My Gut Health - Anxiety Story
Anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental health conditions in the United States affecting up to 40 million Americans. Evidence has shown that an imbalance in our gut microbiota has a great influence on our brain health via gut-brain access, which can affect our anxiety.
I have lived with anxiety since childhood, and little did I know that perhaps my chronic gut issues were partly to blame.
My name is Marcie Vaske, and I'm a functional medicine nutritionist specializing in gut health. I work with individuals who struggle with bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, and that's really just to name a few things.
Of that sounds like you or maybe someone you love, you can easily make an initial appointment with us. Or, if you're the kind of person who likes to do things on their own, you can download our free guide, which is Five Ways to Improve Gut Health. So, let's dig into today's topic.
My life lived with anxiety and poor gut health
Today I'm going to share my personal story of my life lived with anxiety and poor gut health, and how I keep them both in check today.
My story starts at about age seven when I had my first run-in with a gut issue. I woke one night in extreme pain, not knowing what it was, I woke up my parents and almost taken to the ER, instead, I was just soothed with some ibuprofen and some snuggles from my parents.
But what we didn't realize at that time was that it might be a gut issue.
Starting around the third grade, I remember being sick to my stomach all the time. Stomach aches would kind of come and go throughout the day.
And at that time, I grew up in the 80's and there wasn't really any food sensitivity testing done. And so, you know, who knows what it was? It was assumed that Marcie just has another stomach ache. And as I got into my teens, that's when the anxiety really started to peak.
Looking back now, I realize that I was also experiencing anxiety even as a small child, but didn't really have a word for it. So, as I got into my teens, my anxiety was spiking and my gut issues were getting worse.
More constipation, bloating, gas, and stomach aches. It seemed never-ending. I lived in a world of always having something wrong with my stomach, and my anxiety ebbing and flowing depending on what's going in life, but always that underlying current of anxiety.
And it wasn't really until I got into my thirties that I started to dig into it and try to figure out what was going on. Up until then, I was just self-soothing. I mean, we're in high school. I went to college, so I self-soothed with drinking and also an eating disorder that kind of got out of control.
So as I got older, I graduated from college, I realized that I wasn't getting to the root cause of gut stuff or even my anxiety, but you know, life had to go on. I got a job, got married, all that stuff. Then in my thirties, I ended up having twins.
And after I had the twins, I was done with it. I had to figure out a way to feel better. And after I had them, I did end up going on Prozac for my anxiety.
Obviously, having twins was a little stressful for me, although they were great little babies, but two at a time really took its toll, and my anxiety just heightened extremely.
Using the Prozac kind of took the edge off, which me then calm down, calm my gut down, and try to then dig into what was going on with my gut and how could I get these things set right.
During the time I was on Prozac, I knew that was not the way that I wanted to treat myself. I knew that there was something deeper and bigger underneath it all, and I needed to figure it out. But in the meantime, I stayed on it. And my gut issues increased.
A couple years after, I ended up doing a bodybuilding competition. So the diet that I went on was extremely restrictive and there were a lot of things that I wasn't eating due to the plan I was on.
What I recognized from this was that increasing my protein was really helping. But the diet that I was on also required a lot of fat-free stuff, and that was just terrible for my gut because of all the additives in it. And of course, fat-free products have sugar in them too, which just is more inflammation.
It was the last week of that prep where I had to take out many things and really stick to basically like four foods for five days in preparation for it. And I felt amazing, my gut felt amazing. It was crazy.
Soon after that competition, I thought, all right, obviously some of the things that I'm eating are really causing problems for my gut. At the time, I hadn't gone back to get my master's in nutrition, so I wasn't working as a nutritionist at the time.
And so, I was learning things as I was going. I was starting to get into my schooling, but I wasn't licensed. And I didn't have all that background that I have now. But as I was learning for myself, it really has helped me in today's counseling that I do with clients.
