Anxiety & The Gut Microbiome

Does our microbiome and brain affect our mental health interchangeably? Increasing studies are showing that they do, in fact, play a pivotal role in anxiety disorders.

Anxiety, a hidden burden that affects nearly 40 million people in the United States. Nearly seven million adults and one in eight children have been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder.1 Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States and women are twice as likely than men to suffer from anxiety. Anxiety disorders are often likely to occur with other disorders and symptoms such as depression, chronic pain, IBS and eating disorders.

Everyone experiences anxiety at some point in their life. We tend to get anxious or stressed over a bill that is due in two days, or traveling during the holidays, or that pesky headache that doesn’t seem to go away. However, when your anxiety becomes common and you begin to worry excessively, that’s when generalized anxiety disorder comes into play. When your fears become irrational, your worry is impacting your ability to fulfill daily tasks and that one concern has spiraled into twenty new concerns- that’s GAD.1

Mice studies have shown positive connections with the gut-brain axis and just how much our microbiome can affect our nervous system. Such correlations have made it relevant for human studies to be conducted! Someone who is faced with GAD undergoes an abundance amount of worry and/or stress on a daily basis. When faced with a stressor, our sympathetic nervous system (SNS) kicks into gear. The SNS is in control of our “fight or flight” response, in which it releases numerous stress hormones such as cortisol and norepinephrine. This results in potentially halting our digestion and proceeding to put our energy elsewhere. Exposures to different stressors have also been associated with the absence of certain good bacteria in our gut.2 It is now known that both the nervous system and the gut microbiome have an intertwined relationship. Changes in our microbiome can lead to neurological alterations while behavioral changes can directly affect our gastrointestinal tract.2

The enteric nervous system is in charge of sending messages back and forth to the brain and the gastrointestinal tract via neurons and the vagus nerve.3 Anxiety causes hyperarousal of our nervous system, leaving our microbiome vulnerable to dysbiosis. When we experience dysbiosis in our gut, we experience symptoms such as leaky gut, constipation, IBS and bloating. Remember, an imbalanced gut can also lead to anxiety-like symptoms. The key is to remember that these two systems interchangeably affect one another.

So, what do you do now? Stay tuned for my next article regarding nutritional interventions and stress-reducing techniques to aid in a healthy mind and microbiome!

Author: Macy Adami