Most people who struggle with anxiety also struggle with bouts of depression as well. And if you ask people who struggle with anxiety or depression if they have digestive issues, they will say often yes. Interesting correlation, but does it mean anything?
Most people think that the receptors for the neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions (serotonin, neuroepinephrine, and dopamine) are primarily in our brain. The big one seen to really affect anxiety levels is serotonin. Sure they are in our brain, but where else are they? And where are they made? The answer is– IN THE GUT.
Ever wonder why you get that “gut feeling”? Your stomach and intestines are lined with serotonin receptors and serotonin is made there. So if you have digestive issues, do you see how that could possibly lead to problems making enough serotonin and receiving enough serotonin to maintain your stress and happiness levels?
OUR GUT IS ESSENTIAL TO OUR EMOTIONAL AND PHYSICAL WELL-BEING. Eighty percent of our immune system is produced in our stomach. For those of us who are susceptible to anxiety and depression, taking care of our stomachs and intestines can help strengthen our “emotional immune system” as well so we can better face stress and trials in our lives, and reduce our inclinations toward depression and anxiety.
THE DAMAGING EFFECTS OF OUR DIET ON OUR EMOTIONAL IMMUNE SYSTEM
One big issue that can directly affect our bodies from making and effectively using serotonin is inflammation and toxins.
So much is still left to learn about the amazing design of the body and how many multiple functions can be made by the nutrients we take in, including their role in hormones and neurotransmitters. The more doctors research, the more connections they find.
In the end—there are dietary changes, supplements, herbs, and remedies you can take to reduce inflammation, detoxify, and saturate your body with deprived vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids needed for healthy mood regulation.
Here they are—
1. Get back to the NOAH DIET . God gave us plants, animals, and herbs to eat for a reason. Eat plenty of fish, grass-fed beef, veggies, fruits, nuts and legumes, and drink plenty of pure, clean water. A lot of these foods have essential amino acids that help your body make serotonin. Buy organic as often as you can. God did not give us pesticides when we got off the boat. The amount of veggies we actually need to eat is way more than we do. If you are too busy or don’t know how, make green juice each day or a couple of days a week to help increase your veggie intake (fruit is normally not an issue for us). Also—bone broth is another excellent way to pack in those nutrients from animals sources, including the bones, which we don’t often eat, but are filled with nutrients and amino acids.
2. STAY AWAY from foods that cause inflammation, are toxic, and/or increase stress levels. These include sugar, salt, gluten, lactose, caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, and non- Noah foods like processed or GMO.
You might be thinking, how???? Gluten and lactose? Bread and Milk are my life! Try one at a time and see how you feel. Some people don’t have milk issues. Others do. Some don’t have gluten issues. Others do. Or cut them down significantly. For me I find that cow’s milk really irritates my stomach, but wheat bothers it only a little. But after a few days of eating wheat, I’m in full-on anxiety and depression mode. I can now only handle wheat once a week. Anymore and I regress. Check out sites on the Paleo Diet. That can give you great and delicious ideas on how to eat gluten free with little to no dairy. Another option is to try out alternatives to cow’s milk. I personally found that raw goat’s milk does not hurt my belly the way cow’s milk does. So now I cut out cow’s milk, limit my cheese, and drink either almond milk or raw goat’s milk when I need something creamy. Made a huge difference!
3. Take a WHOLE FOOD MULTIVITAMIN to fill in the gaps you might lose in the day. Whole-food is key here. Most multivitamins are synthetic and our bodies know the difference. Needless to say, about 70 percent of our multivitamin ends up in the toilet. But whole-food vitamins increase the chances of our bodies absorbing it because the vitamins are taken from actual food. So our bodies recognize it. And guess what? Your gut will absorb more of those vitamins, if it is not enflamed. So treat it well too!
4. VITAMIN B, especially B6 and B12 have been highly correlated to mood levels and emotions. Taking supplements to increase your vitamin B levels can make a huge difference. If you are vegan, and do not plan on changing for philosophical, dietary, or moral reasons, I highly suggest getting a vitamin B12 shot. Vitamin B12 is not easily absorbed in supplement form and so the only way you can get the amount your body needs without eating it is to have directly injected into your blood. If you want to minimize supplements and get it straight from food, eat lots of canned clams, beef liver, turkey giblets and oysters for your B12. They are also in other more common meats and dairy but not as high as the ones I mentioned here. (God gave us animals to eat after the flood I believe partially because he knew we needed B12. For some reason, plants do not produce vitamin B12. Perhaps before the flood they did, but due to the environmental changes that took place because of the flood, everything changed). For Vitamin B6, eat lots of chickpeas, baked potatoes with skin, prune juice, cooked Brussels sprouts, cooked spinach or raw red pepper.
5. VITAMIN C can help you reduce inflammation and detoxify your body, better aiding your body to produce and absorb serotonin in your gut. Again, good food sources would include citrus and peppers. Or take a supplement. As an added bonus, it helps your skin look younger! Hey that’s something that can help us feel better!
