GENERICO.ruScienceScientists have discovered how gut health affects mental health

Scientists have discovered how gut health affects mental health

Anxiety disorders can also be treated with the help of bacteria

More than 300 million people in the world, according to WHO, suffer from one or another anxiety disorder. The number of such patients has increased 1.5 times since the COVID pandemic. And this is only according to official data. Unofficially, every third person in the world experiences symptoms of anxiety disorders.

Recent research by scientists has shown that the origin of anxiety occurs not in the head, but in… the intestines. Therefore, today it is proposed to treat anxiety by improving bowel function. Experts spoke about this during a scientific conference held in Moscow.

Anxiety disorders can also be treated with bacteria Photo: ru.freepik .com

Where is the root of anxiety disorders? In recent years, researchers are increasingly inclined to believe that it should be looked for in the intestines. However, at the beginning of the last century, psychiatrist John Porter Phillips, working with his patients, drew attention to the poor color of their faces, brittle nails, and poor hair condition. He conducted a bold experiment: he changed the diet of his wards, reducing the amount of animal protein and increasing the amount of vegetables and dairy products. The doctor was amazed that after just three months on the new diet, 11 of his 18 patients recovered, and two more showed improvement in their condition. “Recent scientific global reviews show that dietary strategies make a positive contribution to the treatment of depression and anxiety. The basis of such diets is the inclusion of fiber and fermented milk products in the diet,” says clinical nutritionist Anastasia Pekhova.

Gastrointestinal diseases are closely related to signals from the central nervous system. They can inhibit the production of pancreatic enzymes, reduce intestinal motility, etc.

Psychologist, neuropsychologist Tatyana Uryvnikova says that anxiety disorders today are detected in 15-61% of patients with functional gastrointestinal pathology (irritable bowel syndrome, dyspepsia, etc.) and up to 80% of patients with anxiety disorders complain of gastrointestinal disorders, including , increased peristalsis. “Because intestinal bacteria produce  neurotransmitters, the gut can influence the brain. The intestines, weakened by constant sympathetic activity, may begin to work poorly, and vice versa,” says Tatyana Uryvnikova.

Today, doctors are attaching increasing importance to the enteric nervous system (ENS). It is believed that the central nervous system is more responsible for thinking, and the enteric system is  for feelings and emotions;  it can work autonomously and make decisions on its own (for example, it can signal the intestines to sleep).

The ENS consists of a network of neurons that lines the entire gastrointestinal tract, like a stocking. And the number of neurons produced by the gastrointestinal tract is greater than that of the peripheral nervous system or the spinal cord. Thus, it is known that 90% of serotonin and 50% of dopamine are produced by the enteric nervous system.

“More than 90% of the signals passing through the nervous system go upward – from the intestines to the brain; therefore, the state of the intestines and its microbiota determines what kind of signals these are.” So anxiety is born in the intestines, – says Anastasia Pekhova. – The microbiota regulates both mood and psycho-emotional state.”

Therefore, scientists have come to the conclusion that anxiety disorders can be treated with the help of bacteria. By the way, recent studies have shown that popular antidepressants not only produce serotonin, but also have an antimicrobial effect (suppress the growth of streptococci and have powerful antifungal activity). Therefore, patients on antidepressants simultaneously improve their intestinal condition.

And the very latest know-how is psychobiotics. We're talking about a new class of probiotics that may have an impact on mental health.

So how can we influence our anxiety through the gut?

As Anastasia Pekhova says, it is necessary to reduce the use of antibiotics whenever possible (which, unfortunately, is not always possible). By worsening the state of the intestinal microflora, they also worsen the mental state.

The second important point is a complete diet with the inclusion of all types of fiber (oligosaccharides, insulin, pectin, chitosan, etc.) “Only fiber is capable of increasing our own microbiota,” experts say.

“If until now you have eaten few vegetables and fruits, and most Russians are deficient in them, then the amount of fiber in the diet should be increased gradually,” advises Ekaterina Veselova, an expert at the International Institute of Integrative Nutrition. – Fiber helps to bring to the optimal amount of friendly intestinal microflora, which helps produce neurotransmitters. However, you cannot sharply increase fiber – this is also food for bacteria, so if you start eating vegetables in large quantities one day, this will lead to bloating and  other unpleasant symptoms. 

Slowly try to add various sources of fiber to each meal, and these are carrots, beets, pumpkin, all types of cruciferous vegetables (any type of cabbage), greens. It’s better to start with thermally processed vegetables, and then you can switch to raw ones. 

Well, experts also recommend bringing the protein content in the diet to the optimum. Its excess also interferes with the balance of microflora. And even healthy protein bars can have a negative impact in this regard.


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