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Is Your Anxiety Linked To Your Gut Health?
Updated on January 31, 2024
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Is Your Anxiety Linked To Your Gut Health?
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Anxiety is the human body's natural and intuitive response to stressful events like a job interview, giving a speech, and so on. It's a feeling of nervousness and uneasiness that you can't seem to shake off.

For most people, feeling anxious is normal. It goes away on its own with the right coping mechanism.

Studies show that your anxiety may be linked to poor gut health. Research indicates that the trillions of microorganisms in our gut or gut microbiota can affect brain functions through the brain-gut connection.

Is Your Anxiety Linked To Your Gut Health? 2

What is The Gut-Brain Axis?

The gut-brain axis describes the network of connections between your gut and brain. 

Your gut or gastrointestinal tract consists of microorganisms or bacteria, organs, nerves, and hormones that work together to perform digestive functions.

The central nervous system (CNS) connects your brain to your GI tract. The vagus nerve carries signals between the brain and GI to regulate some aspects of digestion.1

Like the brain, your digestive tract is also full of nerves. Within its lining is another important control center: the enteric nervous system or ENS. ENS is informally known as the second brain.

Most of the neurotransmitters or chemical messengers the ENS releases are the same as those in your CNS, like dopamine and serotonin.

The gut microbiome plays an important role in the communication between your brain and ENS. A study shows that the gut microbiota regulates brain chemistry and influences stress response and anxiety.2

The gut-brain, as the ENS is often called, is very sensitive to feelings of happiness, sadness, anger, and anxiety. Its response triggers the symptoms you feel in your gut. 

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How Do Your Gut Health and Anxiety Affect Each Other?

Your gut microbiota helps manage the immune system and transform digested food into energy. 

These functions are affected when you experience gut health problems like imbalances or dysbiosis. Scientists believe that they will also affect your mental health.

Some studies show that anxious and stressful life events are linked to the initial signs or can worsen the symptoms of many digestive conditions, including:3

  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Peptic ulcer disease

Anxiety and stress can increase your gut motility and cause spasms in your esophagus. This explains why some might get an upset stomach following a stressful event.4

Stress also activates the fight-or-flight response in your CNS, which leads to increased stomach acid levels. It can result in indigestions.

Stress can both slow down or speed up your digestive system functions. Experiencing both can lead to abdominal pain and altered bowel movements.

What are the Symptoms of Anxiety?

We experience anxiety in different forms and degrees. But feeling anxious doesn’t necessarily point to an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety triggers your body’s stress response, causing physical and mental symptoms. Depending on the situation, these signs may come on suddenly, and you may experience them shortly or for a long while.

The most common symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Feeling warmer (hot flushes) or colder
  • Trembling
  • Excessive
  • Hair loss
  • Dry mouth
  • Pounding in the chest
  • Faster breathing
  • Churning in the stomach
  • Feeling sick or fatigued
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Changes in sex drive
  • Headaches
  • Muscle soreness

Managing Anxiety Through Achieving a Healthy Gut

A review of numerous studies on the relationship between anxiety and gut health revealed that gut microbiota might help regulate your anxiety symptoms.

Maintaining a healthy balance between harmful bacteria and beneficial bacteria is vital. Here are the common strategies to promote a healthier gut:

1. Improve Your Diet

You must eat healthily because your gut health is related to your mental health. The adage "you are what you eat" holds.

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

An excellent nutritional plan will ensure beneficial gut bacteria health. 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.

Other foods you should add to your diet are:

  • Collagen-rich foods — foods that can boost your collagen, like bone broth and salmon, help in protecting your intestinal wall. They also improve your digestion.5
  • High-fiber foods — foods rich in fiber like green leafy vegetables, fruits, and oats aid in good digestion because of their fiber content.
  • Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids — salmon, mackerel, and flax seeds are some foods abundant in omega-3. These foods help increase the diversity of good gut bacteria.

It is best to avoid alcohol and limit your caffeine and high-fat dairy food intake.

