Butterflies in your stomach before a first date. Sweaty palms before asking your boss for a raise. Grief when your dog dies. Crying over a breakup.
These are all normal and healthy moments of nervousness and sadness.
But then there’s a shift….
Laying awake at night with a pit in your stomach… when tomorrow’s just another Tuesday. Overwhelming sadness when everything is going OK. A feeling of despair you can’t shake…
These are signs of a more serious issue: anxiety and depression.
If you’ve ever experienced anxiety or depression, you’re currently dealing with them, or are supporting someone you love with one of these conditions all you care about is getting rid of them.
But it’s not always simple. Anxiety and depression are multifaceted issues. And that’s where the problem starts.
Doctors and practitioners want to put you onto one 2 paths:
- Treat the brain. This is everything from antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds to talk therapy with a psychologist. On this path, anxiety and depression are seen purely as a mental health issue – so treatment focuses on your brain.
- Treat the body. On this path, anxiety and depression are seen as symptom of a problem somewhere else in the body. Treatment often focuses on changing your diet (especially avoiding certain foods) and adding in exercise.
This gets me so frustrated!
Like nearly EVERY health condition, depression and anxiety are not problems of JUST the brain or JUST the body. There is a definite mind-body connection, and the best treatments (and prevention) for depression and anxiety treat both.
In this series, I want to do some real talk about anxiety and depression. We’re going to dig into the root causes – everything from childhood trauma to candida – and the solutions that might be able to help you.
Nothing is off limits and I’m not going to vilify any one kind of treatment.
I hope this can be an open and honest discussion about anxiety and depression like you’ve never experienced before.
Trauma, Circumstance, and Perception in Anxiety and Depression
Before I dive into some of coexisting conditions I see around anxiety and depression (and the steps you can take to help treat it), I want to make a very important distinction. While I believe (and the research shows) things like compromised gut health and hormone imbalance can cause anxiety and depression, it’s not the case for everyone.
Trauma, circumstance and perception can all be root causes of anxiety and depression.
And even if eating a blood-sugar balancing diet DOES help you manage anxiety and depression, it doesn’t mean that your anxiety was just caused by eating too much junk food. The trauma was real. This is a very sensitive issue, so I want to make sure this is clear.
Here’s what I see a lot in my practice: when a woman has co-existing conditions like leaky gut or a hormonal imbalance, when trauma happens (and it happens to almost all of us to varying degrees), it’s more likely that the temporary stress of the trauma develops into the long-term problems of anxiety and depression.
How you perceive trauma is important too. What qualifies as a trauma to one person wouldn’t be for another person – and neither one is right or wrong. Your perception is YOUR perception. But, you can learn tools that can help change the way you perceive things.
(It’s the difference between seeing your mother-in-law’s comments as a personal attack against you or just a manifestation of her own insecurities that you can brush off.)
If you’re equipped with self-care practices and coping mechanisms before the trauma happens, you’re much more likely to avoid depression and anxiety.
This is where “treating the brain” is so important.
For those of you who are dealing with past trauma or very difficult circumstances, I’d suggest looking into EMDR and Brainspotting in addition to everything else I lay out in this post.
- EMDR is shorthand for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It’s a kind of psychotherapy that combines aspects of traditional talk therapy with eye stimulus. Research has shown it helps you process through trauma much faster than talk therapy alone (think the work of 8 years of talk therapy in just a few EMDR sessions). It’s a recognized treatment by the World health Organization, the Department of Defense, and the American psychiatric Association. Learn more about it and find a clinician here.
- Brainspotting is a therapeutic tool that can be used in conjunction with other forms of therapy. It works by accessing the autonomic and limbics within the central nervous system to help work through traumas – especially those that are not in the conscious mind (and therefore hard to talk about and treat). Learn more about Brainspotting and find a clinician here.
And I encourage everyone – whether or not they’re dealing with anxiety and depression – to get started on the inner-work that makes you more resilient to trauma. It can be as simple as beginning a meditation practice or finding a counselor.
A note on antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications: I believe antidepressants and antianxiety medications can be life saving for some people. They also have serious side effects and address the symptoms over the root cause. No one other than you and your doctor can decide if medication is the right step for you. But, whether or not you use medication as part of your treatment, I encourage you to explore treating the coexisting conditions and root causes I share about in this post.
Gut Health and Depression
When I hear about depression and anxiety, I immediately think about gut health. I rarely (I mean rarely!) see a patient with symptoms of depression and anxiety who doesn’t have some sort of gut health problems.
And intuitively, it makes sense. We feel our emotions in our guts just as much as we feel them in our mind – the “stomach in your throat” feeling, butterflies in the stomach, a “gut punch” when you get bad news, needing to go to the bathroom when you’re anxious or nervous.
We also know that 90% of the body’s serotonin is actually produced in the gut – not the brain – and that other important mood chemicals are made in the gut, too.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is also closely associated with depression and anxiety.
In my practice, I see 2 kinds of gut health problems contributing to anxiety and depression over and over again: leaky gut and candida overgrowth.
How Leaky Gut Leads To Depression & Anxiety
One of the most famous studies on gut health and depression was conducted in 2008: “The gut-brain barrier in major depression.”
This study is famous (and still cited all the time) because the researchers made some amazing discoveries.
