It may seem like anxiety is all in your head, but research shows it may be coming from your gut. Our bodies are home to trillions of bacteria, more bacterial cells than cells of our body actually. These bacteria, many of which are in our GI tract, can leave us calm and upbeat, or overwhelmed and depressed.
According to a 2011 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, bacteria living in our digestion use the vagus nerve to alter our mental state. Administering the right bacteria can have effects similar to antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs.
Our in-house bacteria affect levels of a neurotransmitter called GABA (gamma amino butyric acid). GABA inhibits the nervous system, keeping us from overreacting to stressful situations. GABA also helps reduce pain and inflammation, a double boost to health and mental calm. Xanax and Valium also alter mood by boosting GABA. Of course these come with a list of side effects, including addiction.
Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital found that the bacteria bifidobacterium dentium, in particular, secretes large amounts of GABA. Researchers in Ireland found that mice fed a broth teaming with Lactobacillus rhamnosus also secreted more GABA, significantly lowering levels of stress hormones.
When GABA levels are balanced, we feel calm and content. When brain levels drop, we tend to feel anxious and depressed.
We can support our second brain, including mood-boosting GABA levels through diet and probiotics. Fermented foods including yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and other fermented foods contain beneficial flora well known for enhancing digestion, immunity and health. Plant fiber including that from vegetables, seeds, nuts and in some cases soaked whole grains feed beneficial bacteria. Sugar, refined flours, and antibiotic-treated meats, on the other hand, feed the enemy: inflammatory anxiety-producing bacteria.
Many drugs affect gut bacteria too. One round of antibiotics can wipe out most of your internal anti-depressants.
Anxiety may not be all-in-your head. Your body is part of your mind and home to your second brain. Learn how to use food for calm in my free one-hour teleclass Wednesday October 23 at 4pm PST or 7pm EST.
If this sounds exciting, join me for a 4-week teleclass to go in-depth with use of foods, supplements and breath to shift out of anxiety and into calm and happiness.