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Anxiety isn't all in your head


"It's all in your head", one of those classic cop-out statements people with limited resources make when they've no capacity to deal with what's going on for you.

Whilst anxiety is considered a mental health issue (hence it being picked for Mental Health Awareness Week!) to associate mental health and anxiety only with our head would be cataclysmically wrong.

Anxiety is a whole body issue, that can have origins outside of 'just' mental health.

Research is beginning to show that it is 100% possible that a cause of a person's anxiety is actually, in their gut.

Dainty started my serious interest in gut biomes after I saw great results when I started to increase the number of different plants she ate

I'll confess, I didn't know much about gut biomes till about 3 years ago when one of our horses was so perpetually sick and anxious, our last resort get her biome analysed.

A biome analysis takes a snapshot of the gut's bacteria and pathogens, and then maps them against what's considered to be healthy (in the horse world it's herds of wild horses). From this, you can deduce what pathogens are present, what bacteria are present and what ratios they are all in.

Needless to say, the horse didn't have a healthy biome, and following the report's advice she made a drastic difference.

I've known for a while about the gut:head connection, particularly in relationship to autism.

The gut, which is made up of 100 million nerve cells, is considered a brain, so whatever is going on there has an enormous impact on our sense of wellbeing.

What's even more interesting is the connections from gut to our head far outweighs the connections from our head to our gut. In short, our guts speak louder than our heads. So gut health is DEFINITELY worth paying attention to.

But what do we mean by gut health? I like to think of it this way. Imagine an incredible rainforest, full of all sorts of plants, of all different heights. Now imagine that rainforest teeming with wildlife from a diverse population of bacteria and fungi in the soil, to insects all the way up to large birds and mammals. Imagine that rainforest exists in perfect harmony. The trees and plants grow, live out their lives and then die decay and provide growth for future plants. It's a perfect cycle of birth, growth, death and then regeneration - with everything having exactly what it needs.

This is what I imagine a healthy gut biome to be like - diverse, in balance and self-perpetuating.

Except that isn't the reality for most of us.

Modern living is almost hell bent on destroying our gut biomes in an alarming way.

At birth, a child's digestive track is practically sterile. On exiting the birth canal, the child get's it's first exposure to bacteria and yeast, followed by its second exposure from the skin from breastfeeding.

Over the following weeks, months and years, the child populates it's gut biome from the environment around it from playing in dirt to to putting random objects in its mouth. Children intuitively know they need to do this to build up a healthy biome population and development their immunity.

Except, modern living doesn't always allow for this natural and essential process. Not all children are given that first essential exposure to the birth canal, meaning their first exposure to bacteria may only be from the skin or from a sterilised bottle teat. Even if they are exposed to the birth canal, dwindling gut health in their mother means fewer bacterial diversity is transferred, resulting in a poorer biome start than our ancestors.

Next, we live much cleaner lives now than we used to. You might think that's a good thing (cleaning product makers would definitely tell you that) but doctors are beginning to feel there's a connection between overcleanliness and the prevalence of food intolerances. Certainly children are playing outdoors less than they used to, and soil is one of the best ways to populate a biome.

Next, the modern wonder of antibiotics has a downside - they are literally anti-bacteria - and that means they affect the gut - changing the ratios of bacteria present and creating space for opportunistic pathogens that multiply in the bacteria's absence.

Then there's what we eat, when we eat and how we eat it. Historically we foraged, grew our own food and ate organically. Now food is mass produced, sometimes in near sterile environments, high in simple carbohydrates and sometimes barely reassembles food. We've reduced the diversity and seasonality of what we eat, upped the calories through eating too much fat and carbohydrate and we're not getting bacteria from the soil, again!

Then there's the environment our gut biomes are living in. Stress affects our guts abilities to perform. Not giving it the calm environment it needs to perform at its best, e.g. skipping lunch or working through our lunch hour, creates a viscous cycle of being more stressed.

Guts also need movement. They LOVE gently, stretching exercise. Walks, bike rides, swimming, climbing, dancing, yoga - even taking the stairs rather than the lift helps. Movement gets our guts, err, moving - which is needed to keep food passing along and not getting stuck - keeping things healthy.

So all in all, if you are experiencing anxiety, it's a very good idea to explore gut health. Whilst this isn't my area of expertise, for others, it is and they will be able to navigate you through this emerging science.

For myself, I aim to keep on top of negative stresses, Mind Detox myself on traumas that affect my gut's functioning and eat as much diverse, seasonal produce as I can. I also limit sugar and alcohol in favour of complex carbohydrates and kefir. Cycling has been a revelation in improving my gut health and I also try and grow a few of my own herbs and veg to use.

So who knew, an anxious horse would help me learn so much about gut health? But she has, and I am incredibly grateful!

You can book a gut loving Mind Detox here:

Or purchase a meditation e-course to lower your stress levels here:


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