6. Low VITAMIN D3 levels are highly correlated to anxiety and depression. Vitamin D3 levels in Americans are more often than not significantly lower than necessary for healthy mood. Is it no wonder so many people are on Prozac and Zoloft here? Meanwhile the FDA keeps telling us to stay away from the sun, slather on tons of sunscreen, and keep buying their pharmaceuticals. Vitamin D3 is called the sunshine vitamin for a reason—our bodies naturally produce it when we are exposed to the sun. But if we are slathering sunscreen on every day, avoiding the outdoors, or stuck inside all day—we are not getting enough. And many drugs affect our body’s ability to produce vitamin D3. If you are too afraid to head outside and get some natural sunshine then you’ve got to supplement. And we need much more than the typical multivitamin provides—just to maintain healthy levels, most women need around 1000 IU—some conservative sites will tell you a minimum of 400 IU’s, but that is just to prevent rickets,. You need a lot more to increase your immune system, and if you are deficient, significantly more—sometimes as much as 10-30k IU a day to get your levels up. You can’t know for sure your levels, without getting lab work done. It’s relatively inexpensive even if you don’t have insurance, and highly worth it, especially if you suffer from anxiety or depression. I strongly recommend you get your labs done and check your vitamin D3 levels before determining the amount you need. If you don’t know—start with 400-1000 until you find out. Too much vitamin D3 can be toxic—although I will clarify, it is very rare that this happens because most people are significantly low. If your doctor says you are low (less than 20 or 30 hydroxy) than start supplementing with more than the 1000-IU and get your levels checked every few months to determine if you need to increase your dosage or decrease it. Dr. Mercola has done some great research on the proper amounts. I’ve posted a link to an informative article at the end of this blog.
7.OMEGA-3’S is an essential fatty acid used by your body for so much, including hormone production and emotional transmitter production.They also improve your immune system, making your body deal with less stress, and therefore less susceptibility toward anxiety and depression. The best way to get your Omega 3’s is through natural sources. Cod Liver Oil and Krill Oil are great options. The added bonus when taking Cod Liver Oil is that you also get vitamin D and A this supplement. Chia Seeds are also high in Omega 3’s. I sprinkle them in my pasta salads, cereal, yogurt, and make puddings with them.
8.PROBIOTICS and DIGESTIVE ENZYMES are something most people don’t appreciate as much as they should. While probiotics are important for all people to take in order to maintain healthy flora in their gut, and therefore maintaining their immune system, people with digestive issues or who are prone toward anxiety and depression should especially take them and even add digestive enzymes as well. Remember, a healthy gut strengthens your emotional immune system, making you better able to fight off depression and anxiety as well as viruses and bacteria. I take probiotics daily and digestive enzymes when I know I will be eating dairy. Enzymes help my stomach and intestines not hurt as badly after I eat it and prevent it from becoming enflamed because it helps break the proteins and sugars down to a more tolerable level for my sensitive gut. There are many kinds of enzymes out there and each work a bit differently. I prefer ones that help break down protein as they seem to be more effective for me. Now ironically, probiotics are most often grown in dairy. They are in yogurts. And even in supplement form, are mixed with casein or other dairy. But you can find probiotics grown in coconut or other bases at health food stores. They cost a little more but are well worth it. If you don’t have a dairy intolerance, just buy regular probiotics. I take Dr. Mercola’s multi-strain probiotic blend and LOVE it! I did some research and found the top 10 probiotics found through studies of how much flora actually existed in the capsules at the time of consumption versus the amount claimed when the flora was bottled. Mercola’s scored a 9 out of 10 for quality and integrity. I definitely feel the difference on days I don’t take it. Because of my antibiotic use as a kid, my gut flora has extremely low variety and amounts of flora, so I will need to take flora daily probably indefinitely to maintain a healthy gut and immune system.
9.God also gave us HERBS to use as our medicine. Now we do have to approach this one according to our own conscience as I do know some people are more sensitive to taking anything that might alter how they feel. But there are four herbs that are legal, safe, and effective at regulating mood and helping us distress. Chamomile, Kava, Ashwagandha, Rhodiola, Valerian Root, and St John’s Wort. They all work a little differently physiologically and their effects vary.
Chamomile is a very mild de-stresser. Most people drink them in teas. There is no real strong effect, but many people do find that it helps calm them down. Over the course of my 20’s I’d get anxiety that would literally make my esophagus have muscle spasms, causing me bad chest pain. I found that drinking chamomile tea really calmed those chest pains down as it relaxed the muscles lining my esophagus.
Kava is a little bit stronger in its effect. You can drink it in tea form most often. Although there are stronger doses in supplement and sublingual forms. I found that taking Kava helped the tension in my forehead melt away, like someone injected lotion into my head.
