The Reasons for Your Anxiety (more than a gut feeling)

How gut health can heal anxiety (or be the cause)

Orange dust clouded the path of our bus as we made our way to Phenom Pehn, Cambodia

Looking out the window, I see ram shacked homes with chickens running away from children.

That’s when it hit.

Impending doom.

Inescapable thoughts.

Sweaty palms, heart racing, there was nothing I could do. I had to embrace this…

…the tsunami wave of panic.


This wasn’t my first experience with a panic attack.

Nearly 4 years since my last one, I could at least navigate myself through the episode.

Nonetheless, it was scary AF.

The culmination of multiple nights of Angkor beer and caffeine had broken down a barrier that had been on life support (thanks to a gut wrenching sickness weeks before)

I know I’m not alone.

I’m sure you’ve had you own tipping point.

Being the health detective I am, I dove deep into why anxiety over took my body.

It was bigger than the 50 cent beers and high dosage of coffee…

…it had to do with my gut.

Always the gut.

The Causes of Anxiety

Anxiety is a tricky thing.

Once it starts to spiral, you can quickly lose control and end up in a full on panic attack.

Where does it all come from?

There are two different factors at play.

The first to consider is environmental factors.

A stressful situation like a fender bender to as insane as bullet flying by your head are valid reasons for turning on those flight or right responses.

Then there is biology….

…our own chemicals in our body trying to f*ck with us.

Taken from the CalmClinic.com

“This research has shown that those suffering from anxiety often have issues with several neurotransmitters (brain chemicals), including serotonin, norepinephrine and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).”

Of course, there are many factors as to why our chemicals are being hijacked.

Since RTF’s main focus is on the gut…we gotta talk about…

…the one factor that often is overlooked could be the most important…

…our gut.

And more importantly, what’s living in it.

Our gut is comprised of millions of neurotransmitters, giving it a valid reason to be called our second brain!

And more reason to explore its possible connection with giving us those anxious moments.

This is all thanks to our gut-brain axis allowing the passage of these neurochemicals to be transferred to both our guts and our brains.

Far out dude!

 

Chemicals in our Gut

Our bodies are made up of chemicals. There is a delicate balance that nature has pretty much under control. When the human body has the wrong organisms that aren’t fit for our individual body, we can produce the wrong amounts.

Here are a couple examples of key chemicals that play a larger role in our overall mental health.

GABA

GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is a neurotransmitter that is responsible for giving a feeling of calmness and ease. Too little of it and you can turn into an anxious mess.

In our guts, GABA is responsible for “intestinal motility, gastric emptying, gastric acid secretion, transient lower esophageal sphincter relaxation and visceral sensation of painful colonic stimuli.” [1]

Pretty important part of digestion!

We have some microbes that have our back and create this essential neurotransmitter.

We have the GABA creators and then we have the GABA destroyers.

Flavonifractor sp. has been found to chow down on GABA.

This could be a possible link to why those battling anxiety may have an overgrowth of flavonifractor sp. or a similar GABA feasting microbe.

Serotonin

You can find serotonin both in your gut, brain, and blood. Normal levels of serotonin will keep your body’s functions in tip top shape.

It’s also associated with being:

  • happier
  • calmer
  • more focused
  • less anxious
  • more emotionally stable

Out of sync?

You can start to see the following happen:

  • have poor bowel functions
  • low levels = depression
  • high levels = low libido and lack of arousal

Where is it all made?

90% of serotonin is actually made in the gut!

Just as the case with GABA, there are certain microbes that limit the normal levels of serotonin.

E. coli can inhibit intestinal serotonin transporter function and expression” [2]

IBS has also been associated with depression and lowered serotonin levels.

Anxiety, depression, low libido: The triple threat of suck.

What if we can control what is living in our guts? Can we keep the balance more in check?

Can we keep the balance more in check?

Hacking our Gut To Eliminate Anxiety

There have been many people sharing their anecdotal evidence about changing certain aspects of their diet, taking supplements, and lowering their level of anxiety.

I’m not telling anybody to ditch their SSRI’s because they do have their place for certain individuals.

But I’d like to explore other methods before being prescribed brain pills.

Why not change the dynamic that is happening in our guts?

Let’s not forget the two-way street effect between the gut-brain connection.

The easiest way to get results is to change what you’re putting in your body.

Stick to a clean-ish diet.

Depending on your symptoms you may need to go full on an elimination diet.

Eliminate dairy.

No coffee [decreases GABA]

No alcohol.

Eating clean is easier for me because I like cooking meals and doing my own shopping. If you don’t, there are other options like InstaCart for your own shopper or BlueApron for pre-cooked healthy meals.

Once you start seeing results you can cheat a little bit,

but don’t go overboard…

Eating 3 days of junk has the same effect on damaging your gut health as junk eating for a whole week. 

Eating clean can usually shift microbes in the right direction after a few weeks.

And let us not forget about another helper: Probiotics.

“Studies on probiotic supplementation in mice and in humans provides compelling evidence of microbial regulation over stress and anxiety induced neuroendocrine signaling. ” [3]

Probiotics attenuate anxiety and depressive-like behaviors in experimental animal models. Notwithstanding some inconsistencies and methodological limitations across trials, clinical studies suggest that probiotics may mitigate anxiety symptoms. [4]

You can learn all about probiotics here and how they work here.

Additional ways to help with anxiety

Along side having a better gut health here are other ways to help boost proper levels of chemicals in your body.

Yoga (and mentally tough exercise)

I found the most growth in dealing with anxious moments and overall anger by practicing yoga.

Why?

Yoga sucks…

if you let it suck.

In YinYoga, you are in poses for nearly 10 minutes. 10 minutes of grueling pain.

You can frame it like that and live in that reality.

Or you can shift your thought process and actually enjoy the movements and stillness.

 

Stretching and breathing through the pain. Getting comfortable with the shit storm that is happening in my body. What does thinking about the pain get me? Usually anxious, questioning when the pose is over, and gritting my teeth.

If you aren’t into the whole yoga scene. Find a different way to test your mental fortitude.

Lift heavy.

Run distances.

Hike to 14,000 feet.

Any way to get over mental hurdles through physical activity will better prepare you in other difficulty settings in life.

Not only that, but moving also helps create diversity in our gut.

Just another reason to get outside.

Meditation

You knew this one was coming.

Heres the thing…

…you don’t have to sit cross legged in a dark room with a candle chanting ohms to get the benefits. (Although that does sound pretty dope)

It’s about being present and letting the outside world dissolve. Finding peace in the moment.

Excuse me while I brush the dreads away from my face…

What I’m trying to say is everybody has their own form of meditation.

I find my peace when I’m preparing a meal or hiking a difficult trail.

Other might have it playing Soduko or listening to an old record.

Do more of what puts your mind at ease.

You’ll be happier and less anxious for it.

Wrap-Up

We’ve covered the causes of why we get anxious and how our guts can play a role in causing anxiety. Using the tips and tricks, you test to see how you respond to using your DIY methods of hacking your anxious moments.

Stay positive.

Keep moving.

Be present.

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