Is Your Gut Bacteria Making You Anxious? 5 Important Steps to Eat Your Way to Less Anxiety and More Peace

link to artcle about how the gut microbiome affects anxiety

By Susan Yuen,

Marriage and Family Therapist,

Certified Nutrition Specialist

Midtown Sacramento

September 4, 2019

Is Your Gut Bacteria Making You Anxious?
5 Important Steps to Eat Your Way to Less Anxiety and More Peace

a fearful woman in black and white

Have you ever taken antibiotics? Drank tap water? Ate processed foods? Like most people, you probably answered yes to all three. These are some of the actions that can contribute to what is known as intestinal permeability or leaky gut. Leaky gut is getting a lot of airtime these days, and for good reason. Most people have some level of leaky gut. This can contribute to a host of health complications such as psoriasis, achy joints, migraines, depression, and anxiety to name a few. Leaky gut occurs when your intestinal lining receives small tears that over time allow toxins into the bloodstream and thus cause health complications.


Take a Ride on the Gut–Brain Axis to the Land of Calm

a long road going into a sunsetThe gut-brain axis is a term used to describe the communication networks between your gut and your brain. Your brain has chemicals called neurotransmitters that communicate with the entire body including the gut. Neurotransmitters play a significant role in mood and overall feelings of wellness. For example, serotonin is known to help with feelings of happiness and when low, can contribute to feelings of sadness or anxiety. Another mood related neurotransmitter, Gamma Amino Butyric Acid (GABA), is an inhibitory neurotransmitter and when it is low it can contribute to high levels of worry/anxiety and muscle tension.

magnifying glass viewing gut bacteriaStress can affect the communication between your brain and gut by reducing the number of beneficial gut bacteria. Your gut contains trillions of beneficial microbes that also play a role in your mood. It has been said that we are more microbial than human! The gut microbiome contributes to detoxification, modifies the immune system, protects against infection, and secretes neurotransmitters. Based on the numerous roles of the gut microbiome, it is evident that a healthy gut flora is critical for a healthy person.

Short Chain Fatty Acids (SCFAs) are produced by your gut microbes when you eat foods containing fiber. SCFAs have been found to improve leaky gut and to decrease levels of anxiety and stress. Thus, eating more foods with fiber can improve your levels of SCFAs and in turn improve your mood.


STEP 1– Include more foods with fiber in your diet to improve your mood- Foods such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, and non-gluten containing grains can elevate your mood!

Boost your Mood with Psychobiotics

a yogurtPsychobiotics is the relatively new term coined for the strains of bacteria that have been found to have beneficial effects on mood by stimulating or promoting the synthesis of neurotransmitters. For example, Greener (1) reports in preclinical studies the Bifidobacterium longum1714 strain has been found to decrease stress and anxiety and improve cognition. Also, the strain Lactobacillus rhamnosus JB-1 was found to reduce anxiety-like behavior and reduce cortisol levels in mice, and increased levels of the neurotransmitter GABA.  Thus, there is a symbiotic relationship between certain bacteria and the synthesis of neurotransmitters that impacts our mood. This highlights the importance of maintaining a healthy gut flora in order to have a healthy mood. There is still much research to be completed in this arena, but it currently appears that the improving the gut flora is very promising route to rectifying challenges with anxiety.

STEP 2–  Include probiotic foods, prebiotic foods, and probiotic supplements in your diet.

It is generally agreed upon that probiotics can be very beneficial for most people as they can affect multiple systems of the body in a positive way. There are several options for getting more probiotics into your diet. You can eat fermented vegetables (organic and in the refrigerated section will have the most activity) – Think kimchi and sauerkraut! These are found in the refrigerated section of the natural food section or at health food stores. Low sugar yogurt (less than 5 g serving), kevita, kvass, and kombuchu (search out low sugar versions) can all aid in increasing the healthy flora in your gut.

You can even eat foods that are considered prebiotics- or foods that help increase the production of beneficial gut bacteria. These are foods such as garlic, chickpeas, leeks, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, and green bananas.

There are multiple options of probiotic supplements, but in general steer away from the “cheapest” and ask your health food store staff for recommendations.

Do you Like Fish?

tasty fish in sauceYou have probably heard the benefits of eating fish being touted in various publications. Fish is certainly a praise worthy food when it is wild caught and not an endangered species. The essential fatty acids (EFAs) derived from fish have been associated with improving cardiovascular health, brain health, hormone health, and even gut health.

Due to the anti-inflammatory nature of EFAs, they have been known to relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression. Both of which have been linked to inflammation—predominately in the gut. Omega 3 fats derived from fish are known to protect the intestinal lining and to promote the production of SCFAs (as mentioned earlier- the fatty acids connected to decreasing anxiety).

STEP 3—Increase your consumption of wild caught cold water fish (Alaskan salmon, Alaskan cod, and wild caught sardines are all good options)

How Much Do I Need?

