Story at a glance
- According to 2015 statistics, 3.6% of the global population has a generalized anxiety disorder.
- Higher levels of inflammation markers including CRP, IL-6, and TNF-alpha are present in people with high anxiety scores.
- The body’s enteric nervous system, located in the gut, regularly communicates with the brain, which in turn can directly affect our cognition.
- People with anxiety disorders are shown to lack microbial richness and diversity.
- Triggering an inflammatory response in our gut increases the likelihood of developing an anxiety disorder. To avoid inflammation, be mindful of your food intake and withdraw from consuming common processed foods that contain toxins.
Generalized anxiety disorder
According to 2015 statistics from the CDC, 3.6% of the global population has a generalized anxiety disorder.
“Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is characterized by persistent and excessive worry about a number of different things. People with GAD may anticipate disaster and may be overly concerned about money, health, family, work, or other issues. Individuals with GAD find it difficult to control their worry. They may worry more than seems warranted about actual events or may expect the worst even when there is no apparent reason for concern.” (1)
Surprisingly, generalized anxiety diagnoses have been increasing in the West, even though western countries are categorized as first-world.
A common misconception is that countries with lower socioeconomic statuses would have higher anxiety rates, however a large study published in the JAMA Psychiatry found that “The disorder is especially common and impairing in high-income countries despite a negative association between GAD and socioeconomic status within countries.” (2)
While there is no direct understanding (only speculations) as to why the West has increasing anxiety rates, an uptick in studies analyzing the harmful effects of a Western diet may have something to prove.
Western diets and inflammation
It’s common knowledge among all forms of medical practices that our indulgence in a Western-style diet is unhealthy.
Western diets include highly processed, convenience foods, and high-sugar beverages. This diet is typically associated with the ‘busy lifestyle’ that Western consumers live.
Foods in Western diets are high in calories, sugars, trans fats and saturated fats, salt, and other food additives. These components are linked to inflammation in our gut.
The Cleveland Clinic says that “consumption of the [Western diet] has been demonstrated to lead to both quantitative and qualitative changes in our microbiome, which in turn helps shape our integrated immune response.” and that, “Such dietary patterns also lead to disruption of the gut-barrier integrity, allowing harmful translocation of microbial products, which can induce inflammation.” (3)
The bacteria in our gut have a direct route of communication with the brain through the enteric nervous system.
Inflammation and anxiety
The heightened anxiety rates and consumption of a Western diet in our society could be correlated with each other.
Since inflammation from unhealthy foods alters the microbiota in the gut, researchers have found that it could have multiple effects on affect, motivation, and higher cognitive functions.
One study found “markedly decreased microbial richness and diversity” in patients with a generalized anxiety disorder.
Evidence of the association between chronic inflammation and anxiety disorders is especially present on a cellular level. Scientists were able to identify high amounts of inflammatory markers, such as pro-inflammatory cytokines and C-reactive proteins, in patients with anxiety disorders, particularly PTSD. In comparison, patients without an anxiety disorder had lower levels of inflammatory markers.
Who knew that treating anxiety could start with eating healthier?
Anti-anxiety/anti-depression medication has life-altering side effects, as well as being costly. Eating healthier is a cheaper option and benefits your body in more ways than one.
It’s time to take charge of your microbiome by feeding it the nutrients it needs to thrive and avoiding irritant foods which cause inflammation.
But wait, there’s more!
(2) Ruscio AM, Hallion LS, Lim CCW, et al. Cross-sectional Comparison of the Epidemiology of DSM-5 Generalized Anxiety Disorder Across the Globe. JAMA Psychiatry. 2017;74(5):465–475. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2017.0056