Anxiety and the Gut

April 30th, 2018 by Loretta Lanphier, NP, CN, CH, HHP

Anxiety and the Gut

Most likely we have all used something called “gut instinct” as a tool for deciding what we should and shouldn’t do in specific situations. When making decisions, have you ever been a bit anxious or nervous and felt like butterflies were using your stomach as their main flight path? The human gut is frequently called the “second brain,” and for very good reasons. Research now shows a definite link between anxiety and the gut and how this link is directly influenced by the good and bad bacteria in the gut. Harmful bacteria is known to ramp up anxiety and several studies have shown that probiotics can have the opposite effect. With this research we know that the gut, and not just the brain, is one of the chief instigators of anxiety.

Anxiety affects nearly 40 million people in the United States. Nearly seven million adults and one in eight children have been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder.

Anxiety and the Gut Link

Gastrointestinal disorders are often linked with anxiety and mood issues. In fact, researchers hypothesize that affected people could improve anxiety symptoms greatly just by balancing the microbiota in their gut with more beneficial bacteria. Speculation about other mental issues, such as autism, has also been convincingly linked with imbalances in intestinal flora.

Gut bacteria are also responsible for a number of metabolic and biological processes within the body. Brain health and mood balance is something that is extremely affected by the balance of good bacteria in the intestinal flora. In one 2010 study at McMaster University in Canada, published in the journal Communicative and Integrative Biology, scientists found a link between intestinal microbiota and anxiety-like behavior. They observed just how commanding the gut is at influencing brain chemistry and behavior.

The researchers, in this study, upset normal gut bacteria count in healthy mice by dispensing antibiotics, bacteria-killing medicines that destroy all bacteria in its path — including good bacteria. Following disruption of the normal flora balance, mice became less cautious, and changes in the animals’ brain-derived neurotrophic factor — a protein associated with mood disorders — increased significantly. Upon halting the antibiotics, gut bacteria normalized and brain chemistry was restored to pre-study levels.

“The gut bacteria talk to the brain in multiple ways through either the immune system or the enteric nervous system. It’s sort of like if you imagine a mesh network and you took your intestinal tract and wrapped that like a hot dog bun outside a hot dog. There are more neurons that directly surround your GI tract than in the whole spinal cord.”
Jane Foster, associate professor of neuroscience and behavioral science – McMaster University & Brain-Body Institute

Researchers also noted that, while many factors play a role in dictating mood and mental health, bacteria in the gut strongly influences behavior and can be noticeably disrupted during antibiotic administration. This conclusion leads many to believe that the use of probiotics, beneficial bacteria found to influence serotonin levels, the immune system, and digestion, may be a helpful therapeutic tool for behavioral disorders.

Serotonin: Your Gut’s Mood-Boosting Neurotransmitter

Roughly 90% of serotonin is found in the intestinal tract, and around 5-10% in your brain. In fact, a healthy intestinal tract may correlate with healthy levels of serotonin, a monoamine neurotransmitter responsible for controlling mood. Nearly 1 trillion bacteria live in your gut and close to 100 million neurons also reside in your intestines, discharging the myth that our neural health is manipulated only by the brain. When it comes down to it, keeping your entire body healthy is the only way to support a good mood balance.

DID YOU KNOW? Key life transitions — adolescence and menopause, for example — are when “big changes” are going on in the gut-brain relationship and probiotics might be helpful in building stronger resilience.

Mental Health Support Via a Healthy Gut

anxiety and the gutSustaining good digestive health by eating natural foods, particularly those with good probiotic qualities as well as drinking adequate amounts of purified water, may be very beneficial for encouraging good mental health. Daily exercise, daily sunlight, and increasing your probiotic intake may be helpful ways to boost your serotonin levels and support a good mood naturally.

If you are searching for a high-quality probiotic supplement, my family and I use and highly recommend Floratrex™. Floratrex provides a blend of over twenty of the most beneficial probiotic strains as well as prebiotics to help them flourish. Have you noticed any mental or emotional effects when you include probiotics as part of your overall nutritional protocol? Do you feel less anxious when you’re eating healthy and maintaining an overall healthy lifestyle? Let me know your experience by commenting below.


  1. Emmanuel Denou, Wendy Jackson, Jun Lu, Patricia Blennerhassett, Kathy McCoy, Elena F. Verdu, Stephen M. Collins, Premysl Bercik. The Intestinal Microbiota Determines Mouse Behavior and Brain BDNF Levels. Gastroenterology, Vol. 140, Issue 5, Supplement 1, Page S-57.
  2. Helena MRT Parracho, Max O Bingham, Glenn R Gibson and Anne L McCartney. Differences between the gut microflora of children with autistic spectrum disorders and that of healthy children. Journal of Medical Microbiology. October 2005 vol. 54 no. 10 987-991. doi: 10.1099/jmm.0.46101-0.
  3. Timothy G. Dinan, Catherine Stanton, John F. Cryan. Psychobiotics: A Novel Class of Psychotropic. Biological Psychiatry, 2013; 74 (10): 720 DOI:10.1016/j.biopsych.2013.05.001.
  4. F De Ponti. Pharmacology of serotonin: what a clinician should know. Gut. October 2004; 53(10): 1520-1535.
  5. Simon N. Young. How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs. Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience. November 2007; 32(6): 394-399.
  6. Bravo, J.A. et al (2011) Ingestion of Lactobacillus strain regulates emotional behavior and central GABA receptor expression in a mouse via the vagus nerve. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
  7. Anxiety Disorder Statistics.
Loretta Lanphier is a Naturopathic Practitioner (Traditional), Certified Clinical Nutritionist, Holistic Health Practitioner and Certified Clinical Herbalist as well as the CEO / Founder of Oasis Advanced Wellness in The Woodlands TX. She has studied and performed extensive research in health science, natural hormone balancing, anti-aging techniques, nutrition, natural medicine, weight loss, herbal remedies, non-toxic cancer support and is actively involved in researching new natural health protocols and products. A 14 year stage 3 colon cancer survivor, Loretta is able to relate to both-sides-of-the-health-coin as patient and practitioner when it comes to health and wellness. “My passion is counseling others about what it takes to keep the whole body healthy using natural and non-toxic methods.” Read Loretta’s health testimony Cancer: The Path to Healing. Loretta is Contributor and Editor of the worldwide E-newsletter Advanced Health & Wellness. Check out Oasis Advanced Wellness and our natural skin care products Oasis Serene Botanicals.

†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. Oasis Advanced Wellness/OAWHealth does not dispense medical advice, prescribe, or diagnose illness. The views and nutritional advice expressed by Oasis Advanced Wellness/OAWHealth are not intended to be a substitute for conventional medical service. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician of choice.

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