It’s Not in Your Head

6 physical causes of anxiety and depression

It’s Not in Your Head

Antidepressants are no better than placebo for treating mild to moderate depression. But some physical causes of anxiety and depression can be treated naturally.

High insulin

If your morning routine includes reaching for a doughnut and coffee, which, according to a University of Guelph study, spikes insulin levels, diabetes may not be the only consequence. “Long before the development of diabetes, people with high [levels of] insulin present with symptoms of anxiety and depression,” says Kent MacLeod, biochemist and clinical pharmacist.

The best way to keep your insulin levels stable is to limit high-glycemic carbohydrates and coffee intake, while including good quality protein such as eggs, chicken, or fish in every meal and snack.

Whey or hemp powders are vegetarian options. Mixed with fruit and yogourt, they are a great way to ensure adequate protein intake when you are on the go, providing stable blood sugar, mood, and energy throughout the day.

Food intolerances

Approximately 25 percent of the people seeking guidance from Kent MacLeod for unexplained mood disorders suffer from food intolerances, which are non-allergenic hypersensitivities to foods. Symptoms are not always instantaneous; they can take days to develop, making diagnosis a challenge.

An elimination diet can be used as a diagnostic tool: a list of common intolerances is avoided for a period of two weeks, and then reintroduced systematically, paying careful attention to symptoms.

Stool analysis, offered through a number of independent laboratories in North America, is a reliable and less tedious way to identify intolerances to common foods such as gluten, milk, eggs, and soy.

The treatment for food intolerances is avoidance. Foods can often be reintroduced after a number of months of abstinence. Be sure to reintroduce them into your diet slowly, one at a time, watching for any reactions.

Nutrient shortages

Vitamin and mineral deficiencies such as omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, zinc, B12, and folic acid may cause mental health issues. “Every nutrient deficiency has proven to have an effect,” says MacLeod..

The key to identifying deficiencies is in the testing. The levels of some nutrients measured in the blood, such as vitamin D, are accurate indicators of the stores in the body. Others, such as vitamin B6, which is crucial for neurotransmitter function, are not a true reflection of levels in the body. In these cases, functional testing is more accurate. This type of testing measures other steps in the body’s biochemical processes where the vitamin/mineral is used.

Deficiencies may be corrected through supplementation. Talk to your natural health practitioner to find the supplements that are right for you.

Celiac disease

Anxiety and/or depression can be associated with celiac disease, an autoimmune disease triggered by the ingestion of gluten. If your low mood is accompanied by other symptoms of celiac disease such as cramps, bloating, and fatigue, consider getting tested.

The first step is a blood test. If gluten antibodies are found, the diagnosis will be confirmed through a small intestine biopsy.

The treatment for celiac disease is the lifelong avoidance of gluten, even traces of which can damage the intestine. A healthy intestinal lining will go a long way toward reducing anxiety and depression.

Low thyroid

It is estimated that 30 percent of Canadians suffer from some sort of thyroid condition, up to 50 percent of whom may be undiagnosed.

“Low thyroid is an epidemic in North America,” says nutritionist Lorna Vanderhaeghe. A blood reading of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) above the normal range indicates hypothyroidism and requires medication; however, some people who have a TSH that falls within the higher end of the normal range suffer from symptoms such as depression and fatigue, often coined subclinical hypothyroidism. A recent study concluded that rates of subclinical hypothyroidism are higher in those suffering from depression.

Thankfully, there are natural ways to improve thyroid function without medication. Diet is key. Adequate protein, healthy fats such as virgin olive and coconut oils, fruits, and sea salt are essential. Soy and polyunsaturated fats should be avoided.

It is also important to supply the body with nutrients required to make thyroid hormones including iodine, the amino acid L-tyrosine, and selenium. There are a number of products on the market that combine these nutrients with thyroid-supporting herbs such as ashwaganda.

Other hormone imbalances

The drop in estrogen that women experience at menopause, low progesterone, increased testosterone, or a dysregulation in the adrenal hormones, cortisol and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), can result in anxiety and depression.

These imbalances can be detected through a blood test. Saliva can be used to measure adrenal hormone fluctuations during the day.

When symptoms dictate, a prescription for bioidentical hormones, which have the same molecular structure as human hormones, may be preferable over synthetic.

Herbs that stimulate the body to increase hormone production are an effective alternative. For example, chasteberry (Vitex agnus-castus) increases progesterone, while adaptogens such as schisandra may help to balance cortisol. In an animal study conducted by the Swedish Herbal Institute, adaptogens schisandra and rhodiola prevented the increase in cortisol caused by acute stress. More information on these herbs and other supplements can be found at your health food store.


Combat anxiety and depression naturally

Vitamin D
Lack of sunlight contributes to the vitamin D deficiency experienced by people living in northern climates. Vitamin D has been known to aid depression.

Vitamins C and E
Separately and together, these antioxidants show promise in the treatment of anxiety.

St John’s wort
Research has shown that extracts of this herb are more effective than placebo in the treatment of mild to moderate depression.

Passionflower and valerian
These herbs may help with anxiety and promote restful sleep. They are often found combined in natural sleep remedies available at your health food store.

Rhodiola
This adaptogenic herb may strengthen your response to stress. Start slowly and take it early in the day, as high doses may interfere with sleep.

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