"Overall, 11 studies showed a positive effect on anxiety symptoms by regulating intestinal microbiota, which indicated 52 percent of the 21 studies were effective, and there were five studies that used probiotic supplements as interventions and six used non-probiotic interventions," the study authors write. Probiotics can help, but so can eating a diet rich in fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, yogurt, miso, and tempeh.
While the authors say that more research needs to be done—anxiety and its causes are complicated—this meta-analysis provides more evidence that there is a relationship between mental health and gastrointestinal health. It's still unclear why the relationship exists, but a previous mouse study in 2017 showed there may be a link between gastrointestinal microbes and gene regulators in the brain. Those researchers found that bacteria in the gut influences the amygdala (the brain's center for emotional processing) and the prefrontal cortex (which, in part, regulates the consolidation and extinction of social fear). Not only does this reinforce the mind-gut connection, but it suggests that the part of the mind the gut affects is in part our emotional center.
It's important to note that diet is not the only way to address anxiety; there are many factors, from life circumstances to lack of sleep, that contribute to anxiety and other mental health issues. If you're struggling with anxiety, it's crucial to seek out a mental health professional to help understand what's going on. But the science is becoming more clear that diet could play at least part of the solution.
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