As a psychotherapist, I see clients struggling with anxiety every day that I am in the office. It lands in unexpected and unwanted places, takes a hold and starts shaping life without permission, such as in these circumstances:
- Grandma loves Hawaii but can no longer go because her anxiety keeps her from flying.
- Cindy loves the idea of dressing up for a party but her social anxiety keeps her from walking in to a group of mostly strangers.
- Larry has a great message the world needs, but his public speaking anxiety keeps him from his dream.
- Sally would love to visit her kids but her freeway-driving anxiety keeps her home.
- Henry’s panic attacks keep him from doing pretty much anything outside of his regular routine…
and on and on until pretty soon life has become a smaller and smaller box and doesn’t at all resemble the life envisioned.
Most people with anxiety don’t even realize how much it has taken from them, they are just trying to do what is possible and that requires navigating around the boulder that is anxiety and that seems to take up more space each year.
Of course a doctor can write a prescription that will suppress the symptoms of anxiety. The trouble is, the prescriptions don’t fix the root cause (did you even know there was a root cause?) and often have side effects (like nasty addictions). At best, prescriptions are a way to get through (and I do understand this is necessary at times for short term) but will never break the boulder that is between you and living your life anxiety-free.
As a Nutritionist and a Neuro-nutrient Therapist (brain nutrition - feeding the brain what it needs) I dig through the layers of causes for anxiety. Sometimes my first line of defense is enough and the anxiety is completely gone and other times I have to dig deeper.
Here are some root causes of anxiety that you probably have never considered (and NO, one of them is not “it’s genetic, my mom had it, my sister has it, my son has it.” You do not inherit anxiety as if it were blue eyes, although you might inherit the genetic make up for the same root cause of anxiety - keep reading!)
It’s Not Genetic
1. Do you have your 23andMe genetic results? The gene COMT is responsible for breaking down adrenaline. If you inherited what is referred to as a SNP (pronounced snip) on your COMT genes, your body releases the adrenaline from anything stressful or scary (life!) but it can’t break it down after the stressor is gone. The accumulation of adrenaline (dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine) increases anxiety and panic attacks. Suzy Cohen, RPh has some great insights on this you can read here. This doesn’t mean you are doomed to have anxiety, there are things you can do, such as taking niacin, to break down the excess neurotransmitters. Another gene that contributes to anxiety is GAD. Part of this gene's function is to convert glutamate into the calming neurotransmitter GABA. It can’t do this is B6 levels are low. Are you remembering your dreams? It sounds mystical but has to do with short term memory - if you have enough B6 in your body you will remember your dreams when you awake. If you are not, and you have anxiety, the active form of B6 (P5P) is warranted.
Addicted to the Phone/Laptop?
2. If you spend a lot of time in front of a computer, with your phone on your body or in your hand, or in any circumstance where you are near high levels of EMFs (electromagnetic fields) this could be contributing to your anxiety. What can you do? Walking barefoot in the grass, dirt, or sand is very grounding. Also, keep your phone and laptop at least 2-3 feet away from you when you are sleeping. Avoid using your phone as an alarm clock or sleeping with it right beside your head. Make sure you are getting good nutrients, eating REAL FOOD, and sleeping adequately so that your body has what it needs to keep its built-in detox systems working.
3. Arguably referred to as Vitamin B8, Inositol is often the miracle anxiety sufferers need. It is calming, has anti-depressant qualities, helps with insomnia, and helps with OCD symptoms. In addition to these wonderful effects, current and decades old studies have shown inositol to help with hair loss and hair color restoration. Some practitioners start with 1000mg/day and go up to as high as 18 mg/day when warranted. Always start with a low dose and increase as tolerated and needed. There are few if any side effects with inositol, although it is not studied on pregnant or nursing mothers and therefore not recommended for them.
Amino Acids and Anxiety
4. Low Serotonin (a neurotransmitter) levels can emerge as anxiety that looks like worry, obsessive compulsive behaviors, fears/phobias and panic attacks. To increase serotonin naturally, consider the amino acid 5-HTP (most doses range from 50-200mg) or L-Tryptophan (most doses range from 500-2000mg). Low GABA (a neurotransmitter) levels also can emerge as anxiety symptoms and these would look like a feeling of overstressed,/overwhelmed or an inability to relax or calm down. GABA is the body’s natural valium and when it is low that natural calming ability is impaired. GABA as a supplement is easily found and most doses range from 100-500mg. For my clients who suffer from anxiety, this is a favorite supplement. I cannot count the times I have heard “GABA is my new best friend,” in my office. Again, always start with the lowest dose and increase if needed.
