Depression & Anxiety: Underlying Causes
Depression and anxiety are extremely common emotional states, most everyone will have experienced feeling like this at least once. In most situations, these emotional states are natural reactions and are only temporary, however this isn’t always the case.
When feelings like these don’t shift, our quality of life becomes dramatically impacted professionally, personally, and socially, and often sufferers will turn to antidepressant and antianxiety medications called SSRIs, SNRIs or MAOIs, usually coupled with counselling therapy. For some people, this is exactly the right choice, but if your mental state is due to an underlying nutritional problem, then these kinds of medication will be unable to help the problem.
As integrative practitioners we look at the body as a whole, and there are several factors we consider if you are experiencing low mood or anxiety.
This is especially relevant if you are menopausal, as the adrenal glands have a larger role to play in hormone output in perimenopause. Feelings of depression can be linked to low DHEA, adrenaline, noradrenaline and dopamine production. If you experience fatigue, low adrenal output may be the driving factor for you.
New research has identified that depression often correlates with inflammation in the body. SSRI’s actually have an anti-inflammatory effect, which explains why they work well for some people. However, inflammation is a symptom, not a root cause in of itself. The real question in these cases is; why is there inflammation present in the first place? Common drivers for inflammation are; food intolerances, poor gut health, sleep deprivation, chronic infection and stress.
Nutrient deficiencies are often right at the core of mood disorders, starting with inadequate protein in the diet. Checking your nutrition is important for many, many different conditions, and changes here can yield huge results in the body.
Protein is the building block upon which all the neurotransmitters are created. We need adequate stomach acid production to break apart the protein molecules into amino acids. If you suffer from reflux, then this is a priority for you. Weak digestion is often linked to low Zinc and vitamin B6, and poor liver health.
Pyroluria is a genetic factor that causes excessive nutrient loss when you are under stress. The main nutrients affected are zinc, vitamin B6 and arachidonic acid – a long-chain omega-6 fat.
When you are constantly in ‘fight or flight’ mode, your body uses A LOT of nutrients to produce adrenaline. Eventually the nutrient pool in the body gets low, and other neurotransmitters ‘miss out’ on their share of nutrients. Serotonin production lowers, causing feelings of ‘what’s the point’, ‘why bother’ or even suicidal thoughts. Melatonin production becomes affected, resulting in light, broken sleep or insomnia. GABA production decreases, causing anxiety, a ‘wired’ nervous system, and reactive bowels. High doses of bioavailable nutrients are needed to give back what the body needs.
Did you know that we also get ‘gifted’ neurotransmitters from bacteria that live in our bowel? E. coli produces a number of important metabolites that directly impact your mood. Pathogenic bacteria interrupt good health by stealing food that our good bacteria uses to make tryptophan (the pre-cursor to serotonin). Increasing the diversity of bacteria in the bowel with supplementation and pre and probiotic foods will repopulate the bowel with ‘good’ bacteria. We use Mutaflor in the clinic, a beneficial strain of E. coli that positively affects mood, immune system response, inflammation, and helps remodel the entire colony in the gut. Ask your practitioner for more information.
Excess metals can be a problem because they block the absorption of useful nutrients, exacerbating a nutrient deficiency over time. Common metal loads we see include mercury, aluminium, copper and silver. Lithium is a metal that we need for mental health. Deficiency in Lithium can be caused by mercury, copper and antimony excess in the body. Severe deficiency is associated with bipolar and depressive disorder.
Issues with sleep are usually complex, but if the driving factor behind it is low melatonin and this isn’t resolved with magnesium supplementation, your serotonin might need boosting.
5-Hydroxytryptophan (5HTP) is the amino acid that makes serotonin – our ‘positivity and purpose’ neurotransmitter. Serotonin converts to Melatonin at night – our sleep neurotransmitter. Supplementing 5HTP with other necessary nutrients can bring fast results for not only improved sleep, but better moods as well.
As you can see, the driving mechanisms behind disease can be hidden and complex, requiring good investigation and specialised knowledge to correct. There is an undeniable need for antidepressant and antianxiety medication, but in some cases these medications are more of a ‘band aid’ approach. A truly holistic approach, one that examines all the possible factors and aims to correct root imbalances, has the best chance of seeing results.
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