Surprising Causes of Anxiety and Depression
What if anxiety and depression were not what you thought they were? What if they had specific root causes that could be addressed? Anxiety and depression are very real, and very debilitating. Rates of these illnesses are skyrocketing, and I believe that in many cases, they are not necessarily just attributed to faulty brain wiring, or genetic causes that can't ever be solved.
There is not a day that goes by when I'm at my work as a Registered Nurse, that I do not talk to a parent who is concerned about mental health issues in their child. Many of these children are teenagers, but certainly not all. And in adults? It seems like every other person these days is on some kind of anxiety medication.
The emotional and physical distress that anxiety and depression cause can be unbearable. Feelings of chest being crushed, shortness of breath, chest pain, heart pounding or racing, dizziness, GI distress, headaches are a few of the symptoms that many report during an anxiety or panic attack. Panic attacks are frightening, and many people report feeling like they are going to die during these episodes.
And then there is depression. Those feelings of hopelessness, fatigue, and sadness can be incredibly debilitating.
There are some known causes of anxiety and depression that are not talked about enough. If you or a loved one have anxiety and/or depression, these are simply things to consider. I am not diagnosing you, and cannot know exactly what your situation is. Ultimately, you need to be followed closely by a medical professional.
That being said, what if the fix for some anxiety and depression was not an anti-depressant? What if there was an underlying cause that could be solved? This is my experience with treating my own anxiety, as well as a loved one's anxiety. If you identify with any of these points, I urge you to connect with a Naturopath or Functional Medicine Provider and consider testing.
1. Poor Gut Health. It's no secret, especially these days, that there is established research out there proving the Gut-Brain connection. There are more neurotransmitters in the GI tract than in the brain!
Gut Dysbiosis is a major culprit here. If you've ever taken antibiotics, or other medications that can alter gut flora, changes are you are affected by gut dysbiosis to a certain extent. In addition, processed foods feed pathogenic bacteria, while destroying beneficial bacteria. The pathogenic bacteria start to proliferate to the point that it overtakes the beneficial bacteria. That beneficial bacteria is directly related to positive mood and emotional well-being. The pathogenic bacteria, as well as other possible GI infections (such as parasites, h. pylori, candida), have the opposite effect on the brain. People who have anxiety and/or depression are shown to have negative differences in their gut microbiome, as compared to people who without anxiety or depression.
The other main culprit is "Leaky Gut". Processed foods, overuse of medications, and other factors like toxins in our foods can be abrasive to the lining of the gut, causing that lining to break down (a phenomenon known as Leaky Gut). When the integrity of the gut is harmed, the communication from the neurotransmitters in the gut and the brain are affected.
Improve Gut Health
Leaky Gut and Gut Dysbiosis truly go hand in hand, and typically one does not occur without the other. There is so much to be said about healing the gut. You can read more about how these issues happen, as well as how to solve them, in my Gut Health Series.
2. Adrenal Fatigue.
Adrenal Fatigue is a term that is tossed about, but can be a bit confusing. In a nutshell, when we experience ongoing stress, and/or ongoing inflammation in our bodies, our adrenals will product more cortisol. Cortisol is usually a good thing, and is designed to help us through times of stress and inflammation.
Back in the day, stress was caused by a tiger chasing a person, or something to that effect. The adrenals would be signaled to release additional cortisol, which increases blood pressure, alertness, and overall feelings of strength. Once the threat passes (either the person gets caught and dies, or escapes the tiger), cortisol levels return to normal.
However, in our modern world, stress is a constant assault. So, cortisol levels tend to remain high, and can cause a myriad of issues. High cortisol levels are linked to high blood pressure, decreased immune system, and anxiety and depression (among many other concerns).
Over time, the adrenals get "tired", because they are not designed to constantly release cortisol. When Adrenal Fatigue really sets in, the adrenals are not able to keep up with cortisol demands. Cortisol levels peak and drop at all the wrong times, making us tired during the day, and "wired" at night when we should be sleeping. In the late stages of Adrenal Fatigue, cortisol levels remain too low all the time, causing extreme fatigue.
