Gut-brain Axis


We’ve all heard of the term ‘gut feeling’ or ‘gut instinct’ and we have all felt that feeling in our stomach when we feel anxious, worried or stressed about something. Our gut and how it communicates with our brain via the gut-brain axis plays a significant role when it comes to our anxiety levels. Only in last 15 years has science started to prove the connection between the gut and the brain. Our gut has its own nervous system (your enteric nervous system) and it works just like neurons in our brain. In 1998, Professor Michael Gershon labelled our gut our ‘second brain’ as our gut is rich in neurotransmitters, communicating messages to the brain via the vagus nerve. In fact, gut tissue is very similar to brain tissue and interestingly, for every one nerve fibre going from the brain to the gut there are nine going from the gut to the brain, so the gut is really telling brain what to do, not the other way round.


Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that pass information from neuron to neuron in our nervous system across synapses. If there is enough of the neurotransmitter then the message gets passed across the synapse, but if the neurotransmitter is in short supply then communication from neuron to neuron does not occur.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter. Sometimes known as our ‘happy molecule’, serotonin helps to regulate mood and social behaviour, appetite and digestion, memory and sleep. Research has proven that people suffering from anxiety or depression have low levels of serotonin.

There are some prescribed antidepressants which are called SSRI’s (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) which help to increase the levels of serotonin in the synapses of the nervous system and so aiding communication throughout the nervous system. However, there are other ways of increasing the serotonin in our bodies without medication.

Nutrition for anxiety

Interestingly, a large percentage of people who suffer from anxiety, also have digestive disorders. This may be because 90% of our serotonin is made in our gut. In our gut we house trillions of microbes and, by choosing the right foods, we are their provider and protector. One of the roles of our gut microbes is to clean and maintain the integrity of the gut wall, where our serotonin is made. If we eat the wrong foods and negatively affect our gut microbes and our digestive system, then this will reduce production of serotonin. Research has proven that a disturbed gut results in an increase in anxiety.

In order to keep our gut healthy and hence our serotonin levels (and other important chemical messengers) in check, there is a simple process to follow which includes reducing foods known to be inflammatory to the gut and increasing foods which we know are beneficial to gut health. To find out how you can reduce your anxiety by making some important dietary changes, please get in touch.

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