Physical Causes of Anxiety and Other Mental & Emotional Symptoms
While symptoms such as anxiety and depression can certainly have psychological and emotional root causes, they can also very commonly have a physical root cause as well. That is, a physical imbalance within the body is causing a mental or emotional symptom to occur.
Here we will explore some of the physical causes of anxiety and other mental & emotional symptoms including the gut brain connection, mineral imbalance and heavy metal toxicity, hormone and neurotransmitter imbalance, environmental toxins, nutrient deficiencies, genetics, and more.
Considering the Whole Person Is Imperative
When assessing symptoms, it is imperative to consider the big picture and consider all of the main facets of the Whole Person which includes the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.
Although mental and emotional symptoms such as anxiety and depression are often attributed solely to mental and emotional causes such as trauma, chronic stress, experiencing challenging life events, etc, they can often result from a physical cause as well.
There can also of course be a combination of root causes which are both mental/emotional and physical, all of which must be identified and treated simultaneously in order to eliminate symptoms completely.
The Gut Brain Connection
The profound significance of gut health for overall health has become more and more well known over recent years. The gut has a tremendous influence on not only our digestive capacity (including nutrient absorption and assimilation), but our immune system, genetic expression, and our ability to detoxify.
The gut also has a very powerful influence on our mental and emotional health. For this reason, the gut is sometimes referred to as our “second brain.”
There is an entire nervous system that is located in the digestive tract called the enteric nervous system. The enteric nervous system is part of the autonomic nervous system, and it is located within the lining of your entire gastrointestinal tract starting at your esophagus.
The enteric nervous system is responsible for modulating various gastrointestinal processes such as stomach acid secretion, intestinal blood flow, and aiding in gut motility. It also contains between 200 – 600 million neurons, which are cells within the nervous systems that act as information messengers.
The enteric nervous system also produces neurotransmitters, which are “chemical messengers” that are a fundamental part of the nervous systems throughout the body.
Interestingly, approximately 95% of the neurotransmitter serotonin is produced within the intestines, while only a small portion is produced in the brain.
There is a direct connection and communication between the enteric nervous system and the central nervous system, which is the nervous system that is located within the brain and the spinal cord. This is called the Gut Brain Axis.
This means that the state of the gut has a direct influence on the state of the central nervous system within the brain.
When there is imbalance present within the gut such as infection (intestinal parasites, Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth/SIBO, fungal overgrowth, etc) or gut flora imbalance and low probiotic presence, the enteric nervous system can be adversely impacted which will henceforth adversely impact the central nervous system as well.
This can then result in mental and emotional symptoms such as anxiety, depression, overwhelm, and more.
Mineral Imbalance and Heavy Metal Toxicity
The balance of our body’s minerals is one of the most important factors for our health and wellness. Vital minerals such as zinc, magnesium, calcium, sodium, potassium, and phosphorus are directly or indirectly responsible for thousands of physiological functions throughout the body.
Some of these key processes involve regulating the body’s stress response, supporting adrenal gland function, and supporting brain function. Imbalances in these minerals will henceforth result in imbalances within these key areas of the body, which can result in mental and emotional symptoms such as anxiety and depression.
Furthermore, some essential trace minerals such as copper are also considered to be a heavy metal. When a heavy metal is present in the body to any degree larger than a very small amount, a cascade of adverse health effects can occur. Maintaining this delicate balance is key to maintain health and avoid developing heavy metal toxicity.
Copper Toxicity is a common condition that can develop when copper levels rise too high.
Copper in particular has many important relationships within our bodies which are directly influenced when this mineral/heavy metal becomes imbalanced.
For example, copper and zinc have an inverse relationship, so when copper levels rise, zinc levels fall. Because zinc is so imperative for so many vital processes including optimal brain function, regulating the stress response, supporting nervous system function, hormone balance, and much more, zinc deficiency can lead to mental and emotional symptoms.
Furthermore, when copper levels begin to rise within the body, excesses will be stored within tissues and organs. One of the first storage sites is the brain. This can then result in alterations in brain function which can result in symptoms such as anxiety, panic, depression, feeling disconnected, and more.
In addition, copper has a close relationship with the sex hormone estrogen. That is, when estrogen levels rise, the body will retain more copper. Copper and estrogen tend to have a paralleled relationship, rising and falling together.
Estrogen dominance is a common sex hormone imbalance that occurs when there is a higher level of estrogen in relation to estrogen’s counterpart sex hormone, progesterone.