At the end of the day, high and low cortisol levels are linked to depression and anxiety. Don't despair, though! Adrenal Fatigue can be addressed, and even reversed. We'll get into that later in this article.
How to Address Adrenal Fatigue?
Reduce Stress, As Much as Possible. Ah, well, one can always try. But seriously, if you are affected by Adrenal Fatigue, you need to take a step back and look at ways to reduce stress. If it means cutting back on certain commitments, then do so! Or, maybe it means cutting back on social media, or other similar sources of possible stress.
Sleep and rest. I can't stress how important these are; however, cortisol imbalances can affect sleep. Lay down and rest in the afternoon if you're tired, and go to bed at a reasonable time. If cortisol levels are preventing good sleep, read on to help manage this.
Reasonable Exercise. During times of Adrenal Fatigue, it is important to move the body, but not overdo exercise, as overdoing it can worsen the problem. Walking, hiking, yoga, and swimming are great examples of appropriate types of exercise to help with stress levels, without causing additional inflammation.
Gut Healing/Anti-Inflammatory Diet. Any food intolerances or allergies, gut dysbiosis, and/or Leaky Gut will cause widespread inflammation, directly contributing to Adrenal Dysfunction. Again, I'll refer you back to my Gut Health Series for a serious look at how to solve these issues.
Address any Underlying Infections. This can include gut infections, as well as other chronic infections like Lyme or Epstein Barr. Any underlying infection will absolutely cause inflammation, which will, in turn, cause the adrenals to be overworked.
Adaptogenic Herbs. Ashwaganda, Holy Basil, and Rhodiola are examples of "Adaptogenic Herbs", or herbs that help to nourish and stabilize the Adrenal Glands and reduce overall stress. This Adrenal Health Supplement is my personal favorite. You cannot add in a supplement like this without addressing root causes of inflammation, but at the same time, if you've addressed the root causes, often the herbs are what can help to normalize the adrenal glands.
Copaiba and Frankincense Essential Oils. Both of these essential oils are anti-inflammatory, support gut health, and also support the health of the nervous system. Copaiba, in particular, has been shown to help with anxiety, and Frankincense with overall inflammation and brain health. These should be taken internally, but you must be sure to have a certified, pure, therapeutic grade essential oil with supplement facts on the bottle.
Salted Water. Amazingly, water, mixed with 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of a high quality salt like Himalayan Sea Salt, can nourish the adrenals and help them to heal. Don't use table salt for this! 16 oz of salted water per day, with lemon squeezed into it, should be sufficient (no, I didn't say it would taste amazing!).
Monitor Screen Time. This is worth mentioning, because the blue light emitted from screens increases stress and cortisol levels. It also stimulates the pituitary gland and can cause delays in one's ability to fall asleep. Make sure to stop exposure to screens 1 hour before bed.
3. Methylation Issues.
I was highly affected by Methylation problems, as you may be aware if you are familiar with my story. Others may have never even heard this term!
Methylation is necessary for life. It is a cycle that happens inside our cells, every second of the day. Methylation is responsible for converting certain nutrients, including B vitamins, to the "methylated" form that our bodies can utilize. These nutrients are then responsible for a multitude of vital functions in our bodies, and they are only able to be utilized for these functions if they are methylated.
However, many of us have genetic mutations in key components of our methylation cycle. These mutations can range from very minor, to so severe that a baby would be miscarried because the mutations are not compatible with life. Methylation mutations can cause different issues in different people, ranging from difficulties in detoxifying the body, to chronic pain, autism, other brain issues, and repeated miscarriages.
And guess what else they are associated with? Anxiety, depression, OCD, Bipolar Disorder, and multiple other mental health disorders!
