Anxiety is nasty. I am sure you can agree. The number of people suffering from anxiety that is perpetuating is frightening. Do you suffer from anxiety? Does it debilitate your life? Is it that dull anxiety that is present all the time, lying beneath everything that you do? The end of the year is filled with potent anxiety triggers. While you might not feel the impact during the vacation amidst the euphoria of everything that is happening, it usually can hit you badly once that euphoria settles down, which is the start of the brand new year. Do you have to suffer? Is this something that will remain a part of you? It need not be.
Anxiety has various root causes, based on the principles of functional medicine, and most of it can be addressed, provided that you are willing to make some changes to support yourself. I’m going to break this down into seven root causes and steps. I want you to ask yourself with deep honesty, at each of the seven, if you could be facing that root cause, and whether if you are, you are willing to make a change, which at times might require you to move away from ideology or a specific diet. I know that change can be hard, and I’ve definitely struggled with this myself, but sometimes change is necessary, and healing from anxiety is definitely one of those times.
Seven Root Causes of Anxiety:
- Dysfunctional Adrenals
- Gut Dysbiosis
- Liver Challenges
- Nutrient Deficiencies
- Chronic Inflammation
- Hormone Imbalance
- Brain Inflammation
As you can see, it is never one single reason, nor is it without reason. Often, there is a combination of all these root causes, which come together at a certain point in time, where anxiety is triggered and then never quite goes away. I want to take you through each of these reasons, explaining them as simply as possible, and give you the solutions that might be required to overcome them. Remember that the combination of root causes and the severity of one over the other, will vary from person to person, and this is where you might be required to pay attention and write down some observations as you read along.
The reason that I list this right on top, is that it is so common and can be a massive factor in perpetuating anxiety. I call it perpetuating when it is always there. It is not linked to a situation or one moment in time. That’s scary!
The Adrenal gland is a small glands that sit on top of each kidney. It has an outer layer called the cortex and an inner layer called the Medulla. The Cortex produces Cortisol, Aldosterone and Androgens. The Medulla produces Norepinephrine , Epinephrine and Dopamine.
Cortisol is required to maintain normal blood vessel tone, maintain normal blood sugar levels, combat stress and illness, regulate appetite and energy, and even calm down your immune system in inflammation or allergies. Aldosterone maintains fluid balance or Sodium Potassium regulation. The cortex also produces Testosterone and DHEA, which is the precursor to Testosterone. Epinephrine which you might know as Adrenaline is the fight or flight response. Norepinephrine is a neurotransmitter and Dopamine is a neurotransmitter related to feeling pleasure. Cortisol has a specific rhythm where it is meant to be high when you wake up, and dip low when you get to bed. In situations where excessive stress is thrown at it, it can get dysfunctional, where it is low in the morning requiring a coffee to get started and high at night preventing you from falling asleep. It can impact so many areas of our bodies. It can increase inflammation overall, it impacts circadian rhythm which means sleep is messed up. It can impact the lining in your gut. It can impact your brain in many ways. So before you look at protocols, you definitely have to make a conscious effort to handle stress. If you are someone who is constantly finding all the things wrong in your life or your body and never celebrating the good things, however small they are, just stop. Stress kills and this is real. Overworking your adrenals with high stress, restrictive diets or overtraining can make your adrenals agitated and be a major root cause of anxiety.
To restore healthy functioning of your adrenals, include practices like breathing, yoga and meditation to keep stress as it should be, occasional. Avoid eating diets that restrict major food groups. Avoid over exercising if you want to heal from anxiety.
What is dysbiosis? If you had a lifetime of antibiotic usage, eating inflammatory foods or eating high sugar foods, then chances are that you have gut dysbiosis. This simply means that there is an overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria to beneficial bacteria. I cannot tell you how many people tell me casually that they self medicated a course of antibiotics for simple things like a cold, a virus or even clearing some acne before an event. A course of antibiotics can increase dysbiosis and become the reason for anxiety. If you have taken frequent antibiotics, I am not telling you this to scare you, but rather to give you the knowledge that it can a root cause of anxiety, and therefore, to heal from anxiety, it requires looking at your gut. While you might have heard from many people that fermented foods are great for your gut, I want to caution you against it initially. The reason for this is that many people suffering from anxiety do so because they have high histamine levels. Fermented foods are high in histamines and can aggravate the situation.
Try to correct dysbiosis by not overmedicating with antibiotics, improving gut bacteria by eating more colourful plant foods which serve as prebiotics and getting good sleep.