Irregular Cortisol Rhythms
5. Cortisol is a hormone sometimes called the Stress Hormone. It is necessary for survival and it follows a beautiful natural rhythm during the day - starting high and gradually decreasing as the day goes on. When it is naturally high, the feeling is that we can tackle the stressors of the day and gradually as the levels naturally go down the body is prepared for sleep. When levels are not where they should be at the right times of day it can make it difficult to get out of bed, difficult to go to sleep, difficult to overcome any stressor, and it can also contribute to anxiety. It makes sense that if the body is releasing excess cortisol in response to a big stressor (think a bear or a speech to give) the body cannot be calm. Someone whose rhythms are abnormally high is feeling the results of excess cortisol without the bear or the speech inciting it. They often are confused as to why they feel so overwhelmed by normal life circumstances. Anxiety can be the result of extended irregular rhythms. Cortisol levels are easily measured through a saliva test kit and I test for this regularly with my clients. Not only is it a culprit for anxiety, it also contributes to sleep issues. If cortisol levels are suspected it is best to be treated by a practitioner who understands how to address the problem. However, there are many products on the market which are adaptogenic in nature and can help the body re-regulate.
Is It my Silver Fillings?
6. Heavy Metal toxicity. Don’t skip this part too quickly, thinking it does not apply to you. Exposure to heavy metals is very high in the current climate, including mercury amalgams (silver fillings for teeth), aluminum pots and pans, and so many other sources. Fatigue is the number one symptom associated with high heavy metal levels. Other symptoms can include joint pain, depression, impaired blood sugar regulation, digestive issues, difficulty utilizing fats from the diet, and female reproductive problems including PMS. It is difficult to know if anxiety is a direct result of the heavy metal toxicity or from the issues caused by the toxicity- for example, gut issues can contribute to anxiety (see #8 below.) If heavy metal toxicity is suspected, it can be tested in different ways. In my office I use hair sample testing and have personally used a chelation test when more detailed information was needed. Many practitioners advise replacing silver amalgams (look for a “biological dentist” which means they are trained specifically in doing this safely).
7. Multiple concussions (or, Mild Traumatic Brain Injury) It is well known that multiple concussions can lead to depression, however, lesser known is that they can also cause anxiety. If you have suffered multiple concussions (and especially if you have suffered a severe concussion that included a blackout) and if you did not have anxiety prior to any concussions, have this tested. This can be determined as a root cause by having a specialized psychologist perform an active EEG, and, when warranted, provide neurofeedback to repair the brain.
8. Gut Issues. We are just beginning to learn about all aspects of the body impacted by our gut microbiome. If bloating, diarrhea, constipation, or any gut issues are impacting life, find out what is going on. An unhealthy gut contributes to anxiety, as well as other mood issues. A Functional Diagnostic Nutritionist is a specialist who can help in this area. You can explore practitioners in your area here.
But My Latte…
9. Caffeine . Don’t hate me for including this one here. Caffeine and anxiety do not mix. The excitatory factors of caffeine trigger the same biology that is triggered in anxiety. Find substitutes such as herbal tea, Dandy Blend (tm), or decaffeinated coffee.
10. Inflammation. One of the most common causes of inflammation is from eating foods the body cannot tolerate. This includes foods you are allergic to - eating anything you are allergic to will put your body in a state of inflammation (it is its way of protecting you against the “bad” food). Lesser known is that inflammation also occurs when we eat a food we are intolerant to. We know that inflammation leads to disease, but many don’t know that it also leads to mental health complaints. It makes sense, right? If the body can inflame, so can the brain. In my office, I test for food intolerances.
Hope, not hopeless
I hope these 10 new root causes are encouraging and empowering for you: Every cause listed has a resolution. I encourage you to do the work to get healthy and to know your body. I have had clients say taking a prescription pill once a day is so much easier. Maybe in the short run it can seem that way, but in the long term - because the root cause was never resolved - more issues result, not to mention the side effects of the medications.
If you are interested in learning more, see my easy-to-follow courses in the Store on my website. Nutritherapy: Using It To Be Your Best Self: A Primer For Everyone is a great starting place. For more in-depth study, try Nutritherapy: Addressing Symptoms of Anxiety, Depression, Eating Disorders and Substance Abuse.
To your best mental health!