Chels Holland- April 17 2023

Gut Feelings: Understanding the Link Between Anxiety and Acid Reflux

Did you know that our brain and our gut are deeply intertwined? 

Research is now showing that one affects the other and visa-versa. It’s known as the gut-brain axis.

What Is the Gut Brain Axis?

The gut-brain axis is a communication network that connects the gut (digestive system) and the brain (central nervous system). It involves a complex system of signals that travel back and forth between the gut and the brain, allowing them to influence each other's functions.

Simplified: the gut-brain axis, is a bidirectional relationship between the brain and the gut.

Researchers are finding that anxiety can affect the gut-brain axis by disrupting the communication between the gut (digestive system) and the brain (central nervous system). When a person experiences anxiety, the brain can send signals to the gut that can lead to changes in gut function causing digestion issues such as GERD, acid reflux, heartburn, bloating, gas, constipation and more.

Similarly, disruptions in gut function due to imbalances in the gut-brain axis can also send signals to the brain that can contribute to the development or exacerbation of anxiety symptoms.

Whoa. This is exciting stuff!

Keep reading to learn the how and why of anxiety and digestion, aka Calm and Soothe, and what we can do to make sure we’re optimizing both systems to maximize benefits.

Anxiety and Digestion Overview

When a person experiences anxiety, the brain can send signals to the gut that can lead to changes in gut function. These signals can affect gut motility (how food moves through the gut), secretion (how much digestive juices are produced), and sensitivity (how the gut perceives sensations). Anxiety can also impact the gut microbiota, which are the microbes living in the gut, potentially leading to imbalances that can further influence gut and brain function.

The gut-brain axis plays a crucial role in various physiological and psychological processes, including digestion, mood regulation, and immune function. Imbalances in the gut-brain axis can impact health and well-being and are associated with conditions such as GERD, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), mood disorders, and other health issues.

How Does Anxiety Affect Our Gut?

Anxiety affects our gut-brain axis, which can lead to poor digestion, inflammation, hormone imbalance and low immune function.

Scientists have now determined that anxiety can affect how well the digestive system functions and that digestive health plays a role in one's mental health. The correlation between anxiety and gut health is a two way street.

This bidirectional communication between the gut and brain can result in a complex interplay between anxiety and gut function, potentially contributing to conditions such as acid reflux, GERD, heartburn, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

The gut, which includes the stomach and intestines, contains a vast network of neurons known as the enteric nervous system (ENS), often referred to as the "second brain" due to its ability to function independently and regulate digestive processes. The ENS can send signals to the brain via the vagus nerve, a long nerve that connects the gut and brain. These signals can carry information about the gut's status, including its motility, secretion, and inflammation.

Conversely, the brain can also send signals to the gut through the autonomic nervous system (ANS), which controls involuntary functions such as digestion. Stress, emotions, and other psychological factors can activate the ANS, leading to changes in gut motility, secretion, and blood flow. For example, feeling anxious or stressed can lead to "butterflies in the stomach" or gastrointestinal discomfort.

The gut-brain axis also involves a complex interplay of microbes residing in the gut, known as the gut microbiota. The gut microbiota can influence the gut-brain communication through the production of various molecules, such as neurotransmitters and short-chain fatty acids, which can affect brain function and mood.

Research has shown that the gut-brain axis plays a crucial role in various physiological and psychological processes, including digestion, metabolism, immune function, mood regulation, and even cognitive function. Imbalances in the gut-brain axis have been associated with several health conditions, including acid reflux, GERD, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and mood disorders such as depression and anxiety, and neurodegenerative diseases.

The Gut-Brain Axis Influence on GERD

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a chronic condition where stomach acid frequently backs up into the esophagus, leading to symptoms such as heartburn, regurgitation, and chest discomfort. The gut-brain axis can influence GERD through various mechanisms, including the regulation of esophageal motility, perception of symptoms, and modulation of inflammation.

1. Esophageal motility: The gut-brain axis can influence the motility of the esophagus, which is the coordinated contraction and relaxation of the muscles that propel food from the mouth to the stomach. Abnormal esophageal motility, such as weak or uncoordinated contractions, can contribute to GERD. The ENS, which is part of the gut-brain axis, helps regulate esophageal motility. Disruptions in the gut-brain communication can lead to alterations in esophageal motility, potentially contributing to GERD development.

