Anxiety disorders affect over 40 million U.S. adults according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
For years, physicians and researchers sought to treat depression by treating the brain, but recent research is shifting our attention to the gut as the center of mental health.
The Gut, Our “Second Brain”
The nervous system transmits and interprets information from all parts of the body through an intricate network of neurons. Although we mostly associate neurons with the central nervous system and the brain, the gut serves as a secondary hub of neurological activity. Trillions of bacteria and over 100 million neurons line the digestive tract, and they communicate with the central nervous system, endocrine system and immune system. This complex network is called the enteric nervous system or the “second brain.”
“Gut Feeling” Isn’t Just a Saying
We’ve all had a “gut feeling” or “butterflies in our stomach,” but those expressions aren’t just idioms. According to a study by E.M.M Quigley, the second brain strongly influences emotions, moods and behavior. The enteric nervous system and gut microbiome control 80 percent of the communication between the body and the brain.
Gut Inflammation Increases Depression, Anxiety Risk
Healthy emotions begin with a healthy gut. One study proposes that gut inflammation initiates chronic conditions like depression and anxiety. A healthy gut is comprised of a wide diversity of bacteria and high concentrations of beneficial strains of bacteria. Poor diet, illness or antibiotic use can disrupt the delicate balance of gut flora, and this imbalance can result in inflammation and increased risk for depression and anxiety disorders (Huffington Post).
Gut Health Diet: How to Maintain Healthy Gut
Eating many colorful varieties of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, nuts and seeds is essential for a nutritious diet and healthy digestion. You can boost concentrations of beneficial bacteria in your gut by adding probiotics to your diet like yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh, miso and kombucha.
A GI Doctor Can Help
Depression and anxiety is a serious condition that requires a physician’s care. Make an appointment with your doctor to discuss how improving your digestive health can boost your mental wellness.