The drugs normally prescribed by doctors to treat anxiety aim to balance neurotransmitters in the brain. While this can be helpful in some cases, there are often underlying problems contributing to the anxiety that remain overlooked. The gut-brain connection and the HPA axis are two of the most common underlying issues that contribute to anxiety.
The discovery of the substantial connection between our guts and our brains is currently changing the course of western medicine daily. The enteric nervous system (ENS) is embedded in the lining of the gastrointestinal system and although it functions separately from the central nervous system (brain + spinal cord), it communicates with it constantly. The communication of the ENS with the CNS can cause big emotional shifts when the gut is compromised. Fun fact: the gut produces 400 x’s the amount of serotonin than the brain and plays a large role in the production of other hormones as well. This is one of the reasons why doctors sometimes refer to out gut as our “second brain” and could be why ADHD, behavioral and mood disorders Alzheimer’s, OCD and other neurological disorders have a connection with poor gut health (1).
The director of the John Hopkin’s Center for Neurogastroenterology, Jay Pasricha, M.D., recently reported, ““For decades, researchers and doctors thought that anxiety and depression contributed to these problems [IBS, diarrhea, constipation, upset stomach, etc]. But our studies and others show that it may also be the other way around.” (2). The integrity of the gut deserves to be explored when anxiety is an issue. One of the most common tests we run at Revive is a GI analysis through Genova Labs. It gives us a good look into the integrity of this system and can detect issues like inflammation, fungal overgrowth or other imbalances.
The hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis is the physiological connection between the hypothalamus (in the brain) and the pituitary and adrenal glands.. the trifecta of mood determinants! This system is responsible for stress response and stress tolerance, largely due to our cortisol levels (3). In our modern world, the majority of us live in a state of chronic stress. Our bodies were not meant to function in this state. Our stress response is designed to help us during a “fight or flight” type of situation for survival. Our chronic stress can cause a disruption in this system. Inflammation, blood sugar dysregulation as well as circadian rhythm disruption can all cause an impaired HPA axis. There is a great test that we run at Revive called the DUTCH test. It stands for Dried Urine Total Comprehensive Hormone test and it thoroughly assesses your HPA axis. Additionally, managing stress, controlling your blood sugar through diet and exercise, monitoring your light exposure and sleep patterns and reducing inflammation through your diet can all help balance your HPA axis.
All parts of the body are intimately connected, from the brain to the gut and everything in between. We are doing ourselves a disservice to isolate our ailments from the rest of our bodies, like strictly isolating anxiety to the brain. If you’re interested in the testing I mentioned, call our clinic and make an appointment with Dr. Derek! We are here to help you heal.
By: Katie Koniakowsky