Perhaps it is the time of year (particularly in England where many people struggle with the darker days) that I have many people coming to my clinic presenting with anxiety and low mood, often without knowing why. Perhaps this is you?
You may have been to your doctor and were prescribed a typical combination of beta blockers and anti-depressants, and although these assist with the symptoms, such prescriptions only offer a ‘band-aid’ effect, they don’t necessarily address the cause.
As a naturopath, I look at a person holistically, meaning, I focus on a patient’s physical, mental and emotional state and seek to both find, and address, the cause.
Common causes of anxiety
I take a thorough case history and perform a naturopathic assessment (iridology, tongue diagnosis etc) as well as conducting in-clinic testing to help identify why you may be anxious. Common causes include:
- Hormone imbalance including an imbalance of oestrogen, progesterone and adrenal hormones
- A thyroid gland imbalance – typically an underactive thyroid can contribute to symptoms such as anxiety, low mood, weight gain and low energy
- Nutrient deficiencies (e.g. iron, zinc, folate, vitamin D, magnesium, good fats)
- Seasonal affective disorder (S.A.D)
- Excess alcohol (despite acute relaxation effects)
- Smoking and other toxin exposure
- Uncontrolled blood sugar
- Unhealthy diet (e.g. high sugar, low fibre, high in “bad” fat)
- Food intolerances
- Gut dysbiosis
- Disrupted gut microbiome
- Certain viruses, parasites and bacteria
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Lack of sleep
- Certain medications (e.g. oral contraceptive pill, statins prescribed for cholesterol)
- And of course, stressful circumstances including loss of a loved one, divorce, separation, house move etc
Remember – your brain is part of your body
This sounds so simple, yet it is easy to forget. The health of your mood, as well as your cognition, memory and ability to learn and focus, relies on the wellbeing of your brain as a functioning organ within your body.
If your brain is not functioning well, its ability to protect and heal itself, and for neurochemicals to be created and function, can slowly decline over time. You may notice that you feel ‘foggy’, fatigued, lacking in motivation, and have difficulty coping with, and recovering from, stressful situations.
Maximising brain and mood health
Avoid nutritional deficiencies
Every single chemical reaction that occurs within your body, including your brain, relies on essential nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, amino acids and essential fatty acids. Depletion in specific nutrients can be linked to mood disorders as the brain is less able to manufacture the mood-lifting and calming neurotransmitters it requires to keep things stable.
A diet rich in vegetables, fruit, raw nuts and seeds, good fats and healthy protein sources will help to prevent nutrient deficiencies. As a naturopath and nutritionist, I may prescribe specific nutritional supplements if there is evidence that you require extra support.
Keep inflammation at bay
Recent scientific evidence has identified that mood disorders and memory loss are related to chronic inflammation in the body and brain. This means that it is important to consume a diet, and lead a lifestyle, which helps to minimise inflammation.
Dark-pigmented and brightly coloured plant foods contain antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds, as do oily fish (e.g. sardines and salmon), avocado, virgin olive oil, walnuts and almonds. Staying active will also help to support the health of your body and brain.
Look after your gut
Poor digestion and intestinal health can contribute to nutritional deficiencies (due to poor nutrient uptake) and inflammation. Consequently, gut health is a fundamental consideration in the management of many chronic diseases.
Your practitioner may discuss with you the importance of factors such as a high fibre diet, fermented foods and good bacteria (i.e. probiotics) for the health of your gut, body and brain.
Interestingly, scientists have identified a strong connection between the function of the gut and brain, and research in the field of psychiatry is currently gaining a better understanding of the role that gut bacteria play in influencing brain health (e.g. certain types of bacteria can help to produce mood lifting chemicals).
Natural help for anxiety (aka mood-lifters)
Naturopathic remedies for anxiety may include:
- low glycaemic index/low sugar diet
- vegetable and fibre-rich diet
- essential fatty acids (e.g. from oily fish)
- correcting nutritional deficiencies with diet and nutritional supplements such as B vitamins, iron, magnesium L-theanine, zinc, essential fatty acids, 5 HTP, GABA etc
- specific gut-brain balancing probiotics
- correcting hormone imbalances using custom-made hormone balancing creams
- herbal medicine, kava, St John’s wort, lavender, passionflower, skullcap and saffron
- meditation and yoga
- adequate sleep (e.g. 7-9 hours per night)
- laughter therapy
- ‘SAD’ lamps and ‘Illumini’ clocks
When to seek your practitioner’s advice?
Mood health can significantly impact your overall quality of life. If you are experiencing persistent feelings of sadness, overwhelm, anxiety, loss of hope, helplessness and panic, it is very important that you seek the help of a qualified healthcare practitioner.
There are many interrelated factors which may be contributing to your mood changes, and these can include current stressors in your life such as work, friends, family and financial pressures, and past experiences. Speaking to a counsellor, psychologist or other qualified practitioner can assist you in coping with these feelings. Understanding the role of overall physical health in the wellbeing of your brain and mood will go a long way toward helping you get the most out of the therapy you seek.
Book an Appointment
If you are experiencing anxiety and would like to consider a more holistic and natural approach to managing it, book an appointment and start your journey towards a calmer, peaceful and happier life!
- Miller AH, Raison CL. The role of inflammation in depression: from evolutionary imperative to modern treatment target. Nat Rev Immunol 2016:16;22-34.
- Kelly JR, Kennedy PJ, Cryan JF, et al. Breaking down the barriers: the gut microbiome, intestinal permeability and stress-related psychiatric disorders. Front Cell Neurosci. 2015;9:392.