What’s Bug-ging you? Gut Bacteria and Our Mental Health

Gut bacteria refers to the millions of tiny organisms that live in our intestines. These little guys play a big role in our immunity and metabolism by producing nutrients, vitamins and other essential products. Research has shown that gut bacteria play a role in brain function - otherwise known as the “gut-brain axis” (Pedersen, 2019). 

According to a recent review of several studies (published in General Psychiatry) the link between gut bacteria and anxiety are clear and impressive. This review as several others have suggested that mental disorders can improve by regulating the bacteria in the gut. A school of medicine in China just released an analysis examining all the recent research regarding gut bacteria and mental health. The article looked at 21 studies, involving 1,503 individuals. Of these, 14 studies looked at probiotics (pill supplementation) as the intervention and the other seven looked at dietary foods as the intervention (Pedersen, 2019). 11 of the 21 studies showed a positive effect in anxiety symptoms. 36% of the probiotics studies, found them to be effective in reducing anxiety. 86% of the diet related studies were found to be effective. Quite substantial. Diet modifications were suggested to be more effective by impacting the gut bacteria growth overall versus just introducing bacteria directly into the gut via a pill or powder. 

What we do know is the majority of patients with eating disorders also suffer with gastrointestinal symptoms. Rebuilding and healing the gut is a necessary part of recovery. Many of our clients with eating disorders struggle also suffer from mental disorders such as anxiety and depression. While traditional therapy, and psychiatric treatments play a well documented positive role in eating disorder treatment, the role for new therapies is always worth exploring. We know that healthy bacteria living in the gut aids in good gut health but with promising research we are hopeful that it may also play a role in managing anxiety and depression. Medical and clinical practitioners that treat eating disorders (included the staff at Integrated Eating) have instituted gut regimens to help our patient’s guts heal as well as promote overall wellness. 

So how do we get more “good” bacteria? One basic practice is to take over the counter probiotic supplements.These are sold in many places including local pharmacies, natural food stores and online nutrition stores. But as the studies have suggested, getting probiotics from food is more potent. Some probiotic rich foods include:

  • Kefir

  • Cultured Vegetables

  • Kombucha

  • Yogurt

  • Sour Cream

  • Miso  

  • Tempeh

It’s also recommended to include foods in the diet that contain prebiotics - which supply the gut in your bacteria with food. Foods rich in prebiotics include:

  • Asparagus

  • Garlic

  • Onions

  • Raw Jicama

  • Apples

  • Wheat Bran 

  • Chia/Hemp/Flax Seeds. 

We always recommend speaking with your dietitian and/or physician about the right plan for you. Integrated Eating works with individuals to recover and heal from eating disorders. We do this in a multi-disciplinary approach and use our own gut protocol to promote holistic wellness. 


BMJ. (2019, May 20). Anxiety might be alleviated by regulating gut bacteria: Review of studies suggests a potentially useful link between gut bacteria and mental disorders. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 19, 2019 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/05/190520190110.htm