You have anxiety. Not the short term feeling of nervousness before a first date or a big presentation, almost everyone will experience that type of anxiety at some point. No, you have a chronic, long term condition that often feels like a losing battle. As a result, you’ve struggled with your work life and personal relationships, sought out numerous medical practitioners and are taking medication.
In my experience, there is no “cure” for anxiety, which is what conventional medicine wants you to believe with prescription drugs. Research estimates that there is not a short term or long term fix for anxiety as remission rates are around 38 percent after 5 years of treatment.
Anxiety In Every Day Life
A quality functional medicine practitioner will look at a variety potential causes of your anxiety including
:High refined carbohydrate, gluten and sugar intake
:Hormone imbalances including hypothyroidism
:Deep rooted life experiences
Anxiety will then manifest itself numerous conditions that wreck your day
-High blood pressure
-Problems focusing or concentrating
-Weak or tight muscles
Natural Treatments And Supplements For Anxiety
You’ve gotten to the point where you want to truly take control of your anxiety. You’ve been on medication now you want to see what the next level is. That's a step forward.
It all starts with your diet. before we can get into fancy supplements or gadgets, it begins with your diet and you gut in particular. If I had written this article 10 years ago, I would of given you the following advice.
Focus on eating high quality natural foods that can help manage your blood sugar levels as anxiety increases if blood sugar levels aren’t stable. Another stressful signal is not eating enough calories and often times the foods that we eat increase inflammation which interrupts proper hormone patterns.
What foods should you eat to treat anxiety naturally?
We can go down the list of healthy foods:
-Grass fed beef, organic chicken, wild caught fish, eggs or any lean protein
-A variety of fruits and vegetables
-Quality carbohydrates like potatoes and rice (more on them later)
You should reduce sugar, alcohol and pre packaged foods. because if you regularly consume sugar then your blood sugar levels are going to spike and drop which leads to further nervousness and anxiety. Alcohol and caffeine are two other areas that people with anxiety need to be concerned, people who metabolize caffeine regularly may have an increase in anxiety. Removing alcohol also seems to reduce anxiety. So if you really want to have a drink, try to keep it to one drink.
That’s all solid advice that will help anyone with anxiety
But this is 2018 and beyond, we know that the gut and gut health plays a central role in governing anxiety levels. How your gut is set up tells the entire story. You have one thin protective layer to prevent all the bacteria and pathogens that you come into daily contact with from entering your blood stream. When that thin layer is broken down due to stress, poor nutrition or a bad lifestyle, gut inflammation increases as bacteria, pathogens and whole undigested food particles enter your gut, increasing inflammation and cortisol.
About 30% of your thyroid hormone is made in your gut, so many people, especially women, who suffer from some degree of anxiety also have thyroid issues. This leads to a sluggish metabolism, a lack of weight loss and a general feeling of misery and depression. While I am a big fan of natural supplements to treat anxiety, if you do not get your gut health in order then every single thing you ingest, supplement or medicine, won’t be as effective as it could be
Leaky gut , intestinal permeability, describes an inflamed gut where bacteria and toxins get through the gut into the bloodstream. Not only is inflammation increased but your body responds by attacking its own immune system, leaky gut is a precursor to autoimmune disease.
What makes your gut “leaky”?
We’ve already listed a few, here's a refresher
These all have been shown to weaken the protective barrier of your intestinal tract. Did you know that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) factor into leaky gut as well?
But the biggest offender is gluten. Gluten is a protein found in most grains and severely impacts gut health. This is why I favor a gluten free diet for reducing anxiety, at least for 30 days. By removing gluten for 30 days you not only give your gut a chance to relax and reduce its inflammation but you give some of the suggestions I'm about to make time to work.
It’s really not that hard to go gluten free in todays world. Most restaurants cater to gluten free diets and when at home, there are many tasty gluten free options as well as the old gluten free stand bys, potatoes and rice.
Calorie Counting And Anxiety
Don’t do it. Do I need to say more? I understand that you may want to lose weight but the last thing you need is to count calories. Plus under eating likely increases anxiety so just eat some good healthy food, plain and simple. Don't add extra stress by trying to follow some calorie guide.
Lifestyle Adjustments and Anxiety
Often times people with anxiety tend to always want to be on the go, they can’t sit down. Sitting down and relaxing just isn’t an option for someone with anxiety who always has to be on the go except it’s the best choice for anyone looking to control their anxiety.
We know that a lack of sleep increases anxiety activity in the brain. We also know that sleep quality dictates your hormonal health, stabilizes your blood sugar and has a positive outcome on all things brain health. On top of developing a sleep routine, there are a few other activities that you should consider doing daily or multiple times per week.
This should come as no surprise to anyone but any type of physical activity is important. It doesn’t matter if its yoga, weight lifting, Crossfit, running or cycling, just get moving. Not only does exercise increase the release of feel good endophorins, it also increase brain activity and reduces stress.
Exercising also assists two other purposes, rest and social interaction. I touched on resting above and sleep but exercise depletes the energy currency of your muscles, ATP. The more you deplete ATP daily the better you will sleep at night, especially if you develop a sleep routine. Now I’m not saying you need to do hardcore Crossfit daily but some type of movement daily is critical for sleep.