However, what I did was took a food sensitivity test. It was a good place for me to start.
The results came back with extreme amounts of food sensitivities. It wasn't super surprising to me because during that last week of the competition, when I removed all those foods, I felt amazing. I figured that it was going be pretty severe when the results came back.
So, I removed all of the foods that came back as sensitivities. And what was remarkable is that my gut felt so much better, but I knew deep down there was still healing to do. So, I had to dig and keep discovering what those things were.
Looking into research, I realized that my gut was such a wreck that it was obviously increasing my anxiety levels. And as I mentioned at the beginning, what we know is that our gut microbiome affects our brain.
And the way that this happens is that it affects the neurotransmitters. One easy way to think about this is if you have low good flora in your gut, you are not going to make enough of your neurotransmitters to help calm you down.
So things like serotonin and dopamine. As I took those foods out and started revamping my meals and my diet altogether, my gut calmed down and low and behold, I had less anxiety.
And so it was a perfect time for me to decide, okay, I'm gonna go off this Prozac, because the side effects were getting just really annoying. And all in all, I just didn't wanna be on a medication.
As I began to heal my gut, I started weaning off Prozac. Once I was done, I then used something called 5HTP to kind of get me over that edge of when you come off an SSRI.
And taking that 5HTP helped me create more of my own serotonin along with all of the gut health that I was working on, making some really good neurotransmitters in my gut.
I was on the 5 HTP for a short time, which really helped! After I stopped taking it, I realized that the things that helped me the most by keeping my anxiety at this normal level would were things like protein.
I realized that if I wasn't eating enough protein per day, that I would have a little more anxiety the next day.
And so that's something I still pay a lot of attention to today, making sure that I'm eating enough protein to make the neurotransmitters in my gut that I need to, so that I can calm myself naturally the way we're supposed to.
Now of course, there's genetic anxiety that runs that we can be predisposed to, right? And of course I have some of that in family, of course, and some of you may too. But there's so much we can do to kind of get a handle on it.
Ao as the gut gets more unwell, your brain can be more unwell. And once you have anxiety, the gut is also infected.
So it's like this cycle of stuff that can happen, meaning when your anxiety's high, your gut can get clenched.
And I know even today that if something stressful is going on or I'm busy or stressed, I feel like that high anxiety starts rising a little bit more than I'm used to.
My stomach will definitely tell me, I'll get bloated, or I'll have a stomach ache. It's listening to yourself and finding that root cause to help yourself best. Finding my root cause really took a moment for me to just reflect on my childhood.
I realized that I was likely dairy intolerant from a young age, maybe even as a baby. So, continuing to drink and eat dairy products while growing up took its toll on my gut, which therefore increased my anxiety.
I will always need to be mindful of my stress levels and my gut health. Therefore I have taken some of those foods that initially were causing a big problem out of my life and diet permanently. And while some of them were a little tricky, it has made such a world of difference for me.
I'm healthy, I'm happy, and my gut doesn't hurt every day. And I don't feel like I can't focus and I'm just wired tight. I'm calm. And I think getting rid of a couple foods in my experience has really been worth it for me. Which isn't for everybody.
I share my story so that if you are out there reading this, you might be thinking, wow, that kind of sounds like me. Maybe I need to look into this further. Or, can I just do some work on my own to improve my gut health? Perhaps you can.
But if you feel like this and your gut's always bothering you, I recommend that you work with a practitioner, and I would be happy to work with you!
You can make an initial appointment with me because I know how much anxiety and gut health can affect your everyday life. It's not fun.
I've moved through the process of getting healthy and enjoying living life. I would love to help you too. So you can live your best life just as I am.
If you'd like to explore any of this information further or obtain an individualized nutrition plan, you can schedule an initial appointment at our clinic. We also take insurance and some of our clients get full coverage, which is great.
Or you can start by just downloading our FREE GUIDE: 5 Ways to Improve Gut Health.