When I was younger, I often felt anxious before an exam or an important phone call.
Or even worse, before my first date with my now husband. 🙂
And this would usually manifest itself with gut issues or as I would call it: a “funny tummy”.
This was not very convenient at times, as you can imagine.
Equally annoying, my stomach would shut down during prolonged stress and traumatic experiences.
And especially when I was stressed, I was eating more sugar and carbs, affecting my gut and anxiety even more.
This led to an endless cycle of unhealthy emotional eating which resulted in more emotional reactions.
Can you relate?
This phenomenon is called:
Have you ever wondered why your stomach knots or feels queasy when you are confronted with major psychological or emotional stress?
Researchers now know that the gastrointestinal system and the brain communicate via a recently discovered pathway called the gut-brain connection.
This is just one more way that shows how the bodily systems are interconnected.
Gut bacteria send signals to the brain and the brain sends signals back via neural, endocrine, and immune cells.
Therefore, digestive disorders, like Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Ulcerative Colitis, are a sign of gut-brain connection communication disruption and an unhealthy gut microbiome.
Gut and anxiety
Just like depression, anxiety, and other psychiatric disorders are intertwined with the well-being of the gut microbiome.
Because of this, mental health issues frequently occur alongside autoimmune conditions.
A healthy intestinal microbiome—in the form of a proper balance between good and bad gut bacteria—facilitates proper communication between the intestines and brain.
Ideally, it shields the body from the negative effects of chronic stress.
Because the enteric nervous system is so neurologically complex, it is considered to be the “second brain”.
Indeed, these nerves can communicate with the brain via what is known as the gut-brain axis.
The health of the gut microbiome dictates how well the gut can communicate with the brain.
Ideally, the nerves in the gut will have open lines of communication with the brain.
People who suffer from anxiety, depression, and other psychological disorders have been shown to have disrupted communication via the gut-brain axis.
And it may come as no surprise that they also lack diversity in their gut microbiome!
The stress response (aka fight-or-flight response) inhibits digestion. Acute, short-term stress seems to be a normal and unavoidable part of daily life.
Short-term stress leads to increased bodily inflammation as the immune system gears up to fend off potential threats and invaders.
In the short term, this inflammation is relatively harmless. As stressors become chronic, so does inflammation.
In addition to destroying healthy body tissues, it can cause suboptimal functioning of various bodily systems and organs, eventually leading to chronic disease in the mind or body.
The digestive system is one of the organs that is affected when the body is overworked by chronic stress.
Leaky gut and anxiety
Prolonged stress can lead to chronic inflammation of the gut lining, and lead to leaky gut or intestinal impermeability.
Another really interesting fact is that around 90% of our serotonin is produced in the gut.
Which is one other way to explain that your mood is hugely affected by your gut microbiome.
My struggle with stress, anxiety and gut health lead me to become a master certified transformational nutrition coach with not one but two! specializations in digestive health and emotional health.
Here is a testimonial from one of my clients that shows you how impactful this can feel:
I‘m on day 8 of the reset and I can definitely tell a difference in the way I feel.
I wore jeans this weekend that I wouldn’t have worn two weeks ago, which is encouraging.
However, the best part is how much HAPPIER I feel!
I feel calm and peaceful, the stress in my life is still there but it feels manageable.
I can’t help but think my dietary changes are contributing to this awesome shift, also my cravings are so much more manageable!
Like my stress, they’re still there, especially around 2 PM, but they aren’t all-consuming and I refer back to spiritual vs physical hunger then I can usually tame them.
Now, let’s get to what you can do to improve your gut microbiome and issues like leaky gut and anxiety
HOW TO REPAIR/OPTIMIZE THE GUT-BRAIN AXIS
1. Rest, Relax, and Sleep
Proper rest, relaxation, and sleep are vital for the functioning of all organ systems, but especially the brain and gut.
Have you ever noticed that your memory is foggy, your cognitive function is decreased, and your bowel movements are either too frequent or not frequent enough after a long night of tossing and turning?
This is a perfect illustration of how sleep or a lack thereof can negatively impact the brain and gut functioning.
In fact, after just one night of suboptimal sleep, there is already a marked increase in the amount of pro-inflammatory complexes in the blood.
Inflammation is not a good thing when it comes to the gut or the brain.
2. Eat a Whole Foods Diet
Steer clear of nutrient-poor, processed, and packaged “faux foods.”
These may supply you with enough energy in the form of calories, but they do very little to meet your daily nutrient requirements.
Dark green leafy vegetables, high-quality animal protein, and healthy fats nourish the brain and digestive system. Remember, when it comes to food, quality is key!
A great “gut” food is Bone Broth
3. Eliminate Food Sensitivities and Intolerances
An Elimination Diet is useful to identify potential food sensitivities and intolerances.
Chronic consumption of these irritants can lead to increased inflammation and leaky gut.
But eliminating them from the diet will lead to increased cognitive capacity and better absorption of nutrients.
A great way to eliminate foods while getting rid of harmful toxins is my 10-day detox
4. Practice Stress Reduction Techniques
Stress management is critical in order to steer clear of the edge of long-term stress and chronic inflammation.
While it is impossible to avoid stress altogether, it is possible to shield the body from its negative effects.
Deep breathing, meditation, mindfulness, yoga, and tai chi are all great coping mechanisms in the face of stress.
5. Increase Probiotic and Prebiotic Consumption
Eat more fermented foods which naturally contain beneficial bacteria.
Fermented foods include:
Also, be sure that you eat prebiotic foods in the form of fiber-rich vegetables or supplements to ensure that the beneficial bacteria will have a food source once they reach the gut.
Otherwise, they may starve and die off immediately.
6. Find a Healthy Balance of Exercise
While too much exercise can worsen leaky gut, too little can cause chronic constipation.
Each individual must find what works best for him or her, but an ideal fitness routine should include some cardiovascular stimulation, balance, strength, flexibility, and coordination.
Keep in mind that low-to-moderate intensity exercise tends to have a calming effect on the nervous system and increase mental sharpness and the capacity to remember.
Create “fun” options for exercise as you co-create a digestive health protocol.
As usual, just reading some tips will not help much.
Action is where the gold lies.
Start paying attention to what may trigger gut issues and also track your foods and feelings such as anxiety to see if there is a correlation.
If you want to get a head start on improving your gut health, download my 10-Day sexy weight detox program.
Through this program, you can get an easy step-by-step plan to get rid of toxins, lose weight, feel better, gain more energy, and stop overeating in 10 days!
Oh, by the way, although I still feel a small (and sometimes) knot in my stomach when nervous, my stomach issues have vastly improved (walking my talk), and even better, my anxiety has considerably diminished.
Pity I can’t go on a date anymore to test out, the “first date issues” are long over and I am really happy with my husband.
Download my 10-Day sexy weight detox program.