Knowing the state of your gut would be beneficial for you. There are microbiome tests that you can take at home.

Your microbiome test results can give you information on gut health, like bacteria imbalances. Some companies can even include recommendations on addressing your gut health problems with supplements.

2. Eat Probiotics and Prebiotic-rich Foods

Probiotics and prebiotics influence the population of good bacteria in your gut. Probiotic-rich foods promote diversity in your healthy bacteria, while prebiotics serves as food to these friendly microbes.

Fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh, yogurt, and miso are good sources of probiotics. On the other hand, you can get prebiotics from various foods, like fiber-rich foods.

3. Add Aerobic Exercises to Your Daily Routine

Exercise has many health benefits, including gut health and mood improvements.

Studies show that exercise can affect the balance of bacteria and other microorganisms in your gut. Research also suggests that regular exercise lowers the risk of having anxiety disorder by up to 60 percent.6,7

Health experts recommend doing moderate exercise for at least 30 minutes daily. You must try physical activities like dancing, jogging, brisk walking, or even cleaning your house.

4. Get Enough Rest or Sleep

Research shows that longer sleeping times and higher sleep quality are crucial to the health of the gut microbiome.8

Sleep is considered restorative. The cells in your body initiate healing and repair inside the whole body when you sleep.

Sleep is essential for proper brain function and affects your mood. It helps the brain replenish the neurotransmitters that regulate mood.

Your mood improves when you get better sleep in terms of quality and quantity, which helps alleviate anxiety symptoms.

Other Tips on Managing Your Anxiety

People experiencing anxiety may use yoga, breathing exercises, and mindfulness meditation to manage their symptoms.

Try doing yoga

Yoga boosts your mood and helps subdue your negative thoughts. A study conducted on women diagnosed with stress, anxiety, and depression showed that yoga effectively reduces their symptoms.10

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.

Set aside time for mindfulness meditation

Mindfulness meditation is a practice where you allow thoughts and images to flow through your mind. Meditating involves sitting quietly, keeping your eyes closed, and observing your thoughts without judgment.

You can use mindfulness meditation to slow down your racing thoughts. It promotes a feeling of calmness and lessens your negative thoughts.

A study shows that doing a 15-minute mindfulness can help lower stress. You can try these exercises to practice your mindfulness:11

Sitting meditation

Sit with your back straight, place your hands on your lap, and breathe in and out of your nose. Concentrate on your breathing. Acknowledge any thoughts or sensations that interrupt you and aim to return your focus to your breathing.

Body scan meditation

Slowly focus on each part of your body, paying attention from head to toe. Take note of any feelings you associate with each body part.

Practice deep breathing exercises

You often experience shallow, rapid, or irregular breathing when you experience anxiety. It's called hyperventilation and is part of your body's stress response.

Hyperventilation may disrupt your body's normal balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide. It can leave you breathless.

Deep breathing exercises can help ease hyperventilation during anxiety or panic attacks. Deep breathing or diaphragmatic breathing allows more air to flow into your body.

Purposely doing deep breathing can calm down your body physically. Deep breathing can help calm your sympathetic nervous system, which controls your fight-or-flight or stress response.

Follow these steps to practice deep breathing exercises:

  1. Start by taking slower, longer breaths. Let your breath flow through your stomach comfortably—don't force it.
  2. Next, try breathing in through your nose and exhaling the air out of your mouth.
  3. Consider counting from one to five while inhaling to steady your breath.
  4. Let the air flow out after five seconds. You may also count from one to five while exhaling.
  5. Keep doing the above steps for at least five minutes.

If your anxiety persists after trying these tips, it may be best to seek professional help. Talk to a psychiatrist or psychologist and discuss the best ways to cope with the constant anxiousness.

In this way, you can prevent anxiety from taking over and continue living your best life.

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Updated on January 31, 2024
Ada Sandoval
Ada Sandoval
Content Contributor
Ada Sandoval is a B.S. in Nursing graduate and a registered nurse with a heart for abandoned animals. She works as a content writer who specializes in medical-related articles and pet health.
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