I’m sure you’ve experienced anxiety from a gut feeling before. Maybe you felt like your team was going to lose a big game, a work project wasn’t going to go well, or that storm was fast approaching and you were without an umbrella. But, according to a new scientific review, your gut may play a bigger role in anxiety than these fleeting moments.
It might seem unlikely, but the bacteria population in your intestine—the microbiota—may play a role in anxiety. Research indicates about 1/3 of the population will experience anxiety over the course of a lifetime, feeling symptoms like
- Irrational fear
- Panic attacks
Although it seems logical to believe that these feelings are coming solely from your head, a growing body of research is showing your gut bacteria could be responsible. Microorganisms’ role in the gut-regulating brain function is referred to as the gut-brain axis.
So, how do you improve your gut bacteria population? Some may suggest that taking a probiotic will do the trick. But a new review is showing the answer might not be in a pill or powder, but rather from dietary adjustments.
A research team from Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine in China reviewed 21 studies with more than 1,500 participants to look at the effect of gut bacteria on anxiety. They looked at probiotic methods—food and supplements containing probiotics—and non-probiotic methods (dietary adjustments) on cultivating healthier microbiota to ease anxiety.
The non-probiotic tests had a much bigger impact on improving gut bacteria than focusing on singular probiotic supplements or foods. They found that 80 percent of the non-probiotic methods were effective, compared to just 45 percent of probiotic methods. Therefore, overall diet may play a bigger role in influencing gut bacteria and anxiety symptoms than consuming isolated microorganisms in food or supplements.
It’s possible that an overall healthier diet, as opposed to taking supplements with an unhealthy diet, can affect anxiety and gut bacteria in different ways. A diet high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and whole grains is high in fiber and helps promote and feed a healthy gut microbial population. Further, diets high in fruit and vegetables are associated with lower levels of anxiety than those consisting of processed foods.
A healthy population of gut bacteria can be good for your body and mind. If you’re living with anxiety, it might be worthwhile to pay a little bit more attention to your gut!