Dealing With Anxiety? Better Gut Health May Alleviate Those Symptoms
Ray Bass is the associate movement and wellness editor at mindbodygreen and a NASM-Certified Personal Trainer. She holds a degree in creative writing from the University of Pennsylvania, with honors in nonfiction.
Anxiety can be complicated. There's no one cause, no single symptom, and no one surefire way to treat, reduce, or deal with it. We all experience it for different reasons and in different ways, and it can be frustrating when you feel like you've tried everything to mitigate your anxiety and nothing has worked. While there are a number of natural options, like meditation and exercise, another place to look for anxiety relief, according to new research, is in your gut, otherwise known as your microbiome.
New research from the BMJ found that people who experience anxiety symptoms may benefit from better gut health, which comes from regulating the microorganisms or good bacteria in your microbiome using probiotic and non-probiotic food and supplements.
"Increasingly, research has indicated that gut microbiota—the trillions of microorganisms in the gut which perform important functions in the immune system and metabolism by providing essential inflammatory mediators, nutrients and vitamins—can help regulate brain function through something called the 'gut-brain axis,'" the study notes.
Researchers analyzed 21 different studies to see if there was evidence demonstrating that anxiety symptoms could be improved by regulating intestinal microbiota. Of the studies analyzed, 52 percent showed this gut-focused approach (taking probiotics or changing your daily diet) to be effective. In other words, it may work for some but not for others—as is the case with pretty much all treatments.
When specifically asked which method (probiotic or non-probiotic) was better at reducing anxiety symptoms, researchers responded that both were effective, but the non-probiotic approach, aka eating a healthier diet, was notably more powerful.
"Of the 14 studies that used probiotics as the intervention, more than a third found them to be effective in reducing anxiety symptoms, while six of the remaining seven studies that had used non-probiotics as interventions found those to be effective—an 86 percent rate of effectiveness."
This was an observational study, so it cannot establish cause, but the researchers noted that the 21 studies included were of high quality and concluded that "more than half of the studies included showed it was positive to treat anxiety symptoms by regulation of intestinal microbiota."
Given that as many as a third of people will experience anxiety symptoms in their lifetime, any potential remedy could prove hugely impactful for our population at large. Whether or not you experience anxiety, it's never too late to learn what food is not great for your gut and how to boost your overall microbiome health.
Ray Bass is the associate movement and wellness editor at mindbodygreen and a NASM-Certified Personal Trainer. She holds a degree in creative writing from the University of Pennsylvania, with honors in nonfiction. A runner, yogi, boxer, and cycling devotee, Bass searches for the hardest workouts in New York (and the best ways to recover from them). She's debunked myths about protein, posture, and the plant-based diet, and has covered everything from the best yoga poses for chronic pain to the future of fitness, recovery, and America's obsession with the Whole30 diet.