Social interaction is the next step. We are social creatures, we’re not meant to stay inside all day. Most of us get a minimum level of social interaction at work daily but people with anxiety tend to need a little more interaction. This where exercise, yoga, martial arts or Crossfit comes into play, anything that gets you to interact with other humans in a semi positive aspect is good for you.
Natural Treatments For Anxiety
There are a lot of therapies touted online for reducing anxiety. Some are beneficial, some aren’t.
Salt lamps- The claim is that salt lamps affect air quality which leads to relaxation. I don’t subscribe to that. I’m not entirely sure how the air quality in a bedroom would really impact your stress levels. I do think that salt lamps indirectly lead to less anxiety and a better nights sleep because the use of a salt lamp does dim the room. We know that bright light before bed decreases the levels of our natural sleep hormone, melatonin.
Natural sun light/lamps- Let me be clear, nothing is as healthy for you as getting sun. Being outside in nature is critical for anyone especially people with anxiety or seasonal affective disorder. But if you live in a cold weather area then natural sun lamps can be beneficial. While sun lamps do not impact your Vitamin D3 levels, getting at least 5,000 lux, which most sun lamps have, can be helpful for about 15-30 minutes every morning.
Nature: The big one. Having your bare feet in the dirt, swimming in ocean water, feeling fresh air. These all describe the many ways that being in nature gives your brain all types of “feel good” injections. The problem is, we don’t spend enough time in nature.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy: More so than other types of therapy, CBT works on short term problem solving which can be very helpful for people with anxiety. CBT works to develop short term problem solving strategies.
Testing For Anxiety
While your therapist may have subjective tests that they use to measure your levels of anxiety, there are certain testing approaches that you can take surrounding anxiety to optimize your health.
Blood testing: Biomarker testing is critical during your anxiety treatment. This way you have a general idea of what’s going on with your hormones, blood sugar levels and other important biomarkers. By knowing this you can see how medication impacts your health and what diet changes that you need to make.
Neurotransmitter testing: I’ve blogged about neurotransmitter testing before but getting a general understanding of your levels of brain chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine also provides a starting point.
Is anxiety a genetic issue?
Genetics impact everything, there’s no denying that. We know that everyone handles stress differently, that itself is a genetic trait. Some people have an overactive stress response, they hold onto stress for longer.
Studies show that when we are under a lot of psychological stress, we increase pro inflammatory cytokines which increase our cortisol levels further.
This is where nutrition is important. You can adjust your lifestyle, sleep deeper and eliminate stress as much as you can but if you are eating foods that increase your gut stress you create these inflammatory cytokines that really jack you up both gut wise and mentally.
Natural Supplements For Anxiety.
This adaptogenic herb, which is a central piece in The Physique Formula Adrenal Support, helps to manage stress and has been used with good results for improving anxiety. It's "adaptogenic" in that it helps your body adapt to stress placed on it. The beauty of ashwagandha is that it appears to save the brain from the impact of stress and may improve focus.
Found in tea leaves, with the highest concentration being in green tea. L-theanine increases relaxation by boosting levels of GABA in your brain. L Theanine also lowers levels of excitatory brain chemicals linked to stress and anxiety.
Did you know that magnesium is involved in over 400 different processes in the human body? It’s critical for over 400 different functions and any dip in magnesium is an issue. Magnesium also seems to reduce subjective anxiety in people that are mildly anxious. Magnesium also increases GABA in your brain which is involved in relaxation. The Physique Formula Magnesium is magnesium glycinate, which means it survives the harsh conditions of your digestive tract so more magnesium can be used by your body.
Another herb that increases GABA, valerian root is often recommended for sleep quality as an aid to reduce anxiety. Studies have shown that women who took valerian root before bed significantly improved sleep quality.
Personally I drink a valerian root tea prior to bed and find I sleep better on nights I use valerian.
Essential oils in general can be very effective for treating anxiety but lavender is the most popular since it can be very relaxing to the central nervous system and has been used for centuries to treat general nervousness and anxiety. One study on the capsule form of lavender found that it significantly increases heart rate variation. Additional studies show that it can lower anxiety in hospitalized patients.
Probiotics and Anxiety
Studies in both mice and women have found that adding certain strains of bacteria can essentially rewire the brain. The beauty is that many people with anxiety seem to have some degree of GI distress and digestive issues to begin with. This means that there is a whole mess of issue going on in your digestive tract. Stress and our modern lifestyle kills "good" bacteria in our digestive tract. Following my gut rebuilding recommendations from above, you'll create a positive environment for gut bacteria to grow. This is when taking a good NON-GMO probiotic comes into use.
The Thyroid Gut Connection
A lot of people suffering from anxiety also have a degree of thyroid impairment, many have hypothyroid or a slow thyroid. In addition, when thyroid levels are off due to stress, digestion stops. If you are stressed then you can't digest. Almost every time when you eat you get bloated or gassy,which is why I created The Physique Formula Performance Enzymes to help your body more efficiently break down the foods you eat. I also included betaine HCL to increase “good” stomach acid. Gut stress tress depletes "good" stomach acid so we can not effectively break down our food, The Physique Formula Performance Enzymes help to rebuild that "good" stomach acid.
Natural Treatments For Anxiety
Patience is critically important. Take it slow. Start with a diet change and maybe one supplement. You don't need to do everything all at once. Be positive, you can do this.