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About 40 million adults in the United States — that’s almost 20 million of us — suffer from a diagnosable anxiety disorder.
We all experience anxiety. For example, speaking in front of a group can make us anxious, but that anxiety also motivates us to prepare and practice.
But when feelings of intense fear and dread become overwhelming and prevent us from doing everyday activities, an anxiety disorder may be the cause.
Anxiety disorders can be brought under control with medications — but at a cost.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) often cause side effects such as nausea, headaches, drowsiness, weight gain, blurred vision and changes in heart rhythm.
Natural anxiety alternative
Fortunately, there are quite a few safe and effective alternatives to anti-anxiety medications.
Studies have shown that the natural opioid chemicals produced in the brain play a large role in regulating fear and anxiety. You can help your body produce more of these through acupuncture, aromatherapy, exercise, and certain foods, including chocolate.
Also, there’s a wealth of nutrients and herbal supplements that can relieve anxiety.
And research is proving how intimately connected our gut health is with our mental health via the gut-brain axis. Probiotics have been known to regulate levels of neurotransmitters which, in turn, affect mental processes, including anxiety and depression.
Now, a new study shows us how consuming prebiotics can help reduce anxiety levels (if you’re confused about the difference between probiotics and prebiotics, this will clear it up for you).
Prebiotics help regulate anxiety
In a new study, British researchers have found that four weeks of daily galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) prebiotic intake can reduce anxiety levels in young women and can improve their overall well-being.
Sixty-four healthy young women ages 18 to 25 participated in the study. And none had a current or previous clinical diagnosis of anxiety.
The young women received either a daily dose of the prebiotic galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) or a placebo for 28 days.
Then, all participants in the study completed surveys about their health experiences, including mood, anxiety and sleep quality. They also provided a stool sample for gut microbiome sequencing analysis.
The participants in the study who received a daily dose of prebiotics reported that their mental well-being improved and they experienced lower anxiety levels. And they had better gut health than the control group.
Dr. Kathrin Cohen Kadosh, Head of the Social Brain and Development Lab at the University of Surrey, said that this research “marks a significant step forward.”
“… we were able to show that we can use a simple and safe food supplement such as prebiotics to improve both the abundance of beneficial gut bacteria… and to improve mental health and wellbeing in young women.”
How to get more prebiotics in your diet
Galacto-oligosaccharides are one common type of prebiotic. They are found in:
- Legumes (red kidney beans and chickpeas)
- Nuts (pistachios and cashews)
- Hummus dip
- Soy and oat milk
Inulin (not to be confused with insulin) is another type of prebiotic and is perhaps more easily found in common foods like:
- Jerusalem artichokes
Always talk to your doctor before discontinuing any anti-anxiety medication you may be taking and switching to a natural anxiety alternative. But also be aware that relief may be as close as your next salad!
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Prebiotic inulin-type fructans and galacto-oligosaccharides: definition, specificity, function, and application in gastrointestinal disorders—Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology