Tag Archives: anxiety

How to Reduce Anxiety Naturally: Foods, Supplements, and Techniques That Actually Work

If you’ve ever felt “butterflies in your stomach” or “gone with your gut”, you’re likely getting signals from an unexpected source hidden in the walls of your digestive system.

Scientists call this “second brain” the enteric nervous system (ENS) and it’s made up of two thin layers of more than 100 million nerve cells lining your gastrointestinal tract from your esophagus to your rectum, connected by a giant nerve called the vagus nerve.

How, exactly, does this “gut-brain axis” affect your mental health? What role, if any, do microbes in our gut play in how we feel when we’re stressed and anxious? Can you reduce your anxiety levels just by changing the way you eat? What are some proven strategies you can use for reducing anxiety, starting right now?

We’ll answer all those questions and more in this article.

The Role of the Enteric Nervous System (ENS)

how to reduce anxiety without medicationThe ENS controls digestion, from swallowing to the release of enzymes that break down food to the control of blood flow that helps with nutrient absorption to elimination, according to Jay Pasricha, M.D., director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Neurogastroenterology. Pasricha states:

The enteric nervous system doesn’t seem capable of thought as we know it, but it communicates back and forth with our big brain—with profound results.

The ENS may trigger emotional shifts experienced by people coping with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and functional bowel problems such as constipation, diarrhea, bloating, pain and stomach upset. Dr. Pasricha noted:

For decades, researchers and doctors thought that anxiety and depression contributed to these problems. But our studies and others show that it may also be the other way around.

This means that inflammation in your gut may send signals to the central nervous system (CNS) that trigger mood changes.

But feelings like anger, anxiety, sadness, surprise—all of these (and others) can also be the cause of symptoms in the gut.

With that in mind, let’s explore some strategies proven by research to help you reduce inflammation in your gut, which can help you significantly reduce your stress and anxiety as a result.

What to Eat to Decrease Your Anxiety and Stress Levels

Food plays a vital role in helping to control anxiety and stress. Let’s look at what to eat and what not to eat if you want to reduce your anxiety.

What Not to Eat

  1. Sugar: A diet low in sugar can starve out undesirable bacteria in the gut, leading to a positive effect on the gut-brain axis. Also, anxiety is often associated with hypoglycemia, a condition in which blood sugar drops to an abnormally low level a few hours after a sugary meal or drink. Balancing blood sugar is crucial to keeping symptoms of anxiety at bay.
  2. Saturated Fat: Diets higher in saturated fat and added sugars have been associated with higher anxiety levels.
  3. Alcohol: Drinking booze is also associated with higher levels of anxiety. Moderation is key.

What to Eat

  1. Vegetables and Whole Grains: Studies have found that people who eat more vegetables and non-refined grains are less likely to suffer from anxiety.
  2. Unsaturated fats: A meta-analysis of 14 studies found that people who suffer from depression and anxiety consumed lower levels of healthy monounsaturated fats (from olive oil, fish, and nuts).
  3. Fermented foods: Fermented foods like sauerkraut have beneficial microbes that may play a role in stress, anxiety, and depression. Aim to add a serving or two of fermented vegetables to your diet each day.

Specific diets, such as a low-FODMAP diet (a diet low in carbs and sugars), eliminate certain foods that can produce gas and bloating in IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) patients. But this diet is hard to adhere to and may not be healthy in the long run because you’re forced to eliminate so many beneficial foods.

Supplements That May Help Improve Your Mood and Decrease Feelings of Anxiety

By now, you know that a healthy diet is crucial for physical well-being. Researchers in recent years have also begun to study whether certain supplements can improve gastrointestinal health and your mood.

Here are some of the most promising ones:

1. Probiotics

Probiotics have been shown to help improve the overall balance of your gut flora, leading to a “broad healing effect” in multiple body systems.

Researchers have found that manipulating the gut microbiota with probiotics may help manage symptoms of mental disorders.

And a 2019 review study published in the journal General Psychiatry revealed that over half of the 21 clinical studies included in the review showed positive results in treating anxiety symptoms through regulation of intestinal microbiota.

The review looked at two kinds of interventions (probiotic and non-probiotic interventions). Both probiotic and non-probiotic (diet and exercise) interventions were found to be effective.