To get a therapeutic level of EFAs that would substantially decrease symptoms of anxiety, one would have to eat an enormous amount of fish. While having wild caught fish once or twice a week is a great start, most people need to supplement with a high quality fish oil daily. The suggested dosage is 1-2,000 mg of a combination of EPA and DHA (Omega 3 fatty acids). Please consult with your doctor before starting any type of supplement routine as this information is provided for educational purposes only.

It’s Time to Break up with Sugar, Caffeine, Alcohol and Refined Oil

a cup of teaI know. You probably just shouted some swear words at me and said this woman is crazy! I get it! I probably just asked you to break up with some of your best friends. If you find you need sugar or caffeine to make it through the day that is most likely a sign that your body is not functioning optimally and it is probable there is a gut flora imbalance that is driving you to crave sugar, alcohol, caffeine, etc.

I’m sure this is not the first time you’ve been encouraged to remove these items from your daily intake. It is important to consider that once your body is in a healthier state, you can mindfully enjoy these items on occasion- meaning once every several weeks. In my program with my clients, we work on intuitive eating so that you can “splurge” with these items once in a while without wrecking your health goals.  Developing eating habits that are based on true hunger as opposed to pseudo hunger will be of benefit to your gut as well.

STEP 4 – Consider a 30-day Elimination Diet to Reset your System to Banish Cravings

The problem with consuming caffeine, sugar, alcohol, and refined oils on a regular basis is they wreak havoc on multiple systems in your body via inflammation and hormone disruption, thus contributing to mood disregulation such as chronic anxiety or depression. Sometimes, a 30-day elimination of these items can help reset your system to where you are no longer craving these items for daily survival.

Have You had Your Rainbow Today?

various colorful healthy vegetablesGut imbalances occur for a multitude of reasons, but not consuming enough nutrient dense foods is one of the major culprits. We just reviewed the foods that destroy health, now we can consider the foods that promote health.


Many people have an aversion to vegetables and would rather have a root canal than consume vegetables. I know personally I despised most vegetables until I learned how to eat them in a more appetizing way.  I love to steam veggies and put them into a soup with coconut milk and spices, throw them in a smoothie, or just eat plain with a bit of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  I find the canned version and frozen versions to be less desirable than fresh. If you have been avoiding these delicious little nutrient dense nuggets, you are depriving your self of critical nutrients needed to maintain the health of your gut and your body.

STEP 5– Replenish Nutrient Deficiencies- Eat a RAINBOW of Vegetables and Fruits- Aim for 1 cup a day and work your way up to 4 cups a day

Let’s take a look at good old fashion lettuce- Romaine lettuce is high in Vitamin K- great for bone health and blood clotting, Vitamin A-great for eyesight, immune system, it is even speculated that gut bacteria regulate how Vitamin A is utilized (2), and Romaine Lettuce is a good source of folate. Folate is one of the B vitamins and is important for growth, for energy production, and production of red and white blood cells. So, something as simple as lettuce can have a big impact on how you feel both physically and emotionally. It is easy to eat a cup or two a day in salads and smoothies.


Maintaining a healthy gut is a critical piece of freeing yourself from anxiety. While there are several other factors that contribute to anxiety such as outside stressors, unresolved emotional issues, and destructive thinking patterns, prioritizing your gut health is a great first step in a calmer direction.

a person sitting on a dock by a beautiful lake

Recap of 5 Steps to a Healthy Gut and a Calmer You:

STEP 1- Include more foods with fiber in your diet to improve your mood

STEP 2-  Include probiotic foods, prebiotic foods, and probiotic supplements in your diet.

STEP 3—Increase your consumption of wild caught cold water fish (Alaskan salmon, Alaskan cod, and wild caught sardines are all good options)

STEP 4 – Consider a 30-day Elimination Diet to Reset your System to Banish Cravings

STEP 5- Replenish Nutrient Deficiencies-  Eat a RAINBOW of Vegetables and Fruits

Disclaimer:  This article is provided for educational purposes only and is not to be construed as medical advice. Please consult your physician before making any significant changes to your diet or supplementation.

About the Author

Susan Yuen, LMFT, CNS is the founder and owner of NHT- Nourish Heal Transform.  NHT is a private practice that specializes in providing natural solutions for women who struggle with anxiety, depression, and trauma. NHT seeks to emancipate women from lives of guilt, shame, worthlessness, and depression to lives filled with freedom, confidence, courage, and hope.


  • Greener, M. (2018).  Psychobiotics:  bacterial hope for depression.  Progress in Neurology and Psychiatry. 22 (1).
  • Sandoiu, A. (2019) Immune system vs. gut bacteria:  How Vitamin A ‘keeps the peace.’  Medical News Today. Retrieved from

All photos were retrieved from


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