While it’s common knowledge that anxiety is caused by a mental disorder, did you know that it can also be caused by physical factors? In fact, research has uncovered a connection between anxiety and your digestive system, “a group of organs that includes the mouth, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, small intestine, colon, and rectum” (NYU, 2018), otherwise known as the gut.
The gut and the brain communicate
Your gut and your brain communicate by sending signals back and forth through nerves and hormones. This communication is important because it helps you regulate your food intake by knowing when and how much to eat. There is also a psychological component as “[the] gut may inform the brain of a stressor, and the brain will do the same for the gut.”
Hormones in your gut control your mood
Serotonin is a hormone that regulates your mood and emotions. In addition to all of the nerve endings found in your gut, “[it] also produces more than 90 percent of the body’s serotonin” (NYU, 2018). Because of this, stress has a negative impact on our digestive system – often causing bloating, heartburn, changes in weight or triggering symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
The mental health connection
Researchers at the University of Cork (Ireland) found that certain genes responsible for encoding proteins (known as gene regulators) “play a fundamental role in anxiety illnesses and are impacted by bacterial levels in the gut” (Power of Positivity, 2009-2015). In this study, the gene regulator microRNA (miRNA) “caused a high level of anxiety in mice lacking proper gut bacteria [and] injecting miRNA into mice eased previous anxiety symptoms” (Power of Positivity, 2009-2015). To regulate the miRNA it was necessary for there to be a balance of healthy gut bacteria. Because it has such a big impact on the mice, researchers feel that regulating miRNA can eventually help treat anxiety in humans.
Division of Gastroenterology & Hepatology. (2018). Your Gut Feeling: A Healthier Digestive System Means a Healthier You. Retrieved February 2018, from med.nyu.edu: https://med.nyu.edu/medicine/gastro/about-us/gastroenterology-news-archive/your-gut-feeling-healthier-digestive-system-means-healthier
Komaroff, A. L. (2010-2018). The gut-brain connection. Retrieved February 2018, from Harvard Health Publishing: https://www.health.harvard.edu/DISEASES-AND-CONDITIONS/THE-GUT-BRAIN-CONNECTION
MNT Editorial Team. (2017, December 12). What Causes Anxiety? Retrieved February 2018, from Medical News Today: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/info/anxiety/what-causes-anxiety.php
Power of Positivity. (2009-2015). Researchers Explain How Your Gut Bacteria Causes Anxiety, According to Science. Retrieved February 2018, from Power of Positivity: https://www.powerofpositivity.com/youre-suffering-anxiety-might-gut-bacterias-fault/
WebMD. (2018). Causes of Anxiety. Retrieved February 2018, from WebMD: https://www.webmd.com/anxiety-panic/guide/causes-anxiety