It’s important to note that multiple probiotic strains across varying studies were used and contributed to positive outcomes in improving gut-brain connectivity and, hence, anxiety. Diversity is key.

2. Magnesium

Magnesium has been shown in small studies to have a beneficial effect on anxiety symptoms. More research is needed but because of its other many benefits, we highly recommend magnesium as a front-line supplement for most adults.

3. CBD

While human-based research on CBD and anxiety is fairly limited at this point, there are several small studies that have been conducted:

  1. A 1993 study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology followed four groups of 10 people. Groups were given either CBD, Valium, ipsapirone, or placebo. The results suggested that ipsapirone and CBD have anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing) properties in stressful situations.
  2. According to a 2011 study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, “CBD reduces anxiety in social anxiety disorder (SAD).”
  3. A 2015 review published in the journal Neurotherapeutics found that CBD may help improve the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

4. L-lysine and L-arginine

A double-blind, placebo controlled, randomized study showed that taking a combination of the amino acids L-lysine and L-arginine can help reduce mental stress and anxiety.

5. Kava

Kava is a plant extract made from Piper methysticum, a plant native to the western Pacific islands. There is evidence that suggests kava may be a useful way to treat mild anxiety.

How I Have Personally Reduced My Anxiety Dramatically

These are the strategies I have personally used that have been most impactful for reducing and controlling my stress and anxiety:

best sleep dietResearch shows eating a diet high in certain foods (like sugar) is associated with higher anxiety levels. So how do you know what the “right” foods for you are?

My advice: avoid fad diets and one-size-fits-all approaches to nutrition. Different foods affect people different ways and I think we’re entering a very exciting new chapter of personalized nutrition.

To that end, I highly recommend getting a microbiome test from Viome and an allergy test at a physician’s office. These two tests will tell you exactly what foods to eat more of and which ones to avoid based on your unique gut bacteria.

how drinking impacts sleepHaving a drink or two a day may have some longevity benefits … but the problem with drinking alcohol to help ease anxiety is people who do so are more likely to develop a dependence to booze.

Let the record show I still enjoy my glass or two of wine each night but my days of hard drinking are long gone, thankfully, and it has definitely made a difference in my quality of sleep.

You sleep much worse when you’re drunk, by the way, for those of you who still have friends who think they sleep better when they’re inebriated.

sleep gratitude connectionExpressing gratitude is one of the easiest ways to feel better. It’s hard to feel anxious when you’re writing down things you’re grateful for. It’ll help shift your thoughts away from what’s not going well for you now so you can focus more on what is. 

how exercise affects sleepExercise is a “keystone habit,” which means it leads to other healthy habits. When I feel stressed and anxious, working out always helps me feel better (I’m partial to strength training and playing basketball).

It’s no secret that taking care of your body is one of the best ways to quell anxiety and feel better about yourself.

deep breathing for sleep

Your brain may control your body, but the body can also control the brain. Deep breathing is a powerful tool that can be used to shift your brain-state and the stress response quickly.

Research shows deep breathing can help lower cortisol, a stress hormone your body produces when you’re anxious. It can even reduce your heart rate and blood pressure.  There are many different deep breathing techniques you can.

To learn some tools and techniques we recommend for using your breath as a weapon to stop anxiety in its tracks, check out our article How to Breathe Better

creativity for insomniaWhat’s your creative outlet? I love cooking, playing guitar, writing, and gardening. Doing these things makes me happy because I get to create, learn, and improve every single day.

I recommend scheduling time every day (even 5-10 minutes!) to work on something creative. Doing this every day significantly reduced my anxiety.

Through creativity and imagination, we find our identity and our reservoir of healing.

Jeremy Nobel, MD, MPH

best sleep tips for insomniaIf you’re sleep-deprived, you are likely exacerbating your anxiety. Make sleep a priority.

See this guide for details on how to do it: How to Sleep Better.

nature sleep impactStudies show that spending time outside in nature can reduce anxiety and stress levels. So whenever you’re feeling anxious, go take a walk … preferably somewhere with trees and/or green space.

best expert sleep advice everThere’s no better way to feel better, in my humble opinion, than spending quality time with family and friends and bringing your full attention to being with them. That’s the real “secret sauce” to kicking your anxiety to the curb (at least temporarily).

