Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in the United States with around one-third of people reporting anxiety during their lifetime. Conventional medications and therapy, while helpful for many, only result in complete symptom resolution for an estimated 25 percent of individuals (1
In this article, we’ll discuss a different approach using functional medicine for anxiety by treating possible root causes of this condition.
Functional Medicine for Anxiety
Functional medicine is an individualized and science-based approach that allows patients and practitioners to work together to find and treat the root cause of your anxiety. This requires a detailed understanding of your unique health factors. Unlike the conventional model, a functional medicine doctor often spends an hour or more
with you per appointment. This dedicated time and space to tell your story is exceptionally beneficial to both you and your provider.
Oftentimes, we find that one condition has many different causes. Let’s review a few of the most common root causes of anxiety.
Blood Sugar Imbalances
Have you ever experienced “hanger?” This is a perfect example of how your blood sugar can affect your mood and behavior. When your blood sugar drops, you feel anxious and jittery. This may occur when you skip breakfast or when your breakfast is too high in carbohydrates and/or too low in protein. Thankfully, there is a relatively simple solution to this underlying cause: the PFC method. Our sustainable PFC method using The Root Plate
™ ensures you have a protein, fat, and fiber-rich carbohydrate with every meal and snack for optimal blood sugar balance.
Let’s review a simple day of meals and snacks using The Root Plate™ method:
- Breakfast: scrambled eggs with spinach, avocado, and ½ cup berries
- Snack: 1 sliced apple with peanut butter
- Lunch: Greek salad with chickpeas, olives, feta cheese, and rotisserie chicken
- Snack: 2 clementines and a handful of pepitas
- Dinner: salmon with roasted sweet potatoes and veggies tossed in olive oil
You can find more nutritious recipes using the PFC method in our Root meal plans
Hormonal imbalance can also be a root cause of anxiety. For example, progesterone is a reproductive hormone produced by a woman’s body after ovulation. In a healthy menstrual cycle, progesterone should rise rapidly after ovulation and remain high until 1 to 2 days before your period. If you have low progesterone levels, you may feel more anxious in the week or days leading up to your period. Low progesterone levels are common in polycystic ovary syndrome
(PCOS) and perimenopause
. Additionally, imbalances in your thyroid hormones can also alter your mood. In a functional medicine plan for anxiety, we evaluate these hormone levels and form an appropriate treatment plan. Read more about anxiety and hormone imbalances
There is a well-researched connection between your gut and your brain.
In fact, the gut produces approximately 95 percent of all serotonin, your body’s natural “feel good” chemical (2
). Serotonin works in your brain to regulate your mood (among other things). When serotonin levels are normal, you feel happier and calm. When your gut health is disrupted by low-grade inflammation, dysbiosis, and/or a leaky gut, serotonin production is negatively affected.
Here are a few interventions we may recommend to our members to improve overall gut health:
- Eat at least 25 grams of fiber per day
- Reduce or eliminate sources of added sugar
- Eat a diverse diet with a variety of seasonal foods
- Eliminate or greatly reduce alcohol
- Avoid inappropriate or excessive use of antibiotics
- Practice activating the vagus nerve
Small changes make a difference in your gut health, and you can modify the composition of your gut bacteria in as little as three days! We may also recommend supplements from our Gut Health Bundle
to optimize digestion, soothe the intestinal lining, and repopulate the gut with beneficial bacteria.
Many nutrients play an integral role in your nervous system and brain function. For example, vitamin B6, which is commonly found in chickpeas, salmon, and bananas, is required to make serotonin and a calming brain chemical called GABA. Supplementing with vitamin B6
may reduce self-reported anxiety (3
Omega-3, an anti-inflammatory fat found in fish, also offers a protective role for mood disorders. In fact, one large review study concluded that test subjects who took omega-3 supplements
reported less anxiety than the placebo group (4
Other supplements in a functional medicine plan for anxiety may include Sleep Support
for calming herbs and magnesium
for stress relief.
Cortisol is a stress hormone produced by your adrenal glands. Its primary function is to prepare the body for a “fight-or-flight” response in times of stress or danger. Cortisol levels should vary throughout the day and are normally highest in the morning and lowest right before bedtime. However, in times of chronic stress, cortisol levels are often higher than normal. High cortisol levels can make you feel “tired but wired”
, anxious, jittery, and irritable.
Mind-body practices, like meditation, deep breathing, and yoga, are the most effective way to lower cortisol levels. Fortunately, these same techniques also reduce reported anxiety (5
). Therapy is another crucial solution for learning how to cope with past trauma and manage the stressors of everyday life that often lead to high cortisol levels. Lastly, we may also recommend adaptogenic herbs, like ashwagandha
, which can reduce cortisol and reported anxiety in some individuals (6
A functional medicine approach for anxiety can be an effective standalone or concurrent treatment for this common, yet often debilitating, mental health condition. Some possible root causes for anxiety include blood sugar imbalances, low progesterone, poor gut health, high cortisol, and nutrient deficiencies.