Say Hello to The Tiny World Inside!
If you could see what’s inside your gut, you’d see an endless number of tiny bacteria lingering around. The word ‘bacteria’ is enough to startle you as it is usually associated with illness. But these bacteria are the type that benefits you so called the friendly bacteria or probiotics.
The Gut-Brain Axis Explained
Researchers believe that the number of probiotic bacteria is ten times the number of your body cells (1). These bacteria have a profound role in disease and health. They even alter how your brain works. Brain? Yes, your brain. The bacteria in your gut actually communicate with your brain. Let’s break it down to understand it better.
The gut-brain axis is quite complex and contains three important components: the Central Nervous System (CNS), the Enteric Nervous System (ENS), and the Hypothalamic Pituitary Axis (HPA). Don’t lose it over these difficult sounding terms. Your CNS consists of your brain and the spinal cord. The ENS consists of a collection of nerve cells within your gut walls. In other words, your gut has a brain of its own. Finally, the HPA is the part of this system that secretes a number of hormones and other chemicals (2).
The gut-brain axis is a high-speed two-way lane. In simple terms, your brain signals your gut what to do and your gut signals back some feedback as well. The HPA receives some of these signals too and secretes hormones accordingly. So if your gut microbiome is happy, your brain will be happy too. If your gut microbiome is not doing well, things will go South for your brain too (3).
Gut Dysbiosis and Anxiety
Where it is good, there is bad too and same goes for your gut bacteria as well. In addition to the health promoting probiotic bacteria, your gut hosts a number of diseasing causing microbes as well. But not to worry! These boogers don’t do much harm as long as you have an ample supply of probiotic bacteria.
Unfortunately, the modern lifestyle jeopardizes the well-being of your gut bacteria. Factors like the use of fiber-deficient diet, unnecessary use of antibiotics, lack of physical activity, exposure to pollutants, and leading a stressful life can inflict a colossal damage to your gut probiotics. That’s when the bad guys take over and things go into a state of disorder, termed as the gut dysbiosis (4).
When that happens, the gut dysbiosis kick-starts a chain of events that ends up in a vicious cycle. Once your gut microbiome balance is out of order, the gut starts to send stress signals to your brain and the HPA. As a result, the HPA starts releasing a lot of stress hormones like cortisol. The cortisol damages the gut probiotics even further and this cycle continues (5). To put in simple words, gut dysbiosis causes anxiety and vice versa.
Top 4 Ways You Can Set Things Right
The only way you can put an end to this cycle is by adopting a healthy lifestyle. Here is what you should do.
#1- Eat a Fiber-Rich Diet
You can start off by eating a healthy diet. Put those greasy hamburgers, pizzas, and chips away for a moment and make friends with healthier foods. You should eat a diet rich in fiber. Fiber acts as a food source for the probiotic bacteria and helps them flourish (6). Fiber rich diet includes:
- Fresh fruit and vegetable juices
# 2: Try a Probiotic-Prebiotic Supplement
You can also get a little help by trying a good quality probiotic-prebiotic supplement. These supplements provide a quick fix for your condition, reduce your anxiety levels, and improve your mood.
In one research, scientists studied the effects of probiotic supplementation on the psychiatric status of 30 subjects. The subjects had low mood and suffered from anxiety and depression. They were divided into two groups depending on whether or not they received the probiotic supplement. At the end of the study, scientists discovered a remarkable improvement in the mood and anxiety levels among the probiotic group (7).
This shows how effective probiotics can be in treating the mood disorder, including anxiety.
# 3: Relax Your Mind
Another way you can put an end to this cycle is by engaging in some relaxing activity. This will reduce the levels of your anxiety and will help you deal with dysbiosis as well.
The activities you can try include:
- Breathing exercises
# 4: Avoid Antibiotics Unless Absolutely Necessary
You can deal with this issue is avoiding the frequent use of antibiotics. Antibiotics wreak havoc on your gut microbiome which then makes you prone to conditions like anxiety.
It is, therefore, important that you don’t use antibiotics without consulting with your healthcare provider first. Once you start taking antibiotics, it is important that you take them as per your doctor’s recommendations.
There you have it! A healthy lifestyle is pivotal for a healthy gut and a fresh mind. Follow the instructions given in this article and say hello to an anxiety-free life!
Dr. Muhamad Usman