the human body. 

Use the powers of the good gut bacteria to relieve yourself of symptoms associated with anxiety and depression.
The best way to do this is to make smart choices when it comes to diet and lifestyle, and you'll eventually see positive results.

KNOW YOUR DNA

Best Gut Health Test

We took and reviewed the 6 best microbiome testing kits. Read our review to see what we liked and disliked about each.

Emjay B
Content Contributor
Emjay is a content writer for Know Your DNA. As a Physical Therapist and a registered nurse, she has extensive medical knowledge and hands-on experience in patient care. After getting her nursing license, she pursued full-time writing focused on healthcare.
back to top