Talking all things anxiety & gut health with Jasmine Gilbert
Posted on September 28 2020
Hi everyone ☺ My name’s Jasmine, but I'm better known as Jaz, and I live in Melbourne, after moving over from Adelaide for university.
I’ve been a Naturopath for 8 years and I also work as a fitness instructor, managing an F45 studio. Let’s just say, I like to keep myself busy doing things I love; health and fitness are my life.
Initially my interest in Naturopathy stemmed from curiosity about the diet. I don’t feel like I was taught anything about it in school, and so before my degree I was distinctly removed from the impact that food had on my overall physical and mental health. I saw food as just energy, not as a way to optimise the way that I felt, my energy and mood.
As I began my studies, I became increasingly passionate about sharing what I was learning about the significant impact that the diet, nutritional therapy and other modalities like herbal medicine could have on our health.
Everything clicked into place as I learned how the body works, and how rarely symptoms just pop up in isolation; rather, 99% of the time our symptoms are interconnected, and when we find the root cause of them, they can often be dealt with effectively with natural medicine, diet and lifestyle adjustments.
As a Naturopath I hold myself accountable to my core principles, which are:
- find and treat the root cause, not just the symptoms.
- use as little intervention as possible, rather than putting clients on 10 different supplements which is expensive and often unnecessary
- ensure that my clients understand what I am giving them and why – I believe that education is empowering when overcoming illness.
- provide a long-term plan for maintenance and management so that the issue doesn’t recur down the line when treatment finishes.
My area of specialty is the gut-brain connection, addressing gut issues and anxiety. While I do work with gut issues in people without anxiety and vice versa, I find the person that is often in my clinic chair (virtual chair since Covid!) is someone with both issues, and this is because anxiety and gut health can both cause and be caused by the other. It really is the chicken or the egg.
When it comes to taking care of our gut health, we first really need to understand whether we have an actual pathology going on, eg coeliac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, or if there is a reduction in function, or changes to the gut microbiome (gut bacteria). All of this can be uncovered through a comprehensive digestive stool analysis, if required.
From here we can properly identify what you really need in order to improve your gut health. There are many “gut health” powders and probiotics marketed, and I think it’s great that the wider public is beginning to understand how important gut health is when it comes to our overall health, however most of these supplements are very generic, and if they don’t treat your specific problem then they won’t achieve anything.
It’s for this reason I don’t believe that everyone needs to take any supplements like probiotics daily.
Our body should be making it’s own probiotics from prebiotic foods given there is the right environment in the gut to do so. When this isn't happening properly probiotics can be useful, but they are transitory, so really our focus becomes on working out why there are not enough of our own good bacteria and how we can assist our body to make its own.
Some common reasons we can have less “good” gut bacteria include:
- prolonged antibiotic, oral contraceptive pill or anti-depressant use – these medications may be necessary but concurrent probiotic use should also be considered under the guidance of your healthcare provider.
- stress – cortisol, a stress hormone, can alter gut bacteria levels.
- eating too much sugar or refined foods.
- not eating enough prebiotic foods like fibre rich veggies, nuts and whole grains.
- over-using alcohol and caffeine (sorry!).
Generally speaking, addressing each of these issues can help us optimise our gut health. So looking at what we are eating the majority of the time, how much alcohol and coffee we’re having, and what our stress levels are like.
I might be coming off like the fun police here, but I’m not as strict as it may seem: this is all about balance! To me, health is about what you do the majority of the time, 80-90% of the time. It’s not that you can’t ever eat sugar again or drink coffee if you want to have a healthy gut, it’s just about limiting sugar to the occasional treat, and capping your coffee intake at what is right for you. I drink 1 coffee every day because I know this is my personal limit, much more than that and I’ll tip myself into burn out and anxiety.
I think it’s also good to look at why you do the things you do. Underneath your coffee addiction, is your body actually exhausted and in need of investigation into why? You don’t want to miss other causes of fatigue like iron deficiency or thyroid issues.
Underneath regular alcohol intake, are you actually really stressed or emotionally unhappy with your life? Often clients tell me they do use alcohol to wind down, and so that’s telling in itself. How can we calm the body down without using alcohol every day, which is harming the gut and therefore feeding back into our stress and anxiety!
Other than changes to the gut bacteria, common gut issues may be related to:
- decreased digestive function, for instance when the body is making less digestive enzymes or stomach acid to break food down.
- leaky gut, meaning that the intestinal barrier is being compromised, resulting in incompletely digested food permeating into the bloodstream and a less robust gut-immune defence against “bad” bacteria and other antigens.
- small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), in which there are excessive bacteria in the small intestine (which are meant to be primarily in the large intestine), This is thought to be the driver of between 20-50% of cases of diagnosed irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Now keep in mind, stress and anxiety can actually contribute to all of these issues, as well as alter the gut microbiome, as I mentioned before. That’s why there are now studies into the impact of hypnosis and meditation on IBS.
On the flipside, when our gut is in poor shape in one way or another, the inevitable inflammation from the gut can cause inflammatory signals to cross over into the brain and alter neurotransmitter signalling. Neurotransmitters are things like serotonin, dopamine and GABA, which are responsible for our mood. When signalling changes, we can see more mood disorders like anxiety or depression.
In the end you may never really know what happened first – the anxiety or the gut issue, but in all my treatment plans we will always address both: heal the gut, and bring down our physiological stress response.
I think this is really important for people to understand because sometimes we know clearly what is making us anxious but we don’t have the resources or strength to change it yet eg/ a stressful job or unhealthy relationship, or it is something completely outside of our control eg/ family illness.
Please know: the stressor may not change but we can change how our body responds to it by healing the gut and relaxing the nervous system.
Find Jasmine on Instagram: @totalhealthwithjasmine