Anxiety has become increasingly one of the most common symptoms I encounter in my office. This epidemic is affecting all ages and is much more common in teens and young adults then in the past.
In the United States the rate of anxiety tripled in 2019 from 8.1%- 25.5%. These numbers are astounding, and you might argue the pandemic and adjustments that had to be made are the major contributing factor, but these are pre pandemic numbers.
Currently treatment is focused on balancing the neurotransmitters, providing medication such as Benzodiazepines, (Ativan, Xanax, Valium and Klonopin). This model of providing medications ignores what the possible underlying cause might be.
Currently there is a lot of research suggesting anxiety has to do primarily with inflammation. The causes of this inflammation can be from a pathogen, a chemical or environmental toxicity, gut health and yes genetics and nutrient disorders play an important role.
There are inflammatory messengers in our body called cytokines and these can be elevated, (interleukin 6, and TNF alpha). This causes the inflammation in the brain.
As many of you know there is a strong evidence-based connection between the gut and the brain. Chronic stress over a long period of time will not only create permeability of the gut, (leaky gut), it will also over time lower the immune response of the gut. This will lead to more food sensitivities, possible allergies, sinus and respiratory issues. This response will affect not only the immune system but the cytokines or inflammatory messengers affecting the brain.
The brain’s fight or flight response, (sympathetic) will increase affecting the balance between the parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible through the Vagus nerve for rest and digest.
The vicious cycle begins where not only sleep and digestion is affected but eventually this will ramp up the autonomic centers affecting breathing, heart rate and anxiety becomes more prevalent.
Functional Medicine utilizes a whole-body approach to anxiety. Initially figure out the cause like the gut and identify food sensitivities, bacterial pathogens and improve the gut flora and microbiome. As previously stated, there is growing evidence that the gut microbiome plays a critical role in the stress response and inflammation. Blood sugar control, anemia and hormones can also play a role in anxiety, and this must be addressed.
There are several products we use to support the inflammation in the brain and calm down the cytokines. As well we support the gut microbiome or for that matter anything that might be causing this inflammation.