The Australian Bureau of Statistics has reported that nearly 14 per cent of the Australian population have some form of anxiety, making it the most common mental illness in Australia. The only thing not alarming about these statistics is that there are answers to this incredibly common disorder.

Conversations around mental health are well and truly integrated into our society and community now but taking a proactive step towards managing - and maybe even preventing - mental illness has to be our next priority. This step may take us in a direction that you may not have expected – nutrition.

Yoghurt

Yoghurt is a good source of probiotics, says Bridie Kersten. PICTURE: Alison Marras/Unsplash

 

"It is amazing to think that microscopic bacteria in foods or in supplements can actually be mind altering; they can literally change our mood. A healthy gut can also improve the way that we respond to stress, reducing the strain of stress on our mind and body."

While current treatment strategies involving medications are increasingly unpopular due to their varied side effects, this has opened the door to research into other options. One of the most promising areas of research focuses on the advantage of introducing probiotics for the management of anxiety disorders.

Supplementation of probiotics was used in most of the research to try to get a more controlled view of how the probiotics work but from a results perspective, food sources of probiotics could also be just as beneficial. This addresses another key issue with the treatment of anxiety: compliance. Introducing foods containing probiotics into a lifestyle/diet could be a better option for people reluctant to take or are irregularly taking medication for anxiety.

The link between our digestive system (where these beneficial strains/bacteria would live once swallowed) and our brain is extremely complex and our understanding of it is still surprisingly vague. Even though we have made the connection, not all processes and pathways of this connection are exactly clear. What we do know is that our microbiome, the ecosystem of our gut, communicates in its own way with our brain, its functions and its wellbeing. A microbiome overrun with dysfunctional bacteria can change the way we create neurotransmitters and hormones so this is a common link made between our gut health and mental health.

It is amazing to think that these microscopic bacteria in foods or in supplements can actually be mind altering; they can literally change our mood. A healthy gut can also improve the way that we respond to stress, reducing the strain of stress on our mind and body.

Therefore, it is unsurprising that probiotics, either supplemented or in our diets are recommended for the management of anxiety. Ingesting probiotics is like sending reinforcements to the front line of a battle field and can sway the balance of power within our gut. Supplementation of a multi strain, practitioner prescribed probiotic is often a good way to do this but it isn’t always the most effective option.

In fact, foods containing probiotics such as yoghurt, fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut and kimchi and fermented drinks such as kombucha all contain a variety of strains of these beneficial little soldiers. Consuming them regularly as part of a balanced diet is recommended to improve overall wellbeing and help with the management of anxiety. As with any changes to your diet, seek the advice of your health care professional to ensure it is the best option for you.

Bridie Kersten is a registered nutritionist with an advanced diploma in nutrition and a Bachelor of Health Science (biochemistry and nutritional medicine). This information is of a general nature only and may not be suitable for you; please seek your healthcare professional's advice before making alterations to your diet.