In today’s modern world, Anxiety & Depression are becoming common household buzz words in mental health. Generally, people who have anxiety or depression disorders display significant disruptions in their ability to work, go to school, or participate in social functions. The signs and symptoms are often overlooked because these individuals seem able to manage daily activities, but they are suffering in silence. We need to be cognizant of everyone around us and be supportive. We need to show empathy and kindness and encourage these individuals to seek appropriate help. If you know anyone that would find value in this article, please do share it with them. Let’s all work to erase the stigma around Anxiety & Depression – a first step & a pertinent one!
Plaxy Gühr is the founder of the Functional Vitality (a functional health practice located in West Beach, Cape town). She is a certified Functional Medicine Practitioner (IFM) SA, a certified Nutritionist with a Diploma in Advanced Nutrition (SNHS UK) & a certified Body Control Pilates teacher.
Her medical career began in 1990 when she qualified as a Diagnostic Radiographer with the College of Radiographers in the UK. She spent 16 years working in Academic & Private hospitals in South Africa and Europe. Her career change from Hospital work to Integrative health started 13 years ago when she faced a personal health crisis when her daughter who was born. Her daughter had been a premature birth at 25 weeks of age and weighing a mere 560g. She quickly realized the shortfalls of the conventional health system. She embarked on a journey of self-healing for her daughter. She is passionate about preventing & reversing all ailments and chronic diseases.
Plaxy promotes a preventative lifestyle and she educates others through regular talks in the community, sharing vital information on her Facebook page Functional Vitality and one to one sessions with her clients. She believes that without sound gut health, it is virtually impossible to enjoy vibrant optimum heath.
A combination of gut health and functional movement is a good place to begin a longevity journey! – Plaxy Gühr
Anxiety & Depression
According to SADAG (South African Anxiety & Group), 1 in 6 South Africans suffer from anxiety, depression or other mood disorders. The picture gets quite bleak when you realise that children as young as 10 years old are being diagnosed with these conditions and put on medications with well known side effects. It seems as if effective natural treatments are elusive or non existent. But are they?
The increase in Anxiety & Depression cannot be ignored! Could it be we are oblivious to some of the changes in the environment that have led to this exponential increase? Is it our diets, our lifestyles, toxicity, excessive electromagnetic exposure, disturbed circadian rhythms, over medication, or the lack of social & community back up? Something has changed!
The traditional Orthodox medicines approach to addressing Anxiety & Depression focuses on balancing neurotransmitters (chemical messengers produced by the nervous system). This takes away from the phenomenon that the body is well equipped to heal itself from chronic illness, if conditions necessary for healing are in place.
Fortunately, there is a relatively new but plausible approach that has made strides in healing Anxiety & Depression.
You guessed right, it is Functional Medicine! Functional Medicine is root cause medicine that is backed by medical 21st century research.
The contrasting approaches to addressing Anxiety & Depression
The traditional orthodox medicine approach offers Selective Serotonin Reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) & Benzodiazepines to everyone afflicted by these 2 conditions although the cause can vary from individual to individual. Although this can offer short term relief, unfortunately in the long run the medications’ effectiveness dwindle, and quite quickly side effects set in. When that happens, the patient is offered another drug, but almost invariably new side effects will set in leaving the patient despondent. More often than not with even worsened anxiety & depression symptoms. This has been a constant observation over many years as a Nutritionist & Functional Medicine Practitioner.
The approach of Functional Medicine can be described as a polar opposite to that of orthodox medicine machine! The focus is on understanding the why, questioning everything and acknowledging the biochemical individuality of each person and offering a tailored solution. There are multiple causes and triggers of Anxiety & Depression, therefore a one size fit all approach is flawed!
Conventional medicine believes the solution is balancing neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) using medication based on the belief that all neurotransmitters are produced in the brain.
Functional Medicine (FM) exploits 21st century research i.e. 85% of the neurotransmitters are produced in the gastrointestinal tract (GI). This is because there are more nerve cells in the Enteric nervous system (oesophagus, stomach, small & big intestines) than there is in the Brain.
According to Chris Kresser (a Functional Medicine Guru), the enteric nervous system has 400 times more nerve cells than the brain. Addressing mood disorders with total disregard to gut health boggles the mind more than just a little.
In South Africa we are blessed with a group of Doctors & Health Practitioners that are passionate about Integrative Health and are well trained and experienced in healing Anxiety & Depression. You can search for a practitioner in your area www.integrativemedicine.co.za.
Recognising Anxiety & Depression
How do I know if I or a loved one are suffering from Anxiety & Depression? When the following are persistent:
- Irritable & agitated
- Loss of appetite
- Binge eating
- Loss of self-esteem & confidence
- Suicidal thoughts (even once)
- Finding no pleasure in life.