The reason that anxiety can flare up at the start of the new year, is the burden that is put on the liver at the end of the year. Binge drinking, poor sleep, excessive sugar, copious amounts of caffeine and heavy food can all impact liver health. In many cases, there can be deep rooted genetic variations that prevent proper methylation and liver functioning. Methylation is a series of biochemical pathways which break down nutrients from food, gut and cells. Many processes like genetic expression, conversion of food to energy, cellular protection, brain health production of neurotransmitter hormones, stress response, detoxification, immune response, cardiovascular function and DNA repair take place due to methylation. Methylation pathway detoxifies estrogen, dopamine, histamine and heavy metals. If they get overloaded, all of these can then trigger anxiety. When the liver has an excessive load, its basic functioning is impacted.
To restore liver health, give your liver a break from the culprits, eat bitter foods and see that you are eat fats which are clean.
This is such a big reason for anxiety. If you are eating a diet that is restrictive and missing nutrients such as omega-3, vitamin B6, A, D, Folate, B12, Iron, Zinc, Selenium, Choline and more, then it’s really hard to recover from anxiety. Omega-3 is required for healthy cell membranes of the brain cell. B12 is required for healthy nervous system function and brain health. Magnesium and B6 convert tryptophan to serotonin. Tryptophan is an amino acid found in some foods, and serotonin is a neurotransmitter hormone that makes you feel peaceful. Iron is required to carry energy to your cells, including your brain. Vitamin A and D support the production of Dopamine. Choline is required for a healthy brain. The interconnections are simply unquestionable, and restrictive diets like a vegan diet, keto and paleo done long term can all induce some of these deficiencies. If you can, eat a diet that is as diverse as possible. You can get more details on these vitamins and minerals and their food sources here as a downloadable e-book.
The reasons for chronic inflammation can be different person to person. Generally the reasons for chronic inflammation include gut breakdown, eating an inflammatory diet, poor sleep, high stress, food allergies, low fat diet, dysbiosis, toxic overload, lack of exercise and lack of community. It is well researched that those who have a loving and supportive community have fewer health conditions, while feelings of isolation can be triggers for chronic inflammation. You can get away with no food, but you cannot get away with poor sleep. Constant stress can make your adrenals upset. Eating a low fat diet, which is more common than you think, can starve the brain of nutrients. Chronic inflammation can be a major root cause of anxiety, which is why to heal from anxiety it requires a whole lot more than medication.
To lower inflammation, eat a diet which has whole foods, complex carbohydrates, clean protein, healthy fats and lots of colour. It is ideal that you have some animal protein if you have been suffering from anxiety for a long time. If you struggle to do so, explore bringing in some fish oil, iron and B12 as supplements.
If there is estrogen dominance, which can happen in many ways, anxiety can be a big part of the picture. Estrogen dominance can be caused either by having too much estrogen, not being able to get rid of estrogen metabolites or having low progesterone. Progesterone balances estrogen. It is produced after ovulation in the luteal phase. It is brain soothing, supports good sleep, stimulates thyroid hormone, makes you feel calm with no anxiety and is soothing. When you are estrogen dominant, histamines can rise, and trigger anxiety. There is a foundation within your body for hormone balance. If your blood sugar is balanced, then your adrenals will be stable. If your adrenals are balanced, then your thyroud hormones will be balanced. If your thyroid hormones are balanced, then your sex hormones will be balanced. What this tells you is that simply eating meals that balance your blood sugar can help balance your hormones.
To balance hormones, eat meals that have fat, fibre, protein and colour. See that you have good liver function. Improve the quality of your sleep, which can help balance everything.
Glymph refers to glial cells in your brain, and is a vast system that holds neurons and synapses together. Why is healthy functioning of your glymphatic system crucial? Cerebral Spinal fluid literally washes your brain when you are in deep sleep. Let me explain it a little more. Cerebral spinal fluid is a clear fluid protecting your brain within the cranium. In deep sleep, it washes toxins and metabolic byproducts from your brain into the glymph system, Glymph is a waste clearance pathway for clearance of excess protein and metabolites from the brain and spinal cord, and this happens only in deep sleep. Glymph that is not cleared has been linked to mental health challenges from brain fog, anxiety to depression and more serious mental illness. Your brain can actually deteriorate when it does not have sleep at night when it should.
To support lowering brain inflammation, get enough sleep, include yoga especially inverted postures which improve circulation to the brain and try old fashioned oil massage to your scalp!
Healing from Anxiety
In order to heal yourself from anxiety, spend a few moments making some notes for yourself from this article. Try to honestly jot down insights of possible root causes. Look at all the root causes which include dysfunctional adrenals, gut dysbiosis, liver challenges, nutrient deficiencies, chronic inflammation, hormone imbalance and brain inflammation. Within each person, there will be a specific combination of root causes. Try to address them one by one. Give yourself patience, but remember, if you need to make a change, do so with a feeling of empowerment, rather than deprivation or frustration.