The Key to Healing Anxiety and Depression Is a Healthy Gut
Guess what? You're not actually human. To be quite honest, you're basically a multi-bodied alien. Seriously, it’s true! You’re probably wondering if I've been smoking something, but don't worry, I'll explain!
Humans have more bacterial cells in their body than human cells! Isn’t that wild?
Unfortunately, bacteria gets quite a bad reputation, even tough these little dudes are absolutely crucial to our overall health. You've probably heard the phrase, "a healthy gut equals a healthy mind" once or twice, but now more than ever research shows just how strong this mind-gut connection really is. In fact, currently in that lovely little belly of yours, are trillions of bacteria that are hanging out in your intestines and colon.
Don't worry, the vast majority of bacteria are harmless. We have much more beneficial bacteria keeping us alive than nasty ones. #haters
We carry up to four and a half pounds of bacteria in our gut on most days, so next time you feel alone, pat your tummy and remember you've got a lot of friends!
I totally get that this might freak some people out, but remember, these bacteria are your family and help you thrive. The more we are able to see ourselves as an ecosystem for other organisms, the more we'll be able to respect the human body for how complex and full of life it actually is. We're a beautiful and thriving home for different walks of life, much like our Earth!
A home we should nurture and respect, much like our Earth.
Was that a subliminal message?
Here are just a few things that our beneficial gut bacteria do for us:
+ they manufacture vitamins
+ train our immune system, especially on targeting pathogens and deadly viruses
+ produce small amounts of antibiotics to ward off harmful microbes
+ regulate our nervous system
+ energize our gut, so it can carry out important tasks
+ break down toxins
+ produce various neurotransmitters like serotonin, also known for its mood-boosting power
So what happens when the gut microbiome goes whack?
The importance of healthy intestinal flora (otherwise known as beneficial gut bacteria) is enormous. Anytime we have gut bacteria that lack harmony, especially if proportions of beneficial bacteria are dysfunctional, studies show that we run the risk of attracting chronic digestive issues, IBS, food allergies, depression and anxiety, obesity, inflammation, as well as other diseases.
A healthy gut contains an incredible amount of probiotic bacteria, but a huge issue in the world of modern medicine is the overuse of antibiotics, which is detrimental to our gut if used too often. Antibiotics are useful in killing non-resistant pathogenic bacteria, but this also comes with a cost because they unfortunately kill all the beneficial bacteria too. There is no way to target one without annihilating the other and so this is a huge dilemma. When good bacteria becomes wiped out by the overuse of antibiotics, all those helpful little dudes become weaker and can't do their job protecting your body from pathogens and poor health. Constant stress, an unhealthy diet, and exposure to environmental toxins will also impair your beneficial gut bacteria.
So what's this have to do with anxiety and depression?
The typical consensus in our society is that depression is caused by poor production of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain, but here's the thing, it's actually the neurons in our gut that manufacture most of this serotonin.
Over 80% of it, actually!
Serotonin is responsible for producing feelings of well-being, happiness, and balancing our mood. That's not all it's responsible for, though; serotonin also effects the functionality of our gut, like how well things move around and how effectively we digest food!
This neurotransmitter also requires certain nutrients to aid in its biosynthesis, including magnesium, vitamin B6, and 5-HTP. Without these vital nutrients present in our systems, it becomes difficult for enough serotonin to be manufactured by our neurons.
Usually the first clue to feeling like poo is often linked to something funky in the gut; this also happens to be highly overlooked in people suffering from chronic illness and mental health issues. You see, each of us is an entire ecosystem; we are our own rain forests, our own ant farms, our own Earth, and we have to take care of ourselves in a way that supports the vast array of symbiotic life forms in our body.
Optimizing our nutrient intake is crucial to a healthy body, gut, and mind. Some of us are genetically predisposed to having a poor stress response and even nervous diseases, however, these genes do not assure we will inevitably live with these issues. This is because genes can be turned on or off based on the environments that they're in. If we provide ourselves a nutrient rich and gut friendly diet, good coping skills, an environment limited in harmful stress, and helpful self-care regimen, those genes that make us sick can remain inactive.
Several studies even suggest that consuming specific kinds of beneficial bacteria may alter the activity in our brain and even quiet anxiety. How is this possible? Well, plenty of our gut bacteria manufacture chemicals in the brain! Streptococcus and enterococcus, for example, make serotonin, while bifido-bacterium produce GABA, a type of neurotransmitter that plays a vital role in our response to stress. These little guys, among many, help combat depression and anxiety in ways we hardly give them credit for.
In fact, they even reward us with feel good chemicals like serotonin and dopamine when we feed them, so next time you're "hangry," it might not be all you.
Okay, so you're probably like, "I get the picture, now help me with my gut!"
How to heal anxiety through the gut:
(hyperlinked below are my favorite supplements that I trust, use myself, along with my clients)
Magnesium: beneficial in naturally calming nerves by stabilizing the nervous system, while helping regulate certain hormones in the body that are crucial for calming the brain. It's also great for treating insomnia and fatigue due to anxiety and stress. The gut needs it to function too!
Probiotics: our gut microbiome can weigh up to four and a half pounds, containing about 100 trillion bacteria. Our gut helps us break down toxins, provide us with energy, train our immune system, and even manufacture vitamins and neurotransmitters like serotonin. One of the crucial aspects of the gut is its ability to help regulate our nervous system, and ease anxiety and depression. Providing our bodies with good gut bacteria is a powerful precursor to greater mental and physical well-being.
Consuming these specific probiotic strains regularly: bifidobacterium longum, bifidum, lactobacillus rhamnosus, and saccharomyces boulardii (anti-yeast).
Prebiotics: prebiotic foods (listed below) provide our good gut bacteria with nutrients to survive. They're food that cannot be fully digested in our bodies, so the bacteria help break it down; it's basically a fertilizer for them! Bad bacteria cannot process prebiotics, so by feeding all the good guys and populating our gut's microbiome with beneficial bacteria, we aid our bodies in easing depression and anxiety, boosting our immune systems, absorbing nutrients, manufacturing vitamins, so we can digest like champs! You cannot gain the full effect of probiotics, unless you're taking prebiotics too; the more good guys we feed, the better off our gut is!
+ artichoke, garlic, onion, dandelion greens, asparagus, bananas, oats, cacao, flax seeds, burdock root
Trace Minerals: think iron, zinc, selenium, manganese, iodine, copper, etc! The standard American diet leaves many of us highly mineral deprived and when the mineral balance in the body is poor, our guts become impacted too. Healthy gut bacteria thrive in mineral rich environments and minerals help support the functioning our intestinal lining and reduce the amount of harmful bacteria that dwell in our gut.
Herbal anti-microbial: keeps pathogenic microbes at bay, so they don't overgrow and create a toxic gut!
B vitamins: your nervous system relies on B vitamins, especially if you're prone to anxiety and depression because they help energize the body, boost mood, among many other beneficial characteristics. Taking a B complex vitamin will encourage a balanced nervous system, natural gut repair, and less fatigue.
Full spectrum digestive enzymes: encourage complete absorption of food and nutrients, which is extremely vital for the health and integrity of healthy gut flora and your entire body.
Water / hydrating liquids: consume ample amounts of herbal tea, drinks very low or non-existent in sugar, filtered water, coconut water kefir, birch water, etc.
Consuming a 80/20 diet: this means drinking plenty of water, eating lean protein, whole grains, unprocessed or minimally processed foods, fruit low in sugar and tons of nutrient rich vegetables that are fresh and organic. Yes, it sounds like a lot, but if you think about it, this is what your body should be running on and consuming; not the refined, over-processed, lack of vegetable crap-shoots most people assume is a "normal" diet.
It's only a "normal" form of poison and abuse.
There, I said it. Tough love because I care.
Eat more GREENS: I cannot stress this enough! Fresh organic vegetables should be the majority of your diet or else you're depriving your precious body and gut bacteria of the proper nutrients that it needs.
Also eat more: grass fed meat (unless you're vegetarian/vegan), organic pasture raised eggs, nuts (except for peanuts), seeds, avocado, watercress, berries, and naturally fermented foods.
Eat less: over-processed grains, over-processed protein, gluten, refined sugar (even fruits high in sugar), dairy, factory farmed meat or fish, soy, corn, unhealthy fats, caffeine, alcohol, and artificial sweeteners.
Naturally fermented foods are your best friend and your gut bacteria's best friend too!
The idea of eating something that's alive freaks many people out, but the reality is that people have been eating probiotic bacteria before we even can remember; it's a process as old as time. Without these amazing little dudes, we wouldn't exist, since they're a vital part of our well-being and body's ability to optimally function. #likeaboss
I'm not talking about the salt and vinegar canned foods like preserved sauerkraut; I'm talking about the probiotic rich, naturally fermented stuff that does the same job without stripping away beneficial bacteria.
You know, the good shit!
+ water kefir
+ sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables
+ yogurt (types naturally low in sugar and not ultra pasteurized)
A tip about yogurt:
Most yogurt contains an active probiotic strain called lactobacillus, which unfortunately ends up dying before it even reaches our large intestine because it's not the most symbiotic with digestion.
That's why you can make your own fermented foods or kefir with these tools:
+ a fermenter!
+ a bomb-diggity book on fermenting your own veggies!
+ water kefir grains!
+ a whole lot of self-love and patience!
Remember, you are what you eat, so feed yourself with respect and always listen to your body; this is a profound way to transform your health and invest in self-care.
To read more specifics on an anti-anxiety diet and what foods to consume, follow my guide below:
Good luck on your journey to a healthier, brighter, and balanced life. I'm rooting for you!