Woman looking down at body of water

Photo courtesy of @vitaly/Twenty20

It may sometimes feel like your anxiety is all in your head — but it turns out, it might actually be in your gut.

The microbiome (AKA the bacteria ecosystem that exists in your body) has built up buzz in the wellness world, and for good reason: It impacts everything from digestion to the immune system.

And thanks to recent research, scientists have established a connection between gut health and mental health. It might sound crazy, but just think about where you feel your nerves when you’ve got a big presentation at work. (Nope, it’s not actually butterflies in there.)

What they’ve found is that GABA, an amino acid that is basically a chill pill for your brain, is created in part with the help of healthy germs. Plus, probiotics prep brain receptors for the vital neurotransmitter as well, meaning that they work both sides of the happy-thoughts equation.

So whether you’re just dealing with a stomach that’s doing flips or trying to get a handle on out-of-control anxiety, including gut-boosting habits to your daily regimen could pay serious dividends. Not sure where to start? Here are four science-backed ways to get your gut health on.

1. Update your diet

Considering that you feed your belly all day, every day, it’s an easy habit tweak that can have a major impact. Focus on adding foods that allow good bacteria to flourish, in particular fermented or cultured products. That includes everything from miso and tempeh to kombucha and kimchi. Yogurt is also a gut BFF — but only if it includes one of the probiotic strains (Opens in a new window) that’s been vetted by the pros, because not all microbes are made equal. Another thing to keep an eye on is fiber intake (Opens in a new window)—it’s been associated with a happy gut, so if you’re not currently hitting national guidelines (30 – 38 grams a day for men, 21 – 25 grams a day for women), you may want to sprinkle some flax seed on your yogurt or add some black beans to your dinner.

2. Pop a probiotic

If you’re not able to reliably incorporate better-belly foods into your lunch bowl, consider taking a daily probiotic. According to an article published by Harvard Medical School (Opens in a new window), there have been several studies that have shown that probiotics can reduce stress-related behavior.” Not only do they support the production of GABA neurotransmitters, but they also have a positive impact on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which is believed to be key in causing mood disorders, and help to reduce inflammation in the body and the brain. 

3. Cut the sweet talk

As if you needed another reason to scale back on your sugar, the ingredient could lead to a yeast build-up, which a Psychology Today article (Opens in a new window) noted alter[s] the ability to absorb nutrients and push hypersensitivity reactions of toxin by-products which translates to inflammation of the body,” adding that inflammation will greatly contribute to depression, anxiety, and poor mental function.” Sugar may not be as sweet anymore.

4. Get your shut-eye

Doing nothing can actually have a huge impact on your health — and that includes the well-being of your microbiome. When you get enough sleep (reminder: the National Sleep Foundation (Opens in a new window) recommends 7 – 9 hours a night), your body is able to repair the intestinal lining — which, you guessed it, helps create the sort of environment that would make good bacteria want to hang for a while. 

Articles from The Natural should not be considered medical advice. If you have any questions about your health, please consult a medical professional.