Ashwagandha and Rhodiola are both adaptogens which means they help the body adapt better to stressful situations. For me, ashwagandha has been extremely helpful with my anxiety. One reason is because it helps your body slow down its cortisol production, which is what you produce when feeling stressed. When you struggle with anxiety–your cortisol is on overdrive even when it shouldn’t be. So you have panic attacks at the grocery store and or are breaking down in the kitchen because you are trying to cook dinner but your daughter is crying for a snack. Rhodiola is also an adaptogen and helps your bodies serotonin to work more effectively. So this one is a better choice if you are more prone to depression rather than anxiety. If you have both, taking both can be really helpful.
Valerian root also mildly acts as a de-stresser and tension reliever. A lot of people take it before bed to help them distress and fall asleep better. I’ve never seen it in tea form but do see it in supplements and sublingual forms.
Here’s one that includes a lot of the vitamins and herbs I’ve mentioned above, including St. John’s Wort. St. John’s Wort has been used for generations as a mood enhancer and stabilizer. Named after the apostle John, the herb actually acts as a very mild selective serotonin reuptake inhibiter (basically a natural and very mild anti-depressant). Therefore, while it is effective in this way, given it does actually help increase the amount of serotonin in your synapses by not allowing your body to recycle it as quickly, it can also have some side effects and should still be approached prayerfully, and in my opinion, as a last resort. Look those up and talk with a Naturopath and pray about whether or not this is a right choice for you. I say see a Naturopath, because regular MD’s and Psychologists have been trained, educated, and endorsed by the pharmaceutical companies. They will automatically not support it strictly because it is an herb and therefore, not approved by the FDA. Naturopath’s are well researched in herbs and can give you an intelligent, well-educated and researched assessment, by trustworthy resources even though they are not the FDA. Given the mild effect, I have read that it is not addictive like pharmaceutical anti-depressant, but still should be reduced slowly before getting off to avoid any mood changes.
10.Last but not least, HOMEOPATHIC REMEDIES are another great option for helping our bodies heal and strengthen to fight off our disposition to be anxious or depressed. I won’t get into the entire science behind homeopathy, but basically it is a well-studied, age-old alternative form of healing that uses like to cure like. Over the course of history, certain researchers have found that when our body encounters a very mild amount of an element that causes a certain negative effect, if the person already had that ailment, the element actually helped the body heal itself of the symptom instead. This phenomenon has been tested and repeated through the scientific process. Homeopathic remedies that work for anxiety and depression as well as for people with digestive issues would include Arsenicum Album, Natrium Carbonicum, and Pulsatilla nigricans. In order to determine which one is right for you, you do need to consider other symptoms you might have as homeopathic remedies work with a number of issues. Finding one that really fits you will make it more effective. Seeing a Homoeopath can help you determine this—they will interview you, evaluate all of your issues, and determine the remedy and dosage that would best help your body heal. Once you are healed, you no longer need to take the remedy. For those of you who want to study up yourselves, there are plenty of books and websites out there including descriptions of the range of symptoms each one works at healing. You can go to the health food store and find a remedy that you think might work. Of course health food stores have a more limited selection so may not have the one you need, but a Homeopath can give you access to much more. It may take trial and error to find the right one. Seeing a Homoeopath though can reduce the amount of trial and error as they are experts and even doctors in the field.
An a bonus!!– #11: Added Note– Magnesium L. Thoreate is also incredibly helpful. It is the only magnesium that passes the blood brain barrier, is not a laxative, and works directly in the brain to help depression and anxiety. 🙂 Take before bed as some complain it makes them a little tired. I don’t have that, but some do.
I have found significant freedom through prayer, binding demonic oppression in my life, renewing my mind with the truth of the scripture and using to strengthen my self-control when my thoughts and feelings begin to control me. I also have made changes to my diet, have taken more time to rest and exercise. One of the last but very powerful steps I have taken has been to forgive myself and the many others who have hurt me over the course of my life. I had no idea how much of my anxiety and depression was rooted in worthlessness and unforgiveness. Personally, cutting out dairy and wheat made huge differences. Especially wheat, which after cutting out and then bringing back in made me recognize a significant correlation with my anxiety and depression. Dairy I’m allergic to, so it just adds to inflammation which didn’t help me produce serotonin. Ashwagandha has worked really well for me and now I don’t even take it everyday like I used to. 🙂
So many factors play a role in depression and anxiety. And for those who are predisposed toward the two conditions might find that in one bout of depression or anxiety, the cause is different than in another bout. When we are susceptible, then numbers of different issues can push us into it. There is no one-way method to solving the issue. It take intense self-analysis (through biblical truth), prayer, and time to get to the bottom of each episode—to find the patterns and to start making the changes to find solutions. While I have overcome my issues, I know now I have to continue the lifestyle I have made to maintain it. And when I feel an episode coming on, to dig into my toolbox and nip it in the bud. How’s my prayer life this week? How’s my diet this week? These questions help find the solutions.