A proactive approach focused on diet, supplements like probiotics, and breathwork may be a good place to start in controlling anxiety. But you should always consult a healthcare professional if you’re dealing with chronic anxiety or depression.

How to Find the Best Probiotics for YOU, According to Science

In this guide, we’ll help you navigate the fascinating yet complex world of probiotics.

We’ll talk about the benefits and risks of probiotics. The best food sources of probiotics. The myths and misconceptions. And what to look for if you decide to take a probiotic supplement.

Away we go …

Download Our FREE Gut Health Guide Here

What Are Probiotics and Why Are They So Popular Right Now?

best vegan probiotics

There are 40 trillion bacterial cells in your body at any given moment (compared to around 30 trillion human cells).

Many of these bacterial organisms live in your gut, part of a stunningly complex network of neurons known as your “microbiome”.

The densest part of your microbiome is in your gut, where about 1,000 species of bacteria feast on complex carbohydrates and fibers you eat.

The microbiome plays an important role in your body …

Scientists have discovered that 70-80 percent of your immune system is controlled by your microbiome and 95 percent of your body’s serotonin—the neurotransmitter that’s the main contributor to your well-being and happiness—is made in your gut, not your brain.

The gut microbiome is largely shaped by what we eat and drink. And the Western diet, with its heavy use of heavily processed foods like refined flour and sugar, actually starves your microbiota, leading to a plethora of health conditions.

That’s why probiotics, these “good”, “friendly” or “healthy” bacteria you can take in supplement form, are so popular now.

The Best Food and Drink Sources of Naturally-Occurring Probiotics

1. Fermented vegetables 

Sauerkraut, pickles, and kimchi are among the most popular natural sources of vegan probiotics. But most of the store brands contain vinegar and preservatives, which kill the beneficial bacteria.

So look for pickled vegetables that are naturally fermented using salt.

Or just make your own.

Personal note: I was inspired to start fermenting vegetables after reading Michael Pollan’s fantastic book, Cooked. All you need is vegetables/fruit, salt, and a fermentation vessel. This is the crock I use if you get serious but when you’re first starting out, any large container will work).

Also, the cellular structure of certain foods makes them act as “superfoods” for good microbes to feed on. These include onions, leeks, Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, dandelion greens, jicama, and peas.

2. Fermented tea 
Kombucha is black tea that’s fermented with sugar. Some store-bought brands also add sugar, which can strengthen harmful microbes like E. coli.

Personal note: I got this kombucha kit and use it to make a fermented tea called Jun that uses green tea and honey instead of black tea and sugar. Here’s how to make it.

3. Sourdough Bread

There is not a more delicious way to enjoy the benefits of probiotics than eating a warm, crusty slice of sourdough bread (assuming you don’t have a gluten sensitivity).

Personal note: I also start making sourdough bread after reading Cooked. Seriously, read the book! Then pick up a sourdough starter and some flour and make this no-knead Cast Iron Sourdough Bread recipe. from the New York Times.

4. Fermented soy

Soy has gotten a bad rap because it’s used so much in processed foods and is one of the top 8 allergens. However, fermented soy products like organic miso, tofu, and soy sauce may actually have some health benefits.

5. Variety

Simple sugars cause conflict between our microbes and cells, but eating a variety of vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains encourages cooperation between them. Gregory Plotnifkoff, MD, coauthor of Trust Your Gut recommends adhering to the old Japanese adage of eating at least 30 different whole foods per day!

6. Supplements

Eating 30 different foods can be a challenge for time-strapped folks though. That’s where probiotic supplements may help.

