Are you easily overwhelmed? Does your heart race, your breath become shallow and you can’t seem to gain control of your mind? Does this seem to be your new state of being? When people ask, “How are you?” do you say fine, even though this is what is happening on a routine basis?
Anxiety is the most common mental health disorder in the US with over 40 million people over the age of 18 suffering from some form of it today. That is 18.1% of the population! Of all those suffering, only 36% of them are getting treatment for it.
Why is this number so low?
Pharmaceutical medication hasn’t proven to be necessarily successful. Efficacy rates range between 15-45% and knowing this variance, people are not inclined to seek medical treatment.
As with any medication, it is impossible to find one solution to fit everyone, as anxiety can manifests very differently between individuals. Functional medicine takes this into account when seeking to find alternative treatments to medications such as the well-known Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil.
While we’re all familiar with feelings of worry, stress, and tension, there’s a significant difference between these emotions and the intensity of persistent, chronic anxiety. Anxiety disorders are defined as experiencing symptoms of overwhelming anxiety and stress to the extent that it interferes with one’s daily life and normal activities.
There are several forms of anxiety such as:
- General Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
- Panic disorder
- Social Anxiety Disorder
- Separation Anxiety
- Specific Phobias
All of these types of anxiety can be incredibly disabling when not addressed.
How A Root Cause Approach Can Help
As the pharmaceutical route for treating anxiety disorders has varying and often vastly contrasting levels of success, there has been a recent upsurge of interest in functional and holistic treatments to soothe these symptoms.
Functional medicine, is root cause approach, that treats anxiety by looking at the entire picture – taking into account the person’s overall mental, psychological, environmental and emotional imbalances rather than attempting to merely treat the symptoms and briefly subdue discomfort of mental anguish. Drugs can be effective in periodically relieving these symptoms, but their only purpose is to briefly numb the sensations, often leaving the patient in a period of non-emotion and lethargy.
By getting to the source of the anxiety itself – taking in all accounts of trauma, past experiences, and external contributing circumstances, functional medicine allows the anxiety sufferer to truly come to understand the root causes of their anxiety, and in turn, better equipped to combat it.
Difficult as it may be to discover and face up to some of the true reasons you are feeling anxiety, functional health experts advocate that the only real way to solve anxiety and prevent it for good is by finding out your WHY.
Anxiety is a symptom—a symptom that has a root cause.
Finding out your WHY is just the first step of a long road of cultivating self-awareness and ‘getting to know’ your anxiety.
3 Common Root Causes to Anxiety
1. Nutrient Deficiencies
2. Compromised Digestive Track/Microbiome
3. Adrenal Dysfunction (HPA Dysfunction)
In our society where we have an overabundance of food you might be surprised at how common nutrient deficiencies are.
Nutrient deficiencies manifest as sleep problems, headaches, PMS symptoms, fatigue, depression, poor memory and brain fog, depression, inability to lose weight, and more. These symptoms are signs your cells are not getting enough nutrients to meet their energy demands.
You may be genetically predisposed to needing more of a particular nutrient than others. Stress increases the energy demands of your cells making this genetic susceptibility more likely to manifest.
Digestive issues like acid reflux, diarrhea, constipation, gas, and bloating are signs of poor digestive health which compromises your ability to absorb nutrients. So even if you are eating the ‘right’ food you aren’t absorbing the nutrients.
Routine use of medication like birth control, ibuprofen, acetaminophen (Tylenol), high blood pressure or cholesterol meds, anti-depressants, and anti-acids can also lead to a compromised digestive tract and disruption of the microbiome (see below) causing nutrient deficiencies that can manifest as mood symptoms.
How to Determine Your Unique Nutrient Deficiencies?
Test. Don’t guess.
You are an individual with a unique set of life circumstances and genetic code. What causes symptoms in you will not necessarily be what causes the same symptom in others. This is why testing is important and helps you to identify your unique nutrient requirements.
When dealing with anxiety I recommend the Organix acids or Ion Profile labs. The Ion Profile is the Mother of all tests. In addition to all the markers in the Organix acids test which includes B-vitamins, neurotransmitter, and mitochondria markers, it also includes amino acids, fatty acids, and toxic elements such as lead, arsenic, cadmium and mercury.
Testing allows you to identifying your nutrient deficiencies, but figuring out what is causing them and how they are manifesting by way of your symptoms is a different story. This is where partnering with an expert can help you.
Compromised Digestive Track/Microbiome imbalance.
The microbiome maintains the lining of the gut, modulates the immune system, produce neurotransmitters (most of the serotonin in your body is produced in your gut), vitamins, and enzymes (proteins) and protect us from infection from pathogenic (disease causing) parasites and bacteria, and fungus (yeast).
Digestive symptoms, as already mentioned above, can be signs of an imbalanced microbiome (bacteria, viruses, archea, together with their genes). There is a saying in functional medicine, “Fire in the gut means fire in the brain”, which means if your gut is inflamed, your brain is inflamed.
Parasitic or bacterial infections, yeast overgrowth, leaky gut (intestinal hyper-permeability), and food intolerances can all contribute to inflammation in the gut. The release of inflammatory molecules into your system can manifest as anxiety, depression, brain fog, fatigue, frustration, anger, and fear.
In fact, numerous studies have shown that the gut microbiome plays a important role in Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, autism, ADD, ADHD, Alzheimer’s, and dementia.
How to Evaluate Your Digestive Health?
The test that I recommend for evaluating digestive health and the health of your microbiome include the GI-Map by Diagnostic Solutions and GI-Effects. The results of these test will determine the right solutions for you.
