Got Anxiety? Consider Your Second Brain

by Sara Vance, Nutritionist & Author of The Perfect Metabolism Plan
Founder of ReBalance Life

You know the feeling that you get when you are nervous?  Like there are butterflies in your stomach?  Have you ever had that “sinking feeling” in your gut after you made a big mistake?  Sometimes we have those “gut reactions” to situations – where we can’t really explain it, but we just feel like something seems amiss.  It is totally normal to experience some nervousness, anxiety, fear, and even panic occasionally. In fact – we should learn to listen to our gut, because sometimes, our gut feelings can guide us in ways that our brain can’t.

But what about when these feelings start to become chronic, overwhelming, and negatively affect someone’s life?

Whenever someone tells me that they have a lot of anxiety or a related mood disorder – my first question is “how is your digestion?”  The typical response is, “terrible – but what do my digestive issues have to do with my anxiety?”  It is all about the second brain.

Our Second Brain

Our gut and our brains are connected so closely that Dr. Michael Gershon coined our gut “the second brain”. Lined with a complex and extensive set of neurons, called the enteric nervous system, “gut reaction” helps to explain what our second brain does – it guides our feelings, moods, certain behaviors, and reactions.

Our enteric nervous system/gut is responsible for manufacturing important neurotransmitters that play a role in our mood and brain function. So when there has been a gut imbalance or a leaky gut, there often can be mood imbalances and neurological manifestations, because the gut is no longer able to effectively absorb nutrients or convert them into these important brain chemicals. For example, over 90% of our serotonin, often referred to as “the happiness hormone,” is found in our guts. Low serotonin can lead to depression, anxiety, and other mood imbalances. Other neurotransmitters that can be involved in anxiety include GABA, dopamine, and epinephrine.  So you can see how gut issues can affect our emotions.

Digestive Issues Very Common

The trouble is – gut imbalances are rampant – 1 in 5 Americans regularly suffers from digestive complaints.  They are so common that we often just suffer through them, thinking that is just “normal” for us, and that there is nothing that we can do. But it is important to not ignore digestive issues because the gut is the foundation of our health. If allowed to continue, gut health issues can develop into other problems – affecting the brain, mood, joints, skin, thyroid, immune system, and more.

Digestive troubles over time can lead to poor absorption, which can develop into nutrient deficiencies, imbalances in neurotransmitters and amino acids – all of which can drive depression, anxiety, mood disorders; and other problems like ADHD and even addictions.

Getting Relief

Although this may not work for everyone, there are a number of things to try if your second brain is causing you anxiety:

Heal the root cause, the gut:

  1. Identify & remove food intolerances, chemicals, and other key foods that could be contributing (such as MSG, sugar, etc).
  2. Take probiotics – there is mounting evidence that bacteria in the gut has a powerful effect on emotions. Taking probiotics can help to decrease the bad bacteria that can lead to anxiety and other mood disorders.  Read this article to learn more.
  3. Heal the gut – organic bone broths and key supplements can help to rebuild the mucosal barrier. A healthy gut has a strong mucosal barrier, which prevents toxins and proteins from leaking out of the gut.
  4. Consider some other supplements – omega 3 fatty acids such as those found in a high quality fish oil supplement can be very helpful for mood and brain function. Vitamin D can be helpful – it is often referred to as the “happiness vitamin.” A high quality multi-vitamin with methlyated forms of the B vitamins are important for the creation of neurotransmitters.  I also find that adaptogens such as Ashwaganda can be very helpful with anxiety and mood disorders (ashwaganda is also supportive of the thyroid too).

Get some relief from the symptoms:Until the gut is healed, it might not be effectively making neurotransmitters, which can cause someone to feel imbalanced, unfocused and anxious. Often, this is one reason that can drive people to abuse drugs and alcohol – they are trying to correct or self-medicate these imbalances.  It is possible to test the neurotransmitters and take supplements that can help the body to produce more of the depleted neurotransmitters to feel more balanced.

  1. Test – one single urine collection at home is taken and sent in and can be tested to see which brain chemicals are out of balance.
  2. From that test, key amino acids and other key supplements can be identified that will help to rebalance the neurotransmitters and provide some relief to the symptoms.

The Gut & the Immune System

The gut is also the foundation of the immune system, so someone that frequently gets colds or infections, might want to look at improving their gut health to boost their immune system.  One food that heals the gut and boosts the immune system is organic bone broth – so there is truth to the Old Wives Tale that chicken soup heals a cold (also helps to prevent one too).

Further Reading:

This is a very in-depth topic.  If you are interested in learning more about how the gut affects the brain, mood, and other areas of health, here are some additional articles:

Our gut is the foundation of our health.  As Hippocrates so wisely said over 2,000 years ago:“All disease begins in the gut.”

Please note: If you are experiencing extreme stress, anxiety or overwhelm – please seek out help from a mental health practitioner right away. The national Suicide Hotline can help you to find the necessary resources if you are in a mental health crisis: 1-800-273-8255.

*This article is for educational purposes only.  The content contained in this article is not to be construed as providing medical advice. All information provided is general and not specific to individuals. Persons with questions about the above content as how it relates to them, should contact a medical professional. Persons already taking prescription medications should consult a doctor before making any changes to their supplements or medication.

Meet Sara Vance: A frequent guest on the Fox 5 morning show, Sara offers corporate nutrition & wellness programsschool assemblies, an online Break Up with Sugar course, private consultations, and more.  Sara has a 5 month cooking class series starting in October, and her book The Perfect Metabolism Plan is hitting bookshelves March, 2015. You can also download her free Cooking with Superfoods ebooklet right now.


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