How to Find the Best Probiotic Supplements for Your Health Needs

healthiest probiotics for vegansNot all probiotics strains are the same. Different strains offer different benefits and some probiotic strains survive manufacturing processes, shelf life and digestive transit better than others. When choosing a probiotic consider the following questions:

  1. Is it derived from dairy? 4 out of every 5 probiotic supplements contain dairy-based derivatives. This isn’t just bad news for vegans. Why?Because up to 65 percent of adults are lactose intolerant, which means milk-based probiotics can make things worse for those with dairy sensitivities. On top of that, dairy-based probiotics are often only shelf stable for a few days. After this, the bacteria start to die. So, you have to take more of them to feel any effect. Choose “plant-based” or vegan probiotics instead. The product packaging or company website should tell you if the probiotic supplement you’re considering is from vegan / plant based sources.
  2. Does your probiotic survive stomach acid and/or manufacturing? As mentioned, most don’t. Certain strains fare better than others. Always ask the manufacturer of your probiotic if they have any clinical research to support their product. Just because they sell a popular strain, doesn’t mean their probiotic are live and active.
  3. Is your probiotic tested for safety and potency? The FDA doesn’t require probiotic companies to test their bacteria strains. So naturally, most don’t do it. Probiotic contamination is a big deal though. If your probiotic manufacturer doesn’t have strict quality control measures in place, your probiotic may be doing more harm than good. And, many of these beneficial bacteria die during processing because of the harsh processing methods most manufacturers use. Make sure the company you buy from tests its probiotics for safety and potency and can provide documentation to prove it.
  4. Is your probiotic backed by peer-reviewed clinical studies? Don’t trust marketing claims on product labels and websites. Even most clinical data large probiotic companies cite is funded by the companies themselves. Your probiotic should be backed by randomized, double-blind, peer-reviewed clinical studies (the gold standard in scientific research) whenever possible if the company makes any claims about its benefits.
  5. Does your probiotic contain fillers, preservatives, allergens, and artificial ingredients? The answer is usually yes, but manufacturers are very good at hiding this information. The only way to know is to ask them what “excipients” are in it and what purpose those serve.
  6. Does your probiotic contain prebiotic fiber and digestive enzymes? Prebiotics are essentially “food” that probiotics feast on. They help make probiotics more effective once they reach your intestines and colon. Digestive enzymes can help you digest all foods better, so often times you’ll see supplements that contain these as well.
  7. What health challenges are you facing? Different strains of probiotics offer different types of benefits. Don’t just buy a probiotic without understanding the type or types of strains it contains—otherwise you’re very likely wasting your money. For example, I suffer from GI issues, so I make sure I take strains that help me with those.

The Number One Myth About Probiotics

If you’ve shopped for probiotics before, you’ve probably noticed one statistic that all probiotics emphasize on the bottle, the CFU count. CFUs, or colony forming units, are the number of live probiotic bacteria that are supposed to be in each serving.

Some companies pack tens or even hundreds of billions of CFUs per dose. But what they don’t tell you is that most of these bacteria are going to die before they ever reach your small intestine (where they exert  the most benefits).

Probiotic companies have pushed CFU count as the singular point of comparison for the uninformed. In a way, this makes sense because it gives buyers an easy number that they can use to compare competing products.

But more CFUs does not always mean more effective! And in some cases, more can be worse.

The National Institutes of Health states:

Many probiotic supplements contain 1 to 10 billion CFU per dose, but some products contain up to 50 billion CFU or more. However, higher CFU counts do not necessarily improve the product’s health effects.

How Many CFUs Do You Really Need?

CFU numbers on probiotic supplements can vary anywhere from several million to 50 billion, but  research has shown that effective probiotic dosage for general gut health seems to be in the range of 10 million to one billion CFUs per day in humans.

Another thing to keep in mind is that multi-strain probiotics will help you achieve better results than single-strain probiotics. Different probiotic strains excel at different mechanisms, so diversified collection of strains is ideal for overall health.

The Best Time to Take Probiotics

Research shows you can take probiotics before, during, or after meals. However, you may experience additional benefits if you take your probiotics with some form of healthy fats (avocado, olive oil, etc.).

Health Benefits of Probiotics

Let’s look at some of the strain-specific benefits of probiotics …

Sleep Benefits of Probiotics

We spend almost a third of our lives asleep. Researchers are discovering that the duration and quality of our sleep affect everything from our cognitive performance, mood, and memory to the health of our immune and endocrine systems.

It’s widely known that quality sleep can improve your memory, reduce inflammation (the pre-cursor to most disease), sharpen your mental focus, help you control your weight, and lower your stress levels.

