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It's Not All in Your Head

6 reasons you may be anxious or depressed


A recent study concluded that pharmaceutical antidepressants fare no better than placebo in treating mild to moderate depression

A recent study concluded that pharmaceutical antidepressants fare no better than placebo in treating mild to moderate depression. The good news is that there are a number of physical causes of anxiety and depression that can be treated naturally, starting with breakfast.

If your morning routine includes reaching for a doughnut and coffee, which spikes insulin levels, according to a study from the University of Guelph in Canada, diabetes may not be the only consequence. “Long before the development of diabetes, people with high [levels] 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-glycaemic carbohydrates and coffee intake, while including good quality protein such as eggs, chicken or fish in every meal and snack.

Whey powder is a good vegetarian option. Mixed with fruit and yoghurt, it is 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 per cent of the people seeking guidance from Kent MacLeod for unexplained mood disorders suffer from food intolerances, which are nonallergenic 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 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 that use the vitamin/mineral.

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

Coeliac disease

Anxiety and/or depression may be associated with coeliac disease, an autoimmune disease triggered by the ingestion of gluten. If your low mood is accompanied by other symptoms of coeliac 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 coeliac disease is the lifelong avoidance of gluten, even traces of which can damage the intestine. A healthy intestinal lining will go a long way towards reducing anxiety and depression.

Low thyroid

Thyroid Australia estimates that about 850,000 Australians suffer from thyroid dysfunction. An underactive thyroid, known as hypothyroidism, is the most common type of thyroid disorder. It affects more women than men—up to 10 per cent of women over the age of 65 are thought to suffer from it.

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 ashwagandha (also known as Withania somnifera).

Other hormone imbalances

The drop in oestrogen 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. However, note that the Australasian Menopause Society advises women against using bioidentical hormones on the grounds that they are unregulated and can cause serious side effects.

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. a

Combat anxiety and depression naturally

Vitamin D

Lack of sunlight contributes to a vitamin D deficiency experienced by some people, especially those living in southern parts of Australia during the winter. 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.


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.

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.



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Leah PayneLeah Payne