If you know me, or you’ve read some of my other blog posts surrounding nutrition for anxiety, you’ll know that I preach the importance of good GUT HEALTH – like there’s no tomorrow!
The reason I talk so much about the importance of good gut health when looking to reduce anxiety levels is that there is SO MUCH research that exemplifies the key role gut bacteria play in regulating mood, serotonin & dopamine levels, behaviours, stress, and general anxiety levels! (1)
Gastroenterologist Dr. Emeran Mayer, (the director of the Center for Neurobiology of Stress at the University of California) states, “it’s almost unthinkable that the gut is not playing a critical role in mind states,” when referring to the gut’s multifaceted ability to communicate with the brain, along with its crucial role in defending the body against the outside world. (1)
As an example, a 2011 study done on mice, found that the mice who were given Lactobacillus rhamnosus (an important microbe found in healthy guts), displayed much lower symptoms of anxiety when put through a group of tests, compared to the mice in the control group, without the bacterial boosts. In fact, the mice in the test group who were given Lactobacillus rhamnosus also found to have lower levels of the stress hormone, corticosterone and certain regions in their brain showed an increase in the number of receptors for GABA (our “calming and anxiety easing” neurotransmitter) (2).
It’s important to note this is just one study on one type of bacteria, however there are TONS of amazing studies similar to this one done on all sorts of different types of bacteria (1).
So, What Is Gut Health?
When referring to gut health, we are actually referring to the diversity of healthy bacteria, yeast, fungi, and viruses within ones’ microbiome. You can think of “gut health” as synonymous with “gut diversity.”
It’s important to note that often the current scope of gut health is much too limited! In the health world, there is too much emphasis put on a “magic bullet” solution to gut health such as popping a probiotic supplement or including just one special food. However, the truth is improved gut health does not just happen overnight, nor does it come about with one miracle practice. Diversifying your gut health will be a lifelong process, made up of many different practices!
5 Ways to Improve Your Gut Health to Reduce Your Anxiety Levels:
- EAT MORE FERMENTED FOODS:
Fermented foods are so good for gut health as they loaded with all sorts of healthy bacteria and fibres that feed your microbiome (4)! Eating fermented (aka “cultured”) foods is one of the most convenient and beneficial ways to give your gut the daily dose of beneficial probiotic goodness it needs to thrive! (5)
Some of the top fermented foods include:
– Dairy free yogurt or kefir
– Naturally fermented pickles
- SPENDING TIME IN NATURE:
This might sound too good to be true, but it’s not! Spending time in nature, exposes you to all sorts of different bacteria, fungi, and other living organisms that your microbiome needs to thrive! (3)
In fact, Dr. Zach Bush explains that the many strains of healthy bacteria that populate the gut come from things such as, “the air we breathe, especially from being in different natural environments; walking barefoot on the earth, petting your dog, eating low on the food chain, even directly from your garden.” (3). Dr. Zach Bush even created the popular hashtag #BreatheYourBiome to encourage people to breathe in as many different fresh ecosystems as possible in order to diversify their microbiomes.
Not only do you get a plethora of amazing healthy bacteria to feed your microbiome when you spend time in nature, you also get the anxiety easing effects it tends to have! Recent studies done by both Australian and UK environmental scientists found that people who visit parks for 30 minutes or more each week are much less likely to have high blood pressure or poor mental health (such as anxiety and depression) than those who don’t (9).
- EAT A WIDE DIVERSITY OF WHOLE FOODS:
Diversity is so incredibly important when it comes to gut health! Our gut bacteria are so happy when we introduce them to different types of whole plant foods because it gives them so much variety and fibre to feed off of! This is why it’s so important to include all sorts of different types of beans/ legumes, fresh fruit & veg, nuts & seeds, and whole ancient grains (6).
If you notice you always opt for green curly kale at the grocery store – why not opt for Lactino instead? Or better yet, try a different type of green every time you’re there! In fact, we should all be aiming for a minimum of 30 different fruit and veg species per week!
It’s important to know that, when people follow super restrictive elimination diets (in hopes of solving their gut issues), over time this can actually diminish the species diversity within the gut microbiome – which is the last thing you want when trying to support your gut health!
- CHOOSE ORGANIC, REGENERATIVELY GROWN FOODS FROM FARMERS MARKETS:
Where you shop and the kinds of foods is so incredibly important when it comes to gut health! If you have the means to purchase organic food – it’s an absolute must for your gut health! Pesticides, especially glyphosate, can act like an anti-biotic within the body. Just as pesticides were meant to kill weeds, bugs, or other living things within the soil, they will do the same thing to the healthy organisms within your gut (7).
Beyond purchasing organic, it’s so important to buy your food from local farmers markets as much as possible! The fruits and vegetables you can buy from a farmers market are often way more bacterial rich (in the best way), as they were grown in more diverse soils and small scale local farmers more often use regenerative farming practices such as cover cropping, no tilling, wild life integration, and composting to promote diversity.
Sadly, large scale organic farming is no where near what we need it to be in order to truly be supportive for our gut health! Although it’s still better than its conventional counterpart, many industrial organic soils are lacking in nutrients & bacteria, as they heavily rely on tilling and mono cropping – 2 farming practices which dramatically limit the diversity of nature. Not only this, many large scale organic companies tend to “over sanitize” their pre-washed and bagged veg, leaving them void of so many of the important bacteria we should be getting from our food!
- GROW YOUR OWN FOOD:
Lastly, and potentially most impactful – is to make some effort to grow your own food! Getting your hands in the soil can be so incredible for your gut health as a healthy teaspoon of soil generally contains anywhere between 100 million and 1 billion bacteria (8)! Not only do you expose yourself to healthy bacteria through touching the soil, you will also get to reap the rewards of getting to eat all the nutrient dense and chemical free food you grow!
I know the thought of growing food can seem daunting, however it really doesn’t need to be that way! Even just a few patio planters can do wonders for your health!! And you will likely have so much fun doing so! In fact, gardening is always one of my most anxiety relieving activities! I truly believe it’s both because I am exposing my biome to so many amazing healthy bacteria AND I’m getting to be in touch with the earth, which has the most incredible therapeutic properties!
As you can see – when it comes to GUT HEALTH, diversity really is everything! There are so many amazing ways to improve your gut health and so many of them have to do with introducing your body to as many different living organisms as you possibly can!
In turn, by improving your gut health, you can also expect to see amazing results in reducing your anxiety. All the new types of healthy bacteria and microorganisms you introduce your biome to, will do all the amazing work of boosting your mood through producing the neurotransmitters you need! Gut microbes have also been found to influence microRNA in the prefrontal cortex and amygdala of the brain, two areas associated with depression and anxiety (10), along with so many other amazing ways of supporting the body in reducing anxiety (which I’ll save for another day!)
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