Probiotics (beneficial bacteria) produce and regulate a number of neurotransmitters and hormones that impact our sleep:

Tryptophan and Melatonin: Probiotics can increase blood levels of tryptophan, an amino acid that converts into serotonin and then into melatonin, the hormone that regulates how sleepy you feel.

Serotonin: Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps to regulate mood and plays a significant role in sleep quality. Researchers found that serotonin deficiency in rats led to disrupted sleep-wake cycles. Most serotonin is made in the gut.

GABA: Beneficial bacteria help produce GABA, the calming brain chemical, as well as enhance its brain receptors.

Cortisol: If temporary stress and anxiety are the cause of your sleepless nights, rest assured that probiotics may even lower levels of cortisol, a hormone that becomes elevated during times of stress.

So what probiotic strains have been shown to be effective for sleep? Not many, just yet.

A small study showed that the probiotic Streptococcus can help improve sleep outcomes.

Mental Health Benefits of Probiotics

The relationship between the microbiota and anxiety/depression has been studied mainly in animals … but preliminary research is promising.

Your gut microbiota plays a major role in the communication between the gut and the brain.

A review of several research studies showed that certain probiotics have antidepressant and anti-anxiety properties. The researchers concluded:

Regulation of the gut microbiota using diet, probiotics and FMT (fecal microbiota transplantation) may have important benefits for preventing and treating depression.

Weight Loss Benefits of Probiotics

In a metaanalysis of over 800 studies, researchers found that:

Administration of probiotics resulted in a significantly larger reduction in body weight and fat percentage compared with placebo; however, the effect sizes were small.

Immunity Benefits

Research is still emerging in this area but it appears probiotics may be able to help you keep your immune system functioning at a higher level.

New research has shown that certain strains can activate health immune cells and decrease inflammation.

Gut Health Benefits

Several probiotic strains have been shown to help those suffering from GI issues like diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), irritable bowl disease (IBD), and food allergies.

Safety and Side Effects of Probiotics

According to the National Institutes of Health, the safety of probiotics depends on the state of your health and the strain you’re using.

In people who are generally healthy, probiotics have a solid safety record. Side effects, if they occur at all, usually consist only of mild digestive symptoms such as gas.

On the other hand, there have been reports linking some probiotics to severe side effects, such as dangerous infections, in people with serious underlying medical problems. The people who are most at risk of severe side effects include critically ill patients, those who have had surgery, very sick infants, and people with weakened immune systems.

Do your homework and ask your doctor about any certain strains so she/he can tell you whether it’s safe for you.

Bottom Line About Probiotics

the best probioticsFrom the day you were born, your digestive tract has been exposed to a steady stream of bacteria–some helpful, some harmful. One key to gastrointestinal (GI) health is maintaining a balance of these “good” and “bad” bacteria.

Over time, diet, aging, antibiotic use, travel, medications, illness, stress, and hormonal changes can disrupt your intestinal balance.

Keeping a healthy level of these “good” bacteria is key to maintaining your digestive and immune health.

To help level the playing field of good and bad bacteria, many people find it helpful to add a daily supplement or eat more probiotic fortified foods and beverages.

Like most industries, the market for probiotics is ripe with crappy products. The only way to know if your probiotic is legit is to answer the 6 questions above. If a manufacturer is hesitant to provide any information you ask for, that’s a big red flag for an inferior product that could do more harm than good.

10 minutes of research makes a world of difference when it comes to choosing the right probiotic supplement for you.

Learn More About Pure Food DIGEST (Probiotics + Prebiotics + Digestive Enzymes

Sources Not Linked to Above/Further Reading:

https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Probiotics-HealthProfessional/

https://www.health.harvard.edu/vitamins-and-supplements/health-benefits-of-taking-probiotics

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/strange-but-true-humans-carry-more-bacterial-cells-than-human-ones/

https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/14598-probiotics

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10564096

https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052970204468004577164732944974356

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/gut-second-brain/

https://www.the-rheumatologist.org/details/article/1386089/The_Microbiome.html

https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/gut-week-do-probiotics-work-are-they-good-for-me/ 

https://experiencelife.com/article/how-to-heal-a-leaky-gut/