- Loosing interest in things that you used to enjoy like hobbies
- Excessive use of alcohol, tobacco & drugs
- Avoiding social events
- Losing interest in sex
- Difficulty in learning & concentration
- Excessive nervousness
- Obsessive compulsive behaviour
- Feeling listless, fatigued & having bodily pains
Poop & Mood
They don’t only rhyme. The one reflects on the other. Heal the gut to heal the mood! An observation I have made in myself and my clients. It can be that simple, two good bowel movements a day, no bloating, no gassy feeling, no heart burn, no burping or belching, no cramping, no abdominal pain equals good mood in most cases.This is what happens when the gut is healed.
Heal the Gut, heal the Mind!
Physiological reasons for Anxiety & Depression
A gut brain-axis exists, the gut and the brain are connected by a big nerve called the Vagus nerve. A well-known Medical doctor and researcher Alessio Fasano has a profound analogy which goes, “the gut is NOT like Las Vegas! What happens in the gut does NOT stay in the gut”. When the gut is on fire the brain is on fire too!
The Inflammatory Cytokine Model explains how pathogenic gut microbes produce inflammatory cytokines that travel through the blood to the frontal cortex, suppressing activity there & causing depression!
The connection between genes and mood disorders has been well studied in the fields of Nutrigenomics & Epigenetics. The methylation biochemical process produces the HAPPY CHEMICALS (neurotransmitters – GABA, serotonin, dopamine & norepinephrine). This process is driven by our genes and in some individuals, the gene variants they have makes the process less efficient!
Fortunately, it is possible to carry out genetic test to identify the presence of these less efficient genes and improve diet and add supplementation to up regulate the Methylation process to help these individuals produce enough of the happy chemicals
Individuals with the less efficient variant form of the gene struggle to recover from a traumatic event. They stay anxious well past the event because they are unable to metabolize the excitatory neurotransmitters adequately.
A functional approach to healing Anxiety & Depression
One size does NOT fit all. Patients are biochemically different & have different epigenetic exposure (exercise type, geographical location, the diet, the job type, toxin exposure etc). An integrative approach is highly recommended. It has no side effects and treats the condition rather that a short-term suppression of symptoms.
The most important step is Healing the Gut (addressing Dysbiosis) using a Functional Medicine approach which involves a 5 step process called the 5-R Protocol.
REMOVE – remove inflammatory foods from the diet (Gluten & commercial dairy) and remove pathogenic bacteria by the use of antimicrobials, also remove and address stress.
REPLACE – gastric acid and Digestive Enzymes.
Most importantly it is vital to address stress, trauma & toxicity!
The next step after proper gut restoration, if the symptoms do not abate, is testing for Methylation Genes. These Tests are available Functional Vitality and many other Functional Medical Practices. The process is fairly simple and is done through a kit delivered to any address which enables the patient/client to submit a buccal swab, which is painless and non-invasive. Suitable for all ages.
Methylation is a crucial biochemical process (happening in the cell billion times per second). Methylation repairs DNA, keeps inflammation in check, makes ingredients for detoxification and makes neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) that are responsible for good mood. The neurotransmitters that we are familiar with – GABA, dopamine & Serotonin are produced during the methylation process.
The Methylation process needs many co-factors (nutrients). These are Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin), B9 (Folate), B12 (Methyl Cobalamin), Zinc & Methionine just to mention a few. All these are found in an adequate diet but people who do not methylate well (mostly the depressed & anxious) will benefit from supplementation of these to ensure they are getting sufficient amounts.
Another important step is Hormonal balancing. Unbalanced hormones is evident in premenstrual symptoms (PMS) & premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMD), which then exacerbate anxiety & depression.
Complimentary to good gut health and good methylation status & balanced hormones, is addressing stress. Chronic Stress activates the Hypothalamus Pituitary Adrenal (HPA) axis, causing the production of stress hormones-DHEA, Cortisol, & Pregnanolone which in turn affects other hormones and neurotransmitter production.
Eating for Good Mood and Gut Health
Include these foods in your diet:
- Sauerkraut, Kimchi, Kefir and Kombucha – These are foods rich in probiotics (Good Bacteria). Bacteria promote good mental health within our bodies.
- Quinoa, Sweet potatoes and Legumes (soaked or sprouted) are rich in fibre which feed the good bacteria and are rich in Magnesium which his important for brain health.
- Asparagus, Artichokes, Green Banana’s and Rolled Oats are rich in fibre that feed good bacteria and also form bulk for good bowel movements, which is important to remove toxins that can impact negatively on our brain health & mood.
- Rocket, Watercress, Pok Choy, Beets, Sprouts, Eggs & Pumpkin Seeds contain nutrients that are essential for balanced Methylation. These are Betaine, Folate, Magnesium, Methionine, Zinc and B12.
