• Natalie

Feeling Butterflies? Gut health and anxiety - is there a link?

It's probably true that at some point in your life, you've felt some anxiety. But for some that anxiety becomes crippling and rules lives. It feels like there is nothing that can be done to make anything better. Thanks to modern science our knowledge about the human mind and body is constantly evolving and developing and recently there is the discovery of the second brain ... aka the gut!

There has been speculation that a lack of minerals such as Magnesium can contribute to mental health issues, but now there is evidence to suggest that your fauna and flora in the gut can also have a massive impact.

So could taking a pro and prebiotic help our mood?

Scientist have discovered that the brain and gut have the ability to steadily communicate via the nervous system, hormones and the immune system. Some of these microbiome can even release neurotransmitters - exactly like our own neurons - that speak directly to the brain via the vagus nerve.

I'm a bit of a geek when it comes to things like this and love to read the studies, I've tried to make it a bit more condensed for you...

Scientific studies have discovered that the human body is made up of 90% microbiome; they are just so tiny that it looked like our human cells are predominant; most of these microbiome are found in the gut.

It has been found that they can not be cultured and that these microbiome are developed as a fetus and are passed through the umbilical cord. These microbiome compromise of bacteria, archaea, some eukariotic parasites, protozoans and Fungi - sounds lovely but all are essential. There is a huge amount of science behind this, too much for this blog: when we feel stress or anxiety we have the "fight and flight" response and the "rest and recover" response. Sometimes and for some people the switch gets stuck on "fight and flight" which is controlled by the hormones (endocrine system) the second thing that happens is the immune system is involved - so a real or imagined stress has the same physical response. However, the immune system also releases inflammation, which usually serves to keep us safe and healthy, it is when stress/anxiety is chronic that this inflammatory response can cause chronic disease e.g. depressive disorders, high blood pressure, high cholesterol etc.

The studies have shown that the gut microbiome plays a key role in regulating the immune response - meaning these microbione can make a difference to our physical and mental health. Basically, because stress and anxiety responses release hormones and inflammatory responses this in turn suppresses the immune system meaning that you are more at risk of infection etc. Because the gut microbiome plays a vital part in all these systems and is vulnerable to the hormones and inflammation the steady and consistent release of cortisol and other inflammatory substances can cause an unhealthy adn imbalanced gut microbiome. An unhealthy gut = your brain doesn't feel healthy either.

An increase in the stress inflammation Cytokines TNF-a and MCP (Monocyte Chemaltraction protein) increases the permeability of the blood-brain barrier allowing rogue molecules from the permeable gut, this release into the brain influences the brain function leading to anxiety, depression etc. In mice (always mice 1st!) studies showed that those mice born with a purposefully low gut microbiome typically displayed abnormal levels anxiety, increase of depressive like symptoms, difficulty in social and cognitive function. However, with fecal transplant was given - injecting high levels of gut microbiome these characteristics vanished.

A study in "Medicine and science in Sports and exercise" included a number of individuals taking part in a 6 week exercise plan, no dietary changes, followed by 6 weeks returning to their sedentary lifestyle, microbiome reading were taken at the beginning, middle and end. The results showed that the levels of healthy gut microbiome increased dramatically after the 6 weeks of exercise and reduced phenomenally after the 6 weeks of a sedentary lifestyle. The researchers proposed that an increase in exercise can positively althered the composition of gut bacteria.

Of course, science doesn't know how this all exactly happens yet, but it does arm us with the ability to help ourselves that little bit more in our quest to improve our mental health. Eat better, Eat more regularly, actively relax more and get more exercise and we can make huge head way in our mental health.


Prebiotics -

Almonds Asparagus Banana's Broccoli Polenta Garlic

Kiwi Leeks Mushrooms

Oats Onions Leafy green Veg

Beans Lentils Cruferous veg


Probiotic foods -

Fermented vegetables e.g. Sauerkrout; Kimchi and traditionally cured olives

Fermented soy beans e.g. Miso; Natto and Tempeh

Fermented beverages e.g. Kifir and Kombuchas

Fermented condiments e.g. Apple Cider Vingar

Cultured Dairy products e.g. buttermilk; live yoghurt (including Soy); Kifir


30 - 60 minutes of endurance exercise

3 times a week

Aerobic endurance exercises e.g walking; running; dancing; swimming; biking; football

Muscular endurance exercises - weights/resistance bands:- 3 sets of 15 reps with a 30 second rest between sets.

For more information on nutrition, fitness programmes or small group fitness for anxiety feel free to contact me for more details.

Hope you enjoyed reading.


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