Why? Because methylation mutations cause the body to either OVER-methylate, or UNDER methylate. Over Methylating causes insomnia and anxiety; even anxiety attacks. Under Methylating is associated with low levels of key B vitamins, which DIRECTLY affect brain health. Depression is often associated with Under Methylation. Certain methylation mutations are also associated with OCD, while others are associated with anxiety, and even Bipolar Disorder.
Methylation mutations, such as what we see in people with MTHFR issues, can be identified by genetic testing like 23andMe (Health and Ancestry Kit). The results do need to be read by a naturopath functional medicine practitioner who is well-versed in this testing.
Methylation Mutations Can Be Treated!
The amazing news is, these issues can be corrected by supplementing with methylated B vitamins, and other supplements such as DIM and SAMe. I can't stress enough that this type of supplementation needs close supervision by a well versed naturopath or functional medicine practitioner. Over supplementation can lead to increased anxiety, for example, so do not proceed without guidance on the specific supplements that may be right for you, as well as how much is needed.
I want to add that while methylation issues are genetic, these genes are usually "turned on" by environmental stresses. This means they can also be "turned off". Studies on epigenetic have shown this phenomenon. So, while I talk about genetics with methylation, this is not something that a person is stuck with forever!
4. Liver Congestion.
This one blew my mind! When I coach clients and discuss this issue when appropriate, they usually say something like "HOW would you know your liver is congested?! You must know yourself really well!".
Well, yes and no. I really just discovered this phenomenon in myself by accident. I made the connection was when I started to detox from heavy metals. I noticed that sometimes I would be watching TV or reading a book at night, and around 9 or 9:30 pm, I would start to feel anxious and itchy. And it wouldn't be mild. It would border on panic attacks! I would also notice stomach upset and water retention.
Because I was already actively detoxing, I knew to do things to flush out the liver. I started to make the connection that flushing out the liver would relieve these symptoms! I reported all of this to my naturopath, and he confirmed that what I was experiencing was Liver Congestion, or a "backed up liver". This means the liver is overloaded and gets sluggish, and can't quite do it's job as effectively as it normally can.
Symptoms of Liver Congestion include itching of skin, skin rashes and/or acne, anxiety (especially at night), bloating/water retention, and diarrhea.
How to Address Liver Congestion
Anti-Inflammatory Diet. Again, focus on your gut health in order to put less demand on your liver, and reduce inflammation.
Herbs that Support the Liver. Milk Thistle and Dandelion Root are excellent for this! Zendocrine Complex is an amazing liver-supporting supplement.
Activated Charcoal or Bentonite Clay. These supplements help to grab up toxins that we all have lying in our GI tract (from simple environmental exposure, to overuse of chemicals in personal care or household products). This, again, helps to decrease the burden on the liver, as well as prevent any released toxins from redistributing back into the body.
Copaiba Essential Oil. Copaiba, in it's whole-plant essential oil form, is shown to support liver cells and liver health in general.
Coffee Enemas. Um, what? Yes, I'm sorry to say, this is immensely helpful in flushing out the liver. In fact, it is all it takes. Talk to a naturopath or functional medicine practitioner to get a recommendation or support for coffee enemas.
Seek Guidance When Addressing These Concerns
Treating these possible causes of Anxiety and Depression can make a huge difference in your life! This article should serve to offer guidance, but not replace the help that is absolutely necessary when navigating mental health issues. Seeking ongoing counseling is always beneficial when working through any mental health issue. And if you are feeling like life is not worth living, seek immediate help by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
But if you are wondering about any of these underlying issues, seek the help of a qualified naturopath or functional medicine provider! In many cases of anxiety and/or depression, at least one of these causes can be identified. This doesn't meant you shouldn't consider traditional ways of treating, but at the same time, these conditions do not have to be a way of life.
I, personally, was so relieved to know that some of the anxiety I would experience on and off were directly related to a specific problem that could be corrected, and not attributed simply to my personality or the way I was wired.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or mental health professional. Always be sure to call your primary care provider, or other medical professional, if you have concerns. Proceed with caution, and do your own research!