These relationships and imbalances are significant because estrogen dominance can lead to mental and emotional symptoms such as mood swings, anxiety, depression, irritability, and more. If there is a simultaneous presence of high copper levels and estrogen dominance, these mental and emotional symptoms can be very severe.
Copper Toxicity is a complex condition that has many possible health implications. Much more on this condition including its causes, symptoms, and treatment options can be found here.
Hormone and Neurotransmitter Imbalance
Hormones and neurotransmitters are both referred to as “chemical messengers,” as they both carry signals and information throughout the body for all sorts of physiological processes to occur. Both hormones and neurotransmitters have powerful influences on our mental and emotional health as they help to regulate our mood, activate the stress response, support brain function, learning capacity, and more.
Hormones are secreted by the endocrine glands throughout the body such as the adrenal glands, ovaries, and pituitary gland. Several prominent hormones include the adrenal stress hormone cortisol, thyroid hormones T3 and T4, and sex hormones estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone.
Neurotransmitters are produced within the nervous systems of the body which are centralized primarily in the brain, spinal cord, and gut. Several prominent neurotransmitters include serotonin, dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine, histamine, GABA, and glutamate.
Some of these messengers are considered to be both a neurotransmitter and a hormone.
Neurotransmitters are considered to be either “excitatory” or “inhibitory” and maintaining a balance amongst them is imperative so as to maintain a balanced state of mental and emotional health.
For example, if there is an imbalance present in favor of excitatory neurotransmitters (which include glutamate, epinephrine, and norepinephrine), symptoms such as anxiety, mania, panic, irritability, obsessive thoughts, and aggression can develop.
Hormone imbalance can also contribute to mental and emotional symptoms.
Common hormone imbalances include:
- Adrenal fatigue/insufficiency
- Thyroid imbalance such as hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism
- Estrogen dominance
- Low testosterone
Adrenal fatigue can result in either high or low cortisol levels, which can result in anxiety, depression, panic, and more.
Both low and high levels of thyroid hormones can result in anxiety, depression, irritability, and other mental & emotional symptoms. Thyroid hormones influence brain function and are also closely related to sex hormones such as estrogen, which have a notable impact on mood.
Estrogen dominance, as discussed above, is a common sex hormone imbalance that involves a higher level of estrogen in relation to its counterpart sex hormone, progesterone. A balance between these 2 hormones helps to maintain balanced mood and emotional stability. However, when estrogen levels increase, symptoms such as depression, anxiety, and irritability can develop.
Estrogen dominance can occur in both men and woman.
The sex hormone testosterone also has a notable influence on our mood and emotions and low levels can result in mood swings, depression, irritability, a decreased sense of well-being, and more.
Low testosterone can also occur in both men and women.
Environmental Toxins and the Limbic System
Prolonged exposure to environmental toxins such as mold and chemicals has a very notable influence on the limbic system within the brain.
The limbic system is the part of our brain that involves long-term memory, emotions, and our “fight or flight” stress response.
The brain can experience physical catalysts such as illness, injury, environmental toxins, pathogens, and more as a form of trauma, or an extreme form of stress. The limbic system then activates the “fight or flight” stress response in response to these “threats,” which sends the stress signal to the rest of the body via the sympathetic nervous system.
This is the body’s way of ensuring its survival in response to a threat or perceived danger, and it was designed to be a temporary survival and defense mechanism.
However, the brain can become struck in this stress response, which will henceforth send faulty signals to the rest of the body, as our brain essentially acts as a control center for the rest of the body. This faulty signaling can then lead to an array of different physical symptoms.
Furthermore, if the brain is chronically in a heightened state of stimulation and alarm, neurons can become damaged and unhealthy neural pathways are formed. This has a very notable impact on our mental and emotional health and can result in symptoms such as anxiety, panic, fear, phobias, depression, obsessive thoughts, overwhelm, and more.
Exposure to environmental toxins can also result in a chronic state of systemic inflammation and mast cell activation. This is because the immune system is chronically in a state of overdrive in an attempt to control the threat of the toxic exposure. This can then lead to neuroinflammation, or inflammation of the brain, which additionally contributes to mental and emotional symptoms.
Environmental toxins can also increase oxidative stress, which occurs when there are not enough antioxidants within the body to neutralize damaging free radical presence. Increased oxidative stress has a notable impact on the brain and central nervous system function, which can additionally contribute to mental and emotional symptoms such as anxiety and depression.
For much more on Biotoxin Illness/Mold Toxicity and key areas to address for healing, click here.
