Let's face it, anxiety is on the rise. Now don't get me wrong; when working as a psychotherapist anxiety was one of the most prevalent complaints my clients presented with. However, numerous Universities have examined anxiety and have noted a significant increase amongst women, men and children in the past three years.
There are many forms of anxiety, but what I am exploring is generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). According to Hopkins Medicals GAD is a condition of excessive worry about everyday issues and situations. In addition to feeling worried you may also feel restlessness, fatigue, trouble concentrating, irritability, increased muscle tension, and trouble sleeping.
There is no doubt a true chemical imbalance may be the root for many who struggle with anxiety. This is what was explored when I was a practicing psychotherapist at the center I worked at and our approach was utilizing a technique called (CBT) Cognitive behavioral therapy.
We had mixed results where some clients could learn to mediate the intensity of their anxiety, while others had no benefit. I always suspected there were many layers to the expression of anxiety and was never comfortable this being my only approach.
It wasn't until after expanding my lens to Nutritional Therapy that I found many overlapping nutritional and environmental players that may be a part of the whole picture.
It is important when working with our clients that we explore all facets relating to anxiety, so that we can create a lifestyle plan that addresses the complexity of the health challenge. We have found this multi-layered approach leading to a greater relief in symptoms.
Let's explore potential contributing areas that can play a role in anxiety. Many of these contributing factors overlap with one another, thus the importance of a holistic approach when addressing one's anxiety.
Environmental Toxicant Exposure
This list is endless but here are a few areas to explore when looking at our environmental exposures.
Heavy metals. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the three substances that have the greatest impact on human health are mercury, lead and arsenic, and exposure to these toxic metals are known to cause anxiety and/or depression. (1)
Pesticides. Research shows pesticide exposure may lead to depression, anxiety and psychiatric disorders. The most typical source of pesticide exposure for the average American is the conventionally grown food they put on their plates daily. (2)
Toxic mold exposure has also been linked to more serious, long-term effects like memory loss, insomnia, anxiety, depression, trouble concentrating, and confusion. (3) Mold may also increase a histamine response which can be connected to the expression of anxiety.
BPA exposure. Maternal exposure to this compound has been reported to induce anxiety and depression in offspring. (4)
Food additives. Aspartame, food coloring, dyes. Many people report mood swings and anxiety after ingesting man-made sweeteners, like aspartame and high fructose corn syrup, food dyes (including Red #40 and Yellow #5) and flavorings like MSG. (5)
Functional Approach: Knowing one's toxicant load and exposure is key to addressing this area. We offer functional tests which can help explore these environmental contributors such as HTMA (Hair, Tissue & Mineral Analysis), Glyphosate testing, Mold exposure testing, Food Additives and more. Along with knowing one's overall toxicant load and exposure, a lifestyle plan can be created to help address and lower the overall burden.
Nourishing Tip: If you want to jump start lowing your everyday exposure be sure to check out our 3-week Ditch & Switch Guide. We also take the guess work out of the switch by suggesting cleaner alternative products in our Nourish Shop.
This area can overlap with genetics and neurotransmitters. Again this is just a short sampling of how nutrients may play a role in the expression of anxiety.
Magnesium. Researchers have found that low magnesium levels contribute and worsen many neuropsychiatric problems, including anxiety. (6)
Zinc. Studies have also revealed a link between zinc deficiency and anxiety. (7)
B6. Vitamin B6 levels have been shown to be significantly lower in individuals who have anxiety and panic attacks. (8)
Omega 3 fatty acids. Researchers have found low levels of omega-3 fatty acids in anxious individuals. In fact, people with the lowest levels of omega-3 fatty acids tend to have the most severe anxiety. (9)
In addition, choline, vitamin d, selenium, iron along with vitamins A, C and E all have research backing that a deficiency may play a role in anxiety.
Nourishing Tip: Creating a nutritional food plan along with supporting digestion and absorption can greatly increase one's nutrient profile. Additionally, supporting one's body with quality nutritional supplements is key to ensuring one is receiving the essential co-factors and building blocks.
One interesting area that can play a role in social anxiety is called Pyroluria or also known as Pyrrole disorder. This is a biochemical imbalance involving an abnormality synthesis and metabolism of hemoglobin. It can be purely genetic, nutritional deficiencies or acquired through environmental and emotional stress. There are three main nutrients that are not properly absorbed in someone with pyrrole disorder. These are vitamin B6, magnesium, and zinc.
Functional Approach: We have access to functional testing that can access one's micronutrient status. Along with testing, we screen symptoms utilizing a detailed questionnaire and support bringing in the necessary nutrients to support deficiencies.
Nourishing Tip: Our anxiety quiz has a few screening questions on this topic. Take the quiz here.
Neurotransmitter imbalances can be rooted in genetics, nutritional deficiencies and environmental exposure. (10)
Norepinephrine. This neurotransmitter plays a role in the fight-or-flight response, which regulates how one reacts to perceives danger. One part of anxiety might be an overactive fight-or-flight response. Abnormally high levels of norepinephrine are linked to feelings of anxiety.
