The Gut-Brain Connection: Healthy Gut, Healthy Mind?

September 12, 2019



Have you ever had “gut-wrenching experiences” or “butterflies in your stomach”?

We don’t use those expressions because they’re more dramatic and help us embrace our inner divi-queens, they were created for a reason.

Your gut is super sensitive to emotions. Feelings of stress, anxiety and sadness can trigger uncomfortable symptoms in your gut (aka. Indigestion, diarrhoea, constipation, nausea, cramping, etc).

So the next time you feel queasy nausea churning in the pits of your belly or the sudden urgency of an impending poop-attack…it may not be the food you’ve just eaten, it may be the fact you’re on an awkward first date, about to face your boss, worrying about something or drowning in endless to-do lists.

This is why your gut is labelled your second brain. 

But did you know, your gut-brain connection actually works both ways. Yes your emotions (stress, anxiety, depression) can trigger gut symptoms, but your gut and how it’s functioning can also increase your risk of experiencing anxiety and depression. 


Holy macaroni, right?!


Your gut communicates back and forth with your brain all day long, so it makes sense that it has to influence how it operates in some shape or form. And it does, massively.

Current research shows there are three ways the gut influences the brain:

#1. Neural pathways

These are your nerves that connect from your brain to your gut. The big player here is your vagus nerve which has nerve endings all along your digestive tract, but also activates the areas in the brain that control mood (amygdala (fear centre), hypothalamus (master regulator) and bed of nucleus of the stria terminalis).

#2. Metabolic pathways

Metabolic chemicals such as hormones and neurotransmitters which either influence the end of your nerves in your gut to send a signal to the brain or are absorbed into your body, travel in your blood and cross your blood brain barrier and enter your brain.

#3. Immune pathways

Cells that form part of your immune system or inflammatory metabolites (such as lipopolysaccharides) which also either interact with the end of your nerves in your gut or are absorbed into your body and end up crossing your blood brain barrier.

And who influences all three of the above? Who can interact with your nerves, can produce metabolic chemicals and can influence immune cell and inflammatory metabolite production?

Your gut bacteria.

I’m sure you’ve heard of dysbiosis (aka. an imbalance between the good beneficial bacteria and the bad bacteria) being a huge cause of IBS, diarrhoea, constipation, bloating, gut pain, and really any gut issue.

Well, research has also identified that:

  • The severity and duration of gut pain is associated with elevated anxiety.
  • Anxiety frequently co-occurs with IBS and inflammatory bowel disease.
  • Antibiotic use increases the risk of developing anxiety later in life.
  • Infections in the gut (eg. gastro or food poisoning) has been associated with an increased risk of developing anxiety within the next 2 years.

So doesn’t it stand to reason that a huge causative factor of these gut conditions (aka. gut dysbiosis), may also be an influencing factor of anxiety, depression and stress?

The answer is yes.

One particular study (double blind, randomised controlled) assessed 55 humans who either took a probiotic with Lactobacillus helveticus R0052 and Bifidobacterium longum R0175 or a placebo tablet for 30 days.

At the end of the 30 days, those who were taking the probiotic had:

  • Improved depression, anger hostility and somatisation (Hopkins Symptom checklist-90 assessment)
  • Improved anxiety (HADS-A assessment)
  • Reduction in self blame and increased problem solving abilities 
  • Reduced 24 hour urinary cortisol (stress hormone measurement) while the placebo group did not change.

Honestly, I used to be amazed at the strength of an ant for its size but these minuscule bacteria blow ants out of the water with how brilliant they are!


My take home?

Suffering from anxiety, depression or heightened stress isn’t purely a psychological issue. Your health, and in this case your gut health and what bacteria are in your gut, also heavily influence your risk and susceptibility of experiencing mood changes too.

If you’re doing all the right things to improve your mindset and belief systems, but just aren’t getting relief from your anxiety, then have a look at your gut. Because if your gut function and your gut bacteria are constantly working against you to create an anxiety-prone brain, then you may always be prone to experiencing those flares of anxiety and panic.

My Anxiety Program is coming soon (I actually cannot contain my excitement to finally share it with you!) and because the gut and bacteria are an integral part in transforming your anxiety and finding freedom in life, they form part of the program. I’ve opened up a handful of Anxiety Transformation calls in the lead up to the program launch in October, so if you want to learn more – book a call! 


Please remember not all probiotics are the same. For anxiety and depression, Lactobacillus helveticus R0052 and Bifidobacterium longum R0175 are the strains indicated, while a different bacterial strain such as Bifidobacterium longum BB536 is indicated for allergic rhinitis, high cholesterol, eczema, immune enhancement and gastric bypass recovery…with no evidence this particular bacteria directly influences your mood. Check out my blog on probiotics here if you want to know more and avoid having expensive poo!

1 Comment

  1. Jo Adams

    I remember you telling me about this some months ago, but recent events has really proved it. when my anxiety and depression goes bonkers (I call it “having an episode”) my gut plays up something cruel – even tho I am trying to watch what I eat. and the Poop Attacks – my lord !!!! knowledge is power and the more I find out about things, the more it helps me to “live” thank you Sara xox


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Sarah Chelle naturopath

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