Treating anxiety with food: does anxiety begin in the gut?

Does anxiety begin in the gut? Champagne Cartel

We’ve always believed anxiety was in our head, right? And every single way we treat anxiety is related to training the brain to pretty much calm the fuck down. But what if there was more to it than that?

Hippocrates claimed that all diseases begin in the gut 2000 years ago. And there has been a whisper in neuroscience for a lot of years now about the gut being the “downstairs brain” (which is how we’ve always referred to penises, really, isn’t it?), but that whisper is getting louder, and it’s something that I’m starting to take pretty seriously in my bid to get on top of Clive, my anxiety monster.

This is Clive. Clive is a motherfucker but he doesn't scare me.
This is Clive. Clive is a motherfucker but he doesn’t scare me.

I’ve learned to live with Clive, and I’ve definitely found that exercise is a big factor in keeping him quiet, but now I’m starting to look at diet and other factors that affect my gut. The gut contains around 100 trillion bacteria, and it is starting to look like those little guys can have a big effect on how we think, feel and behave. Enough to blow both your tiny minds, right?

Treating anxiety with food

Recent studies done in Australia have found there are specific bacteria present in the gut that can be targeted that can have a huge positive affect on mental health. And doctors in charge of the trial are predicting it won’t be long before people with mild cases of anxiety or depression are treated with “psychobiotics” (mood-improving foods) rather than antidepressants.

In a nutshell, what happens is this: serotonin positively affects the function of your brain, and keeps you feeling happy. Serotonin is made from an amino acid called tryptophan, which is made by bacteria in the gut. When tryptophan is produced in the gut, it hits the blood stream and works its way to the brain – enabling the brain to produce serotonin.

What can we do?

So what can we do? Well, the first thing is not to live in one of those creepy germ-free homes. A bit of dirt is great for diverse gut flora. And diverse gut flora is a great thing. So if you want an excuse to let the housekeeping go a little bit, there it is.

Secondly, don’t fall for the marketing of those little bottles of probiotics. They’re expensive and unnecessary – and are usually full of sugar. There is still much to learn about what foods do what, but we do know that some processed foods can act as irritants, and that we want a whole lot of fresh, cooked (raw can be hard for our digestive systems to process) fruits and Omega-3s in our diet. You’ll get those from leafy greens, walnuts and oily fish.

I’ve been trying to follow this every day, and it’s hard to say whether I feel any different, but I know Clive hasn’t set up shop in my attic lately, so that’s a good thing. There is nothing to lose from eating a healthy range of fruit and veggies, and cutting out processed food as much as possible, and so very much to gain.

Would you change your diet to possibly improve your mental health?

*This post was written with research gleaned from an article in QWeekend magazine a few weeks ago. Personal experience is all mine.*




Written By

Carolyn is the editorial director of Champagne Cartel and a freelance writer. In her spare time she is a long-distance runner, peanut butter enthusiast, and single mum to three incredible humans.


  • No excuse needed not to be germ free. Triclosan is just scary scary shit – and people use it like water! Especially mums with babies!

    I have daily fresh green smoothies, eat organic activated walnuts in my Kimba Trail Mix and eat tuna, salmon and trout three-four days a week. I’m really hoping it will help me rebalance my mind too. I’m having a hysterectomy soon and I’m really hopeful that my PMDD will ease afterwards and that I’ll be able to come off my Cymbalta (SSNRI)

  • I have no doubt that food can really affect your moods. I always know when I’ve made a food ‘mistake’ and I start to hear my monster Patrice saying mean things to me and making me doubt myself. It’s sort of a trial and error thing around here. I am so interested in how this research will continue to develop x

  • I find this theory really interesting. Having worked in mental health, I know there is a big link with Omega 3s & it also stands to reason if our systems are sluggish and our body is full of crap then our mood is likely to reflect this also thanks to flow on from our body image, self esteem etc. Taking it one step further however, my son is in the process of being diagnosed with coeliac disease (read: gut in dire straits) and he’s also quite prone to anxiety. I wonder if there is a link there?? Time will tell now he’s on a GF diet. Thanks for the food for thought. Pun intended of course 😉

  • I’m not sure about what to eat to improve mental health, but I know what NOT to eat – sugar! I went refined sugar free for a couple of months, had a naughty binge over a couple of days at work, and that night lay awake in bed with heart palpitations, chest pains, shaking, the whole works. Definitely triggered my anxiety

  • Thank you so much for sharing this. I was so excited when I read the study that showed people who eat more fermented foods are less anxious. We’ve developed such a weird relationship with food and I love your take. I’m also about keeping the microflora on my skin happy not that that impacts my anxiety…

  • I believe this. I had what was thought to be a gastric ulcer and all sorts of gut-related illnesses. After a endoscopy and all, turned out it was “just” massively crippling stress. That was many years ago but now, any time stress hits, it goes straight to the gut.

  • I have IBS. Honestly, if my gut is upset, my world just is shit. I have learnt what not to eat, more than what to eat. Stress upsets my gut too.

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