Depending on which lens you use, the cause of anxiety and how to treat it will look different.
How Conventional Medicine Looks at Anxiety
According to the American Association of Anxiety, the exact cause of General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is unknown. The symptoms tend to emerge gradually. Symptoms may begin at any age, typically emerging between childhood and middle age. Conventional doctors prescribe antidepressants to help you feel better, with the most popular being SSRIs (Selective Seratonin Re-uptake Inhibitors). These medicines boost the feel-good neurotransmitters in your brain like serotonin.
How Functional Medicine Looks at Anxiety
Functional medicine doctors and health coaches take a different approach. We look for root causes. What caused the neurotransmitters to get out of balance in the first place? How can we restore the balance? What will it take for the heal the body? We begin with the gut.
Why Would My Gut Be Out of Balance?
A gut imbalance causes chemical messengers in our bodies to get confused and send out SOS signals to the brain. These SOS signals can make us feel worried, fearful, anxious, and depressed.
But why? What causes an imbalance in the first place?
There are lots of possibilities. Let’s explore some contributors.
If you entered into the world through your mother’s birth canal, your microbiome got off to a good start. You automatically picked up a film of microbes as you made your way into the world. This journey helped colonize your gut in a good way. If you were delivered by c-section, your gut couldn’t begin to colonize until it was exposed to the environment, starting with the hospital. This meant it took longer to build diversity: two experiences, two very different microbiomes.
Lots of good bacteria passes from mom to baby through breastmilk. Breastmilk helps babies develop a diverse gut bacteria population early in life. If you were formula-fed (like me), your microbiome needed time to build diversity. Again, through exposure to the environment.
Infrequent Exposure to Dirt
Dirt isn’t bad, it’s good! In his book, Eat Dirt, Dr. Josh Axe explains that soil-based organisms increase gut diversity and boost the immune system. He offers 7 ways to get dirt into your diet. One example is to get rid of all those antibacterial soaps and hand sanitizers; they’re doing more harm than good!
How do antibiotics compromise our guts? From their inability to discriminate between “good” and “bad” bacteria. Antibiotics destroy ALL the bacteria they can find, including the good guys. One of my daughters had several ear infections when she was quite young. The doctor prescribed antibiotics. Back then, I didn’t understand that the antibiotics were also destroying my daughter’s gut flora. If I’d known, I would have supported her with probiotics and fermented foods at the same time.
Trauma and Grief
Chronic emotional stress inhibits stomach acid production, disrupts our digestive enzymes, and suppresses the function of the vagus nerve (the communication superhighway between our guts and our brains). Years ago—when my father was dying from brain cancer and I was getting divorced—I felt like I was carrying around a load of rocks in my belly. I couldn’t eat, and I lost 30 pounds in 3 months. It’s no wonder I couldn’t eat; emotional distress can cause major disturbances to our digestive systems.
In the next post, I’ll take a look at more gut disruptors that can cause anxiety such as brain injuries, inflammatory foods, and lyme disease. After that, I’ll cover things you can do to help your gut. Stay tuned!