• Dr. Caroline Ricker

Got a Gut Feeling There’s More to Your Anxiety? – You may be even more right than you think!

I was an adult before I had my first real taste of anxious depression. Sitting at work on a random Tuesday, nothing out of the ordinary, but as I sat on my lunch break I couldn’t shake the feeling that everything in my life was going wrong. I felt helpless, tired, shaky and worried. I took a deep breath and forced myself to remember that I had a good life, that things weren’t falling apart. It didn’t help. Even though my conscious brain knew that “everything was good” my emotional state just wouldn’t fall into line.

I tried meditation, a way to help soothe and reorganize the mind they say. I talked with my husband and close friends about any problems I was having. I tried having a good cry. I listened to positive music, took walks outside in the fresh air and followed positive podcasters on YouTube. Nothing I did seemed to shake the sense of failure and impending walls falling in whenever I had a moment to myself.

The story above belongs to a friend of mine. It rings true with a lot of my clients, people with lives which they feel they should be happy with, but who are dealing with anxiety, panic attacks, depression, insomnia, paranoia and many other emotional health issues. Many have been to see their therapists, taken different types of medications and tried varying ways to address their emotions or their brains, often with minimal success.

These people are often surprised when they come into my office that I ask them different questions. I want to know what they eat, how many times per day they use the restroom, if they have gas, bloating, or stomach upset. I like to find out if they’ve taken a lot of antibiotics in their lifetime and what kinds of medications they’ve been on. They often are perplexed when I barely ask them any questions at all about the emotional and mental issues they came in for.

What they, and most others, don’t yet realize is that mental health starts in your gut. That’s right, it’s actually not all in your head!

Let’s break this down. We have this incredible connection within us that is now being referred to as the gut-brain axis. There are a few different ways that our belly health affects our brains.

The first is likely the most obvious in that if we aren’t having proper digestion, then we won’t have adequate nutrient consumption. Depletion in different vitamins and minerals can certainly take its toll on your brain being able to function properly as well as your body’s ability to make hormones that regulate stress and emotional response.

The less obvious way that our digestive system affects our mental state is through our microbiome (my-cro-by-OHm). So what the heck is the microbiome? To keep a really long and complex story short, your intestines are filled with bacteria. In fact you are actually composed of more bacteria than cells. Weird right? These bacteria all have different roles to play in our digestion from breaking down food to secreting substances called neurotransmitters. This is important because neurotransmitters such as GABA and serotonin have regulatory effects on the nervous system and help us to control stress, or negative emotional response. Imagine that you are going through your moderately stressful life and your body is unable to produce the substances necessary for you to deal with it. What should be an average daily adaptation to normal levels of stress turns into anxiety, panic and depression.

This gut brain connection works the other way as well. If we are constantly stressed out and anxious this will lead to our body being stuck in a constant state of flight or flight. When we are stuck here we are not able to relax and repair and digest like we should, which creates a double edged sword. Poor digestion begets anxiety, and anxiety begets poor digestion.

Crazy right?! For my friend, whose story you read above, it was truly life changing for her to understand this information. It helped her to feel less nuts just realizing that there were REAL reasons as to why all the things that she had been doing to try to help her brain weren’t really making that big of an impact. It was so comforting to know that there was an actual issue that had simple solutions!

For her, the solutions were to get more sleep, get rid of a few “bad bugs” hanging out in the gut, and eliminate an imbalance of yeast that had a lot to do with a higher sugar diet. For others the solutions may be different as the human digestive system is a really complex thing. The fantastic news is that there are doctors out there whose practices revolve around finding out what solutions each person needs and helping them to achieve their health again.

While we acknowledge that anyone dealing with a mental health disorder or emotional issues can benefit from and certainly may need to be co-treated by a mental health professional, you should also know that there may be solutions that can solve your problems FOR GOOD!

Finding a practitioner well versed in functional medicine is the first step to recovery. A psychologist is really only trained to look at your emotional health, a neurologist at your nervous system, and a GI specialist at the direct health of your gut using a medication based approach. Only a well-trained functional doctor will look closely at how all these wonderful systems work together, effect each other and may be leading to the health challenges you are experiencing.

There is freedom for you. Freedom from anxiety, a peace of mind and the ability to be truly happy. Are you ready?

Dr. Caroline Ricker has been passionately helping people avoid unnecessary medications and surgeries since 2009. She combines a very logical functional medicine approach to digestive disorders and more using a more alternative holistic approach, utilizing standard lab tests and in-office evaluations as well as nutrition, acupuncture and homeopathy.

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Whole Health & Wellness

10807 Big Bend Road

St. Louis, MO 63122

P: (314) 269-3847