First, they concluded that “There is evidence that depression is accompanied by an activation of the inflammatory response system and that proinflammatory cytokines and lipopolysaccharide (LPS) may induce depressive symptoms.”
In layman’s terms, that means:
- Inflammation is one cause of depression
- There is evidence that leaky gut may cause symptoms of depression
The study measured antibodies produced by the body’s immune system against lipopolysaccharides (LPS) in depressed patients and in controls (without symptoms of depression). LPS are large molecules of dead cell wall of the gram-negative enterobacteria – also called endotoxins. LPS should NOT be in the bloodstream. If LPS are present in the bloodstream, it means the tight junction of the gut have become loose (aka leaky gut).
The researchers found that the immune markers against the LPS bacteria in the gut were much higher in depressed patients than in the control group.
This means that the depressed group had more leaky gut and gut microbiome dysbiosis than the control group.
In fact, researchers concluded that patients with major depression should be tested for leaky gut. (And I’d argue, anyone with any symptoms of depression or anxiety – not just major depression!)
What causes leaky gut?
LPS are dead bacterial cell walls – and generally having high levels of them in the bloodstream indicates dysbiotic flora in the gut in addition to leaky gut. This can too much of the wrong bacteria, too little of the right bacteria, or too much or too little bacteria in the wrong place.
Leaky gut can also be caused by parasites, SIBO (Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth), yeast overgrowth (more on that to come), and untreated food sensitivities and intolerances.
Food sensitivity symptoms are usually an immune system response to foods we eat. The reaction creates inflammatory compounds that get into the bloodstream, circulate, and can create anxiety, brain fog, depresion, and fatigue.
Low nutrient status can also contribute to depression. When food isn’t properly absorbed in the gut (due to dysbiosis or leaky gut) the body doesn’t have the “nutritional building blocks” like amino acids, folate, vitamin B6 and more it needs to create the chemicals to control mood. This can cause depression and anxiety.
Yeast Overgrowth, Depression
Other than leaky gut, the most common gut health problem I see in relation to anxiety and depression is candida overgrowth. Candida is a kind of yeast that almost all people have present in their body. Candida is responsible for thrush in babies and yeast infections in women. In normal amounts it is healthy – but it’s when it overgrows that it causes problems. And the way candida impacts depression is especially interesting!
Candida is a yeast – which means it produces alcohol (ethanol) and acetaldehyde (the chemical responsible for the main symptoms of hangovers!) Both these chemicals are toxins to the body.
In a normal healthy person, (who hasn’t been drinking!), there should be little to no alcohol in the bloodstream. But if that person has an overgrowth of Candida, the alcohol produced by the yeast is entering the bloodstream – we call this “auto brewery syndrome” and it literally makes you drunk.
In a study conducted by doctors at Biolab in London, UK, a number of chronically unwell patients were tested for blood ethanol levels an hour after ingesting a sugar solution. The study found the patients consistently had high blood levels of ethanol which the researchers concluded came from small intestinal yeast overgrowth.
And – even worse – when candida is well established, it transform into the fungal form its branching (hyphae) “feet” can penetrate the intestinal wall.This creates literal holes in the gut, enhancing leaky gut syndrome and allowing more alcohol and acetaldehyde into the bloodstream.
What does that do to you?
- Interferes with energy metabolism; this results in fatigue & muscle aches
- Causes hypoglycemia or “low blood sugar”
- Creates nutritional deficiencies
Then the ethanol is converted into acetaldehyde which…
- Is responsible for most of the symptoms of a hangover
- Causes dilation of blood vessels in the brain which result in the characteristic severe headaches
- Is toxic and inflammatory to the brain’s neurons
- Binds glutathione – the body’s main antioxidant – thus increasing oxidative stress and allowing free radicals to damage cells throughout the body. Without enough glutathione, the liver can’t detox properly
- Increases the release of adrenaline, causing heart palpitations, anxiety etc. Panic attacks become more common.
What causes candida to overgrow?
All of these factors make your body more hospitable to the overgrowth of candida:
- Oral contraceptive pills
- High sugar/starch alcohol diets
- Having other GI infections, or
- Having immunosuppression related to adrenal fatigue
Candida overgrowth can be treated – but the root cause that began the overgrowth must also be addressed!
Action Steps For Healing Gut Issues
The first step to healing gut issues is to find out exactly what is going on.
I don’t like to “guess and check.” For patients in my clinic, I always start with specific stool tests for parasites, dysbiosis, and yeast overgrowth. For SIBO, I test using a lactulose breath test.
Once we identify exactly what issues are occuring, we tackle them – treating parasites and pathogens, and then using diet and supplements to heal leaky gut. Gut mucosa heal rapidly when the aggravating factors are resolved! On average, my patients see big changes in as little as 3 weeks.
Coming Up: Hormones & Toxins
I hope reading Part 1 of this post has left you feeling empowered – and maybe even hopeful. If gut issues are contributing to your anxiety and depression, treating them can help you take a big step forward.
In Part 2 of this post, I’m going to address two other major factors in anxiety and depression: exposure to toxins and hormone imbalances. There’s still a lot left to cover!
I’m passionate about helping women uncover the root causes of their health problems and address them naturally. If you’re dealing with anxiety or depression, I’d love for you to book a free 20-minute root cause symptom analysis consultation with my team. These appointments are TOTALLY free, and there’s no obligation to book any further appointments. See what time slots we have open here.