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  • Writer's pictureMary Shackelton, MPH, ND

ANXIETY AND THE SECOND BRAIN

Updated: Jul 22, 2022

This week it seems with the return back to school and parents getting into the swing of fall schedules the topic of Anxiety has come up numerous times. While it is true that 17 million people have been diagnosed in the U.S. with anxiety and while there has been a 1200 % increase in anxiety since 1980 and while we hear ourselves and each other saying it over and over all day long (" i am so stressed"), we at Holistica Integrative Care want to help you address the underlying issues that contribute to anxiety and treat any organic condition that is there.


Anxiety can become a debilitating condition where one's mind is on red alert continually. The response of the fight or flight system stays permanently "on" or the response to a stressor is above and beyond what is expected or normal. Contributing to this are our expectations of ourselves and each other. These expectations are often so high that we cannot meet them. When there is a gap between what we expect or what others expect of ourselves and what we can meet this gap produces anxiety. I had never thought of it this way before-- it is the gap between what we can do and what we are expected to do that produces the anxiety.


What is the difference between stress and anxiety? Stress can be a natural motivator, it can protect you from danger, it can help you avoid trouble. Chronic stress is what wears out your adrenal glands, causes rapid aging, and can trigger deeper anxiety states. Anxiety is when this stress limits your life in some significant way-- interference with sleep, limits your performance at work or home, prevents you from being able to work or commit to deadlines, often this anxiety produces physical symptoms.


Currently we can see the epidemic right before our eyes-- people never un-plug from technology which over stimulates the brain, we often are not committed to certain lifestyle changes that can bring about a shift in neurologic firing (e.g. meditation, yoga), we take on too much and we consume food and beverages that aggravate anxiety (caffeine and alcohol, sugar). We have stopped being able to think for ourselves and are on a fast paced treadmill called life.


Guess what.. the pharmaceutical companies have watched this epidemic gain speed and have responded with a whooping 27 drugs currently under production for the treatment of anxiety. We already have numerous highly effective drugs on the market to treat this disorder but there will soon be an entire new flotilla of drugs that your doctors want you to experiment with. I do not know about you but I have watched many patients "try" medications for depression and anxiety and suffer greatly from their side effects. Not to mention, the core issue never gets addressed!!!!


What many doctors assessments of anxiety completely miss is the fact that the anxiety came from somewhere… why isn't anyone asking "where is it from?" and was it exclusively psychological in origin??? Most conventional treatments are aimed at the mind's role in anxiety but we like to look a little differently at the problem.


Rather than popping a pill, it is important to get at the core issue to address your anxiety. There is something called the Gut Brain connection that confirms that the gut or intestines are the second brain. According to Michael Gershon author of the Second Brain the gut is also known as the enteric nervous system. This second brain consists of sheaths of neurons embedded in the walls of the intestinal lining which starts in our esophagus and ends in the rectum. This second brain contains millions of neurons-- more than in the spinal cord or the peripheral nervous system. (https://www.amazon.com/Second-Brain-Groundbreaking-Understanding-Disorders/dp/0060930721/ref=sr_1_1?qid=1656701774&refinements=p_27%3AMichael+Gershon&s=books&sr=1-1)


Wait a minute. Stop right there. If this is true then we must treat our guts FIRST before we start with the mind-numbing medicines to decrease anxiety. For starters, the standard american diet and way that we consume food causes actual damage to this lining on our second brain -- the fried food, the lack of nutrients, the food sensitivities, use of antibiotics, the lack of good bacteria, the poor digestion and delayed gastric emptying. All of this including the crazy hectic lives that we lead will lead to functional impairments on the gut lining, decreasing normal brain chemicals produced there.


In 2011 a study confirmed that there was evidence pointing to the effect of commensual gut microbiota (the stuff that probiotics produce) on the central nervous system (CNS) in normal healthy animals. GABA is the main inhibitory CNS neurotransmitter and its function is in inhibiting many physiological and psychological processes. If someone's GABA is low it is likely they could be struggling with depression and or anxiety. Alterations in the central GABA receptor expression are often implicated in the disorders of anxiety and depression and these are also found in functional bowel disorders. The researchers found that long term use of Lactobacillus rhamnosus induced changes in areas of the brain with increases in the cortical regions and reductions in other areas such as the hippocampus and amygdala. Most importantly the findings were that L. rhamnosus reduced stress induced, anxiety, and depression related behavior in mice. This study confirmed the bidirectional communication of the gut and brain and suggests that gut bacteria may be useful therapeutic adjuncts in the treatment of anxiety and depression. (Bravo JA, Forsythe P, Chew MV, Escaravage E, Savignac HM, Dinan TG, Bienenstock J, Cryan JF. Ingestion of Lactobacillus strain regulates emotional behavior and central GABA receptor expression in a mouse via the vagus nerve.Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Sep 20;108(38):16050-5.)


I love research like this-- that researchers are finally able to satisfy the peer reviewers that the gut and the brain ARE in fact connected and the communication between them is significant enough to rely on treating one to address the other. Through the many stages of our lives, our gut becomes less healthy and increasingly compromised. When anxiety or depression become a limiting factor in one's life practitioners are not looking at your belly button. They want to medicate your brain. Let the doctors Holistica Integrative Care look at the cause and provide the correct nutrients to heal the second brain before taking the step towards medications. Consider treatment of your gut first and get support to make some critical lifestyle changes that will decrease the pace of your monkey brain. What you may just gain is an appreciation for life that you have not experienced.




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