2. Perception of symptoms: The gut-brain axis can also modulate the perception of symptoms in GERD. Psychological factors such as stress, anxiety, and depression can affect how an individual perceives their GERD symptoms. Activation of the ANS, which is involved in the gut-brain axis, in response to stress or other emotional triggers can impact gut sensitivity and perception of symptoms, including those related to GERD.

3. Inflammation: Inflammation of the esophagus, known as esophagitis, is a common complication of GERD. The gut microbiota, which is a key component of the gut-brain axis, can influence inflammation in the gut. Imbalances in the gut microbiota, known as dysbiosis, can lead to increased gut permeability and inflammation, which may contribute to esophagitis and GERD.

4. Modulation of acid secretion: The gut-brain axis can also modulate the secretion of stomach acid, which is a major contributor to GERD. The ANS, through its regulation of gastric acid secretion, can impact the acidity of the stomach contents that reflux into the esophagus. Changes in gut-brain communication can potentially alter the balance of acid secretion, leading to increased acid reflux and GERD symptoms.

Overall, the gut-brain axis can impact GERD through multiple mechanisms, including the regulation of esophageal motility, perception of symptoms, modulation of inflammation, and acid secretion.

Improving Anxiety by Improving Gut Health

So, now we know how important it is to focus on our mental health and calming the body, and how it affects our gut, specifically in relation to Acid Reflux and GERD.

There are several dietary steps that can potentially help with both anxiety and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Here are some simple steps that may be beneficial:

1. Take All Natural Supplements: Our Calm & Soothe Kit was created specifically to have a bi-directional relationship, helping to tackle acid reflux and anxiety in unison. The body works optimally when it's balanced. Calm & Soothe was designed to work synergistically to maximize each other’s effects. Emotional Ease lowers stress, anxiety, and cortisol levels, allowing you to take a preventative approach to your heartburn. Hiatal Health prevents and reduces heartburn, soothes the GI tract and strengthen and restores weak tissue, so you can eat stress free!

2. Eat smaller, more frequent meals: Consuming smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day rather than large meals can help reduce the pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which is a muscle that separates the esophagus and stomach and helps prevent acid reflux. Overeating or consuming large meals can increase the risk of acid reflux and trigger GERD symptoms.

3. Avoid trigger foods: Certain foods can trigger symptoms of both anxiety and GERD in some individuals. Common trigger foods for GERD include spicy or fatty foods, citrus fruits, tomatoes, mint, chocolate, coffee, and alcohol. These foods may also contribute to anxiety symptoms in some people. Keeping a food diary and identifying trigger foods can help you avoid them and reduce the risk of symptom flare-ups.

4. Focus on a balanced diet: Eating a balanced diet that includes a variety of nutrient-rich foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats, can support overall health, including gut health and mood regulation. A well-balanced diet can provide the body with the necessary nutrients for optimal functioning, including the brain and digestive system.

5. Stay hydrated: Drinking enough water throughout the day can help maintain proper digestion and prevent constipation, which can be factors that exacerbate GERD symptoms. Dehydration can also impact mood and cognitive function, so staying well-hydrated may help support both gut and brain health.

6. Consider dietary modifications: Some people may find relief from GERD and anxiety symptoms by trying specific dietary modifications, such as a low-acid diet, a low-FODMAP diet (a diet that restricts certain carbohydrates that can trigger gut symptoms), or an anti-inflammatory diet. These diets are individualized and should be discussed with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian before making any significant changes.

7. Avoid eating close to bedtime: Eating a large meal or snacking right before bedtime can increase the risk of acid reflux and disrupt sleep, which can also affect anxiety and mood. Aim to eat at least 2-3 hours before bedtime to allow for proper digestion and to reduce the risk of GERD symptoms and sleep disturbances.

There you have it! It's that simple right? Well, it may sound confusing but when you break it down it’s actually quite simple.

Our complex, highly interconnected systems are more connected than we once gave credit to. And, working on one system while forgetting the other won’t get you very far.

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