Dopamine. Dopamine plays a role in how one may respond to pleasure. But according to one study in rats, when dopamine levels are too high, it can cause dread. If there’s not enough dopamine in the brain, it can contribute to other anxious feelings like social anxiety.
Serotonin. Serotonin is closely tied to mood, digestion, and sleep. When there isn’t enough in your brain, it can contribute to feelings of anxiety and depression.
GABA. This neurotransmitter helps control signals between nerve cells in the brain. GABA also counteracts some of the chemicals that trigger anxiety. When levels are too low, it can have the opposite effect and create anxiety.
Glutamate. In recent years, studies have hinted that glutamate might be involved in anxiety. Reductions in glutamate activity seem to increase anxious behavior. (11) A GABA/ Glutamate imbalance is of key interest to explore in this arena.
Functional Approach: There are functional testing options that can explore one's neurotransmitter levels. Additionally, we explore the co-factors and genetic factors that may affect one's neurotransmitter health.
Nourishing Tip: Have your taken our Neurotransmitter quiz? It can provide some general insight to possible imbalances. Take the quiz here.
Hormone imbalances may increase anxiety and may even fluctuate monthly on how it affects one's anxiety.
Progesterone. The female sex hormone stimulates the part in the brain that is responsible for fight-or-flight responses and may trigger anxiety. On the other hand, progesterone can also be calming and acts on the GABA receptors, thus low levels may be involved in anxiety. The estrogen to progesterone ratio needs to be balanced and one approach we love to utilize is seed therapy. Read blog here.
Stress hormones. Most notably, adrenaline and cortisol. An increase in stress hormones can cause your body to release even more stress hormones, until you have a cavalcade of worries. If this goes on for too long, your baseline anxiety is likely to increase.
Testosterone. Low testosterone has been linked to increased anxiety, specifically, increased social anxiety. (12)
Thyroid Hormones. There are many links to thyroid health and anxiety, however one study suggests that thyroid inflammation may be directly linked to anxiety disorders. (13)
Functional Approach: Hormone balance can be tricky as there are genetic, environmental and nutritional aspects at play. One of our favorite ways to explore one's hormone levels is through DUTCH Hormone testing. Check out our a la cart testing options here.
Gluten, soy, dairy -- even chocolate -- can impact hormone levels and other key chemicals in the brain, upsetting the delicate balance needed to keep the body and mind in control of anxiousness.
Functional Approach: We have access to one of the most cutting edge food sensitivity testing that is available. Knowing one's food sensitivities can take the tedious guess work out of knowing what to eliminate. Creating a food plan by utilizing personalized results has been a critical part of lowering inflammation in the body, as well as symptoms such as anxiety.
Histamine affects and plays an important role in other mood-altering neurotransmitters such as GABA, dopamine, and serotonin. An excessive amount of these neurotransmitters can increase the amount of anxiety and depressive feelings as well. Recent evidence suggests that too much histamine in the brain may also be a key factor in anxiety. (14)
Mast Cell Activation (MCAS) and histamine intolerance are related and yet different, although histamine is part of the overall picture. If one suspects a histamine intolerance, it may also be worth while to explore MCAS, as MCAS can be tied in with the presentation of anxiety.
Functional Approach: Histamine and MCAS can be an arduous task to sort through as there can be many underlying components playing a role. Environmental exposures such as mold, candida, genetics and foods should always be explored.
A growing body of evidence suggests a relationship between mood and blood-sugar, or glycemic, highs and lows. Symptoms of poor glycemic regulation have been shown to closely mirror mental health symptoms, such as irritability, anxiety, and worry. This should come as no surprise, as the brain runs primarily on glucose. (15)
Nourishing Tip: Balancing one's blood sugar throughout the day has been clinically shown to modulate the expression of anxiety in some. (16)
Research is linking gut bacteria to producing and regulating important substances for mental health, like serotonin and GABA. The brain and the gut communicate via a gut–microbiome–brain axis, and a growing body of literature indicates that a disrupted gut microbiome may contribute to a variety of cognitive and mood disorders, including anxiety. (17)
Nourishing Tip: We always like to deep dive on one's gut health as gut health is linked to many health challenges. There are many ways to support the health of the gut microbiome and its often more complex than just adding probiotics. Reach out if you are ready to deep dive here.
As you can see from this detailed list, anxiety can be multi-faceted and rooted in many systems in the body. Many of our clients have experienced a lowering of anxiety like feelings through lifestyle adjustments, lowering the toxicant load, balancing hormones, supporting a healthy gut microbiome, supporting and balancing adrenals, blood sugar regulation and more. This can be a complex and at times an overwhelming endeavor and that is where working with a qualified practitioner can be supportive. Reach out if you need support!
Take our Anxiety Quiz here.
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Disclaimer: We take mental health very seriously. This blog is not intended to give, replace medical advice. This is intended to be used for education purposes only. When working with clients, we do not diagnose or treat specific conditions, rather we explore and offer supportive lifestyle approaches that may lead to a reduction of symptoms.
Have a Nourishing Day!