Mood Lifting Smoothie
This one is nutritious and filing. It will please the taste buds and will lift your mood!
I TBS soaked gluten free rolled oats
I small banana
I cup rocket or watercress
Half cup pineapple
I.5 cups pure coconut water/or coconut Milk
Mix all ingredients and blend until smooth. Add more or less coconut water / milk to achieve preferred consistency!
Supplementation to assist with Anxiety & Depression
5-HTP is an amino acid that increases the body’s levels of Serotonin. Serotonin is a chemical messenger that controls emotion, behavior, mood & sleep. When we have enough serotonin in the body, we get restful sleep, the mood is good & the appetite is healthy.
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Amino acids are the building blocks for neurotransmitters. When the gut is dysbiotic we fail to break down proteins, so we can’t make the amino acids that are needed for our biochemical processes.
Magnesium is vital. Magnesium deficiency is very common especially in children. Magnesium is essential in about 300 biochemical processes in the body. Adequate levels of Magnesium help in stress management, promotes quality sleep and a healthy mood.
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Methylation Co-factors (these are important for Methylation) these are B6, B9, B12, Zinc, Magnesium and Iron. Anxiety & Depression are exacerbated by stress and having a good Activated B Complex including all of these Methylation Co-factors will assist greatly. Having B Complex with added calming herbs can help manage the day to day levels of stress too.
Product featured: Coyne Biomax Magnesium
Omega 3 fatty acids with high levels of EPA & DHA (not less than 360 mg for both) are needed. Omegas reduce systemic & neural inflammation. It is always difficult to get sufficient Omega 3 through diet, so I always suggest supplementation as a complimentary to diet.
Probiotics are important to balance gut bacteria. Too little good bacteria results in pathogenic bacteria taking over causing inflammation.
Vitamin D3 plays a major Role in Mood disorders. Depression levels are most high in the winter months when there is less exposure to the sun. D3 (cholecalciferol) is the bioidentical Vitamin D to the one that our skin produces when exposed to sunlight. It is important for a healthy immune system, healthy bones and neurological health (Brain health). Depression is more prevalent in countries in North Europe as they have shorter days with little sunlight.
Saffron has chemicals that can elevate mood and is useful for mild depression. This is a culinary spice widely used in the Middle east and Asia. The active ingredient is crocin which has been proven in many clinical studies to positively alter mood and reduce anxiety symptoms. It is widely used to treat PPD (post-partum depression) with great success.
Slipper Elm is a de-stressor and gut healer. It is a demulcent i.e. it forms a protective layer on the lining of the gut, essentially healing it. It also has prebiotic fibre that feeds the good gut bacteria. When the gut is healed it produces enough chemicals to heal the mind.
Severe anxiety and depression should NOT be taken lightly. Some patients can harm themselves, others commit suicide. In such cases emergency medical help must be sought and pharmaceutical drugs are needed to avoid trauma and loss of life.
When the gut has been healed, stress has been addressed and the patient is methylating adequately the following therapies can help bring synergistic results in addressing anxiety & Depression:
- Trauma release exercises (TRE)
- Body Stress Release (BSR)
- Pilates & Yoga
- Vagus nerve stimulation (gargling with water, cold water face wash, reciting mantras, meditation and abdominal breathing)
Click the link here for easy relaxing & mood lifting Pilates Exercises you can do at home, demonstrated by Plaxy.
These complimentary strategies are easily accessible and have NO side effects and I highly recommend them.
Your Good Mood Tips in a Flash
- You are NOT alone! Its not your fault that you feel the way you do. Seek help & do not hesitate!
- Anxiety & Depression are treatable Medical conditions. No need to feel embarrassed about it!
- Be patient with your healing Journey! There is NO quick fix. Holistic healing brings long lasting healing with no side effects, but does take long.
- Adopt a healthy life style. Avoid smoking, reduce alcohol to 3 units a week, choose exercises that don’t raise cortisol levels i.e. Yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi.
- Choose organic foods in order to avoid pesticides that mess up the Hormones. Organic foods have more nutrients needed for a healthy brain.
- Avoid meat from factory animals and only buy organic. It is full of hormones and antibiotics that mess the gut and consequently Hormones.
- Avoid toxic personal hygiene products, use natural soaps, shampoos and lotions. The fragrances in these products are toxic and serious Hormone disruptors.
- Use natural soaps for linen & clothing. Commercial detergents are outright toxic!
- Pursue a hobby that involves socialising! Even if we don’t consider ourselves social beings, our mental health suffers when we get socially starved.
- Research a practitioner’s credentials before you put your trust in them!
- Don’t take on too much! Avoid multitasking and learn to say NO!
- Learn to let go both physically & metaphorically!
And most importantly… Breathe!
Wishing you Superb Mental Health
Plaxy Gühr (Certified Functional Health Practitioner)