Adrenal Dysfunction (HPA Dysfunction)
The body’s stress response (HPA, hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis) is designed to help us in times of stress. When turned on the stress response mobilizes hormones such as cortisol, adrenaline (epinephrine) and noradrenaline (nor-epinephrine) causing us to be hyper-alert to our environment so we can look for threats and mobilizes energy to our extremities, preparing us for flight or to fight.
But when the stress response is stuck on ‘on’ and cannot be turned off chronically over time, it shuts down longer term projects in the body, like digestion, reproduction, repair and regeneration, and suppresses our immune system. We don’t need to digest food,have a baby, or fight off a cold when we are in danger. The body is breaking down faster than it is repairing and this becomes your new normal.
Over time we become less resilient and have less metabolic reserve. Resiliency is the immediate capacity of cells, tissues, and organ systems to respond to changes in our environment and metabolic reserve refers to our body’s capacity to respond to repeated changes in our environment. In other words, resiliency is the ability of a rubber band to stretch around a bottle and metabolic reserve is the number of times it can be stretched and returned to its original state before becoming permanently elongated.
Anxiety can be a sign you’ve compromised your metabolic reserve.
What causes chronic HPA Activation?
- Unrelenting Mental/Emotional Stress (from relationships, finances, over working)
- Dietary stress (sugar, caffeine, GMO foods, gluten, dairy)
- Environmental Stress (toxins)
- Hidden infections in the body (parasites, bacteria)
- Pain and inflammation in the body
How To Determine If You Have Adrenal Dysfunction?
Which test I recommend depends on my clients unique situation. I may recommend the Dutch test which tests for other reproductive hormones or a basic HPA Stress profile.
You may have some intuition about what is causing chronic activation of your HPA axis but if you suspect you have adrenal dysfunction (HPA dysfunction) you will need to partner with an expert to determine your status and a strategy for repair.
Functional health and anxiety are both extremely personal. Therefore, generating awareness to your own stressors and particular needs is key in order to successfully address, accept, and prevent your anxiety.
3 Steps Toward Healing Anxiety
Evaluate Your Diet
Foods such as caffeine, sugar, alcohol, gluten, and processed foods all feed anxiety.
These foods inhibit proper digestion and absorption of food particles in the gut – a connection we now know to be pivotal on mental health issues.
One healthy action you can take to prevent the symptoms of anxiety from worsening is to ensure your diet is rich in foods that help to soothe stress hormones. These are foods such as:
- Milk (if tolerant)
Taking action with every meal is a great way to help ease yourself naturally out of the throes of anxiety.
Meditate and Breath Exercises
Meditation and breath work such as alternate nostril breathing allows us to calm the nervous system by engaging the body’s relaxation response, which is the opposite of the stress response, where the body can heal and regenerate, thereby increasing resiliency and activating our healthy genes.
Meditation improves our ability to regulate our emotions. Studies have shown that meditation strengthens the area of the brain just behind the forehead, called the prefrontal cortex, while suppressing activity in the fear centers of the brain. The prefrontal cortex is known as the executive command center of the brain. When it is operating effectively it has a top down effect, where it regulates the fear centers such as the amygdala, thereby allowing us to control our emotions and impulses more effectively.
Mediation strengthens our ability to focus our attention. Anxiety causes our minds to jump from worry to worry and panic to set in. With an increased ability to focus your attention, in the midst of a panic attack become aware of your body and use long deep breaths to slow the racing of the heart, imagine breathing in and out of your heart center. Become aware that you are the awareness that knows the anxiety, the anxiety isn’t doesn’t know you. Dis-identifying with the emotion allows you to see that it doesn’t control you, you have the power to control it. Reaffirm that this episode is temporary and shall pass, just as everything does in the universe.
I use meditation as a tool to help my clients on their path to health. Meditation on your own can be challenging for beginners especially for those who lead busy lives. Find a yoga studio or use guided meditations to get started, eventually you’ll be able to do it on your own. This is when you will be able to enjoy the fruit of meditation.
Incorporate Self-Soothing Techniques
Hot Oil Self-Massage – I’ve started doing these just recently and have made this part of my self-care routine. Pour sesame oil in a cup and warm the cup in a hot water bath. Then massage all over your body.
Adult Thumb-sucking – Sounds odd I know. But this stimulates the vagas nerve which is central to your parasympathetic nervous system and helps to stimulate the relaxation response. Rub your thumb on the soft upper palate in your mouth. Do this every time you sit on the loo (toilet) so you are sure to remember to do it!
Prayer Pose – Rub your palms together until you feel heat from the friction then hold your hands in a prayer position and place the thumbs right at your sternum and take 5 deep breaths with your eye-lids closed but eyes rolled up and in toward the center of your brow between your eyebrows. This eye position stimulates the pituitary gland and rubbing the palms together balances the hemispheres of the brain to help calm you down. Do this multiple times throughout your day to increase your resiliency and metabolic reserve.
Supplements To Help with Anxiety
NeuroCalm™ is designed to support healthy mood, cravings, and feelings of calm, satiety, and satisfaction. L-theanine and taurine are included to support the production of calming neurotransmitters.
CatecholaCalm™ is specially designed for feelings of “burned-out” anxious patients suffering from a combination of low cortisol and elevated levels of epinephrine and norepinephrine.
If you’re looking for a natural approach to help in healing your anxiety, please consider scheduling a free 20 minute discovery session to see if this approach is right for you.
Remember YOU are in control of your anxiety, it doesn’t have to be your new normal!