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  • Dr. Tara Tranguch

Happy Foods

Feeding the Gut-Brain Axis to treat Anxiety

It’s no coincidence that your stress and anxiety can be felt in your gut. Your gut has its own independent nervous system known as the enteric nervous system, which is regulated by your gut microbes. For your unique gut microbiota to work well, it needs to be PLENTIFUL and DIVERSE - and this is influenced by your diet.

Fun fact: You have 37-100 trillion microbes in your gut weighing a total of 1-2 kgs - the same weight as your brain!

Your gut bacteria perform many functions including:

  1. Making serotonin, the happy neurotransmitter! 95% of your body’s serotonin is created in the gut and then crosses the blood-brain barrier to enter the brain.

  2. Making GABA, the calming neurotransmitter, which also travels to the brain.

  3. Turning short chain fatty acids into butyrate, essential for sealing your “leaky gut” and reducing inflammation.

There is a two-way communication between your gut’s nervous system and your brain, linking your brain’s emotional centers with your intestinal functions. This communication happens via your stress response, your nervous system and your immune system. All of these pathways contribute to your level of anxiety and are directly influenced by what you eat and drink.

Dysbiosis, or the gut bacteria’s inability to function properly, is a result of increased stress, a “leaky gut”, excess inflammation, and increased nerve response — all of which increases anxiety.

What to feed your Gut-Brain Axis to reduce anxiety

Happy Foods

Certain “functional foods” can contain serotonin or tryptophan, the substrate to form serotonin, and/or GABA. Increase these in your diet!

Functional foods to eat that create:

Serotonin: Bananas, kiwi, pineapple, tomato, spinach, green onion, coffee, hazelnut, dates, papayas, pecan and walnut

Tryptophan: Fish, meat, legumes, nuts and cheese

GABA: Spinach, beans, corn, lentils, peas, fish, brown rice, wild rice, yucca, root vegetables like carrots, beets, rutabagas, turnips, yams, oatmeal, potato, eggplant and tea.

Seal the “Leaky Gut”

Toxins, food allergies and inflammation can cause the cells lining your gut to get gaps between them, and this leakiness creates excess inflammation in the body, which can contribute to anxiety.

To seal these gaps, eat short chain fatty acids found in oatmeal, lentils, beans, barley, brown rice, butter and ghee which turn to butyrate in the gut and heal the cell lining.


Prebiotics provide the food that your gut bacteria like to eat! They are necessary for your microbiota diversity.

Eat fructo- and gluco-oligosaccharides such as bananas, onions, leeks, garlic, dandelion, apples, asparagus and chicory.


Specific probiotic strands have been identified as critical to reducing anxiety via increasing GABA, attenuating stress and having an anxiolytic effect.

These are the bacteria you want to increase, and the foods to help you increase them:

Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus: Cooked navy beans, almonds, sesame seeds, green tea, Jerusalem artichoke, chicory, magnesium, ginseng, Chondrus crispus (seaweed), Laminaria digitata (oarweed), resveratrol, yogurt, kim chi, and kefir.

Which specific probiotic strains should you look for in your supplement?

Lactobacillus rhamnosus increases GABA expression

Lactobacillus helveticus attenuates stress-induced levels of corticosterone

Bifidobacterium longum has an anxiolytic effect

All Bifodobacteria species reduce your response to stress


Specific supplements help keep your microbiota diversified and happy, including DHA and EPA (the Omega-3 fatty acids), and zinc.

And certain supplements help support serotonin and GABA formation, including B3, B6, B12, vitamin C, folate, and magnesium.

Struggling with anxiety? Naturopathic medicine can help. Contact me to see how.

Medical Disclaimer: The information on, and related blogs and emails, is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a qualified health care professional. It is not intended as medical advice and does not create a doctor-patient relationship between you and Dr. Tranguch. It is not intended for use in diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing treatment. Please consult your physician or healthcare professional before taking any medication or nutritional, herbal or homeopathic supplement, or beginning any treatment for any health problem. Information and statements regarding dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.


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