Anxiety, poor gut health, and hormone imbalances – chances are if you’ve struggled with one of these conditions, you’ve likely struggled with 2 if not all 3 of them!
In this article I outline the intrinsic connections between your anxiety, your gut health, and your hormone balance.
Just as a little reminder: anxiety can be described as feelings of worry, dread, fear, or nervousness, often without clear justification. Not only does anxiety create unease in ones mind, anxiety can cause all sorts of unease in the body as well. Common physiological symptoms of anxiety include digestive issues, headaches, insomnia, shortness of breath, increased heart rate, muscle tension, and a general state of inflammation within the body.
Anxiety & Gut Health
When one struggles with chronic anxiety, digestive issues are one of the most common physiological symptoms experienced. Challenges with digestion can eventually lead to having a huge effect on one’s overall gut health. If food is not digested properly (due to being in a chronic “fight or flight mode” as is often present with anxiety), food is left in the intestines to “ferment”, wrecking havoc on the balance of important bacteria within ones gut. On top of this, because of the “gut-brain” connection, a troubled brain can send signals to the gut, just as the gut can send signals to the brain. A recent report by Harvard Medicine explains, “a person’s stomach or intestinal distress can be the cause or the product of anxiety, stress, or depression.” (1)
Another connection between anxiety & gut health, has to do with the fact that 90% of serotonin is produced in one’s gut. If there aren’t the important bacteria apart of ones intestinal (gut) lining to help synthesize serotonin, anxiety will likely manifest. The reason being is that a deficiency in this happy hormone (serotonin) is one of the main underlying causes of anxiety.
When talking about the link between anxiety & gut health it’s often a question of “what comes first – the chicken or the egg?” But the good news is – you don’t necessarily need to know! The important part to understand is that you can make changes to your diet & lifestyle that can simultaneously support both your anxiety & improve your gut health!
Anxiety & Hormones
The connection between anxiety & hormones is vast and varying and is most definitely a 2 way street! The human body produces all sorts of different hormones which act as “chemical messengers.” Everything from appetite, to sex drive, to blood sugar balance, temperature regulation, mood, all the way to the female menstrual cycle – are controlled by different hormones that are released within the body!
As mentioned when we were talking about digestion, if anxiety is high, the body is often in “fight or flight mode.” Fight or flight mode causes all sorts of hormones to respond as though the body is in danger. Chronic levels of anxiety confuse the body by leading to an over production of different hormones related to the stress response.
Below are a few of the most common hormones that are related to anxiety:
– Cortisol: our main stress hormone. When one is constantly stressed out by external or internal challenges, cortisol is released. Research has confirmed that excess cortisol can cause both anxiety and depression, and contribute to the likelihood of an anxiety attack (2). On the flip side, when the brain is perceiving thoughts as anxiety provoking, more cortisol and adrenaline (another one of the stress hormones) are released. When cortisol levels are constantly elevated, it is very hard for the body to decipher what is truly worthy of worrying about (aka a life threatening situation) vs. an irrational fear (often present with anxiety)
– Insulin: the main hormone responsible for balancing blood sugars. If insulin levels within the body are off, one has difficulty regulating their blood sugars, causing either hyper or hypoglycemia. Both hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) can further lead to exacerbating anxiety. Not only this, when the mind is constantly anxious, it can lead to intense sugar cravings, which can lead to increased sugar intake, and in some cases, when too much sugar is consumed, it can eventually lead to a growing resistance to insulin sensitivity.
– Estrogen & progesterone: the 2 main hormones involved in the menstrual cycle. If someone is pre-disposed to anxiety, it is often worse during the pre-menstural (luteal) phase of ones cycle, where typically progesterone levels are at their highest. This can especially be the case if ones hormones are out of balance meaning they experience intense PMS symptoms.
Imbalanced estrogen or progesterone levels (either too high or too low) anytime throughout the menstrual cycle, can also have a huge effect on ones general mood and feelings of anxiety. On the flip side, if someone is struggling a lot with anxiety, regulation of estrogen & progesterone can become challenging for the body and lead to irregular cycles, severe PMS, or even ammenorhea.
Lastly, it’s also important to note, that if the body is constantly being exposed to endocrine disruptors (chemicals that interfere with the hormonal system) such as; processed & packaged foods, poor quality meats, agricultural pesticides, chemical based cleaning & beauty products, plastics, environmental pollutants, and so on – these can wreck havoc on all sorts hormones. In turn, this can cause or be a trigger to further worsening ones anxiety.
Gut Health & Hormones
There are over 30 hormone genes expressed in the gut that regulate appetite, digestion, mood, memory, and so much more. (3) Specifically, a set of bacteria located in the gut – known as the estrobolome is responsible for metabolizing estrogen. (4) Without diverse gut health the body cannot regulate estrogen levels properly – leading to all sorts of hormonal and menstrual related issues!
What to do?
Alright, so now that we all understand how intrinsically connected gut health, hormones, and anxiety are – now it’s time to talk about what we can do about it?! The good news is that when you eat a more whole foods, toxin free, blood sugar balancing diet, like how I outline in my “One on One Anxiety Reduction Protocol” you will simultaneously be eating in a way to support your gut health & your hormone balance, as well as helping to curb your anxiety levels!
Want to know more? Feel free to sign up for a COMPLIMENTARY 15 MINUTE phone call with me to learn more about how you can eat in a way to say goodbye to your anxiety, poor gut health, and/or imbalanced hormones, once and for all!