Nutrient Deficiencies and Diet
The foods that we eat are absolutely fundamental to our physical, mental, and emotional health. Foods can either greatly benefit our health or they can greatly harm our health.
Diets that are high in omega 3 fatty acids and other good quality fats, quality proteins, a wide variety of vegetables, and some fruits and complex carbohydrates provide the vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and other essential nutrients that our bodies need in order to function properly.
Diets including these types of foods nourish the brain and gut, help to maintain optimal hormone balance, and keep blood sugar levels balanced, all of which have a very positive influence on our mental and emotional health.
On the other side of the coin, diets that are high in sugar, processed “foods,” artificial ingredients, and poor quality fats such as hydrogenated oils cause a cascade of adverse health consequences. These types of diets can cause insulin resistance/type 2 diabetes and overload the liver and other detox organs with an extra load of toxic ingredients to process.
Liver congestion and chronically high blood sugar levels can both lead to mental and emotional symptoms including anxiety, irritability, depression, and more.
Poor diets can also contribute to low probiotic levels in the gut, feed gut pathogens leading to infections such as intestinal parasites and fungal overgrowth, and irritate the gut lining causing “leaky gut.”
As we discussed above, poor gut health can be a big contributor to mental and emotional symptoms, as the state of the gut has a direct influence on the central nervous system in the brain.
“Leaky gut” occurs when gut irritants such pathogens, gluten, artificial ingredients, and grains poke small holes in the lining of the intestines. This causes undigested food particles and other contents of the intestines to leak into the blood stream. This then leads to systemic inflammation. These particles can cross the blood-brain barrier as well and contribute to brain inflammation which results in symptoms such as anxiety and depression.
When the diet does not include a wide variety of fresh, whole foods, nutrient deficiencies are also likely. Poor quality diets can lead to deficiencies in important vitamins, minerals, and nutrients such as zinc, magnesium, vitamin B12, omega 3 fatty acids, and more.
Each of these nutrients plays key roles in supporting brain health, nervous system health, and balancing the stress response. When the body isn’t supplied with sufficient amounts of these nutrients, these areas of the body will not function properly which can lead to symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and more.
For more on what constitutes a healthy diet, click here.
Expressive Clinically Significant Gene Variants
Our genes and their expression are a foundational part of our physiology and the functioning of our body. Your genes not only determine your physical appearance such as hair color, eye color, etc, but they also play a role in an incredibly wide array of functions such as your ability to detox, your hormone and nutrient metabolism, neurotransmitter balance, gut health, mental and emotional health, and so much more.
We all have a collection of gene variants or “single nucleotide polymorphisms/SNPs,” which are changes in the DNA sequence that make up a gene, making them different from the “wild type.” The wild type is a gene that is in an unchanged form, essentially a gene that does not have a variant that alters/changes its DNA sequence.
Genes encode enzymes that then perform the physiological task designated to that gene. Essentially, the gene provides the enzyme with instructions on what to do within the body. If there is a variant in a gene that is expressive (meaning it is active and turned “on”), it will give altered instructions that differ from the “proper” functioning of that gene.
Some gene variants directly impact our health and others do not. A clinically significant gene variant refers to a variant that has a direct and notable impact on our health.
There are several common clinically significant gene variants that can contribute to mental and emotional symptoms. These include:
These gene variants, if expressive, can cause symptoms such as anxiety, overwhelm, depression, irritability, obsessive thoughts, mood swings, and more.
The way our genes behave depends on several important influential factors including diet, lifestyle, gut health, environment, and stress levels. The field of epigenetics examines how these factors influence our genetic expression and how we can control our genetic expression to optimize our health.
Optimizing your gene expression is a powerful way to eliminate mental and emotional symptoms if a gene variant is contributing to such symptoms.
For much more on genetics and awesome tools that you can use to learn more about your unique genetic blueprint in order to take control of your genetic health, click here.
As we’ve explored here, there are a wide variety of physical causes that can contribute to the development of mental and emotional symptoms such as anxiety and depression.
The body and the mind are intimately connected and this must always be taken into full consideration when evaluating the cause of symptoms.
Treating the core underlying cause of symptoms via a root cause focused healing methodology will provide the most effective and lasting healing.
Reference 29: Lynch, Ben. Dirty Genes: A Breakthrough Program to Treat the Root Cause of Illness and Optimize Your Health. HarperCollins Publishers, 2018.
Reference 30: Gittleman, Ann Louise. Why Am I Always So Tired?. HarperCollins Publishers, 1999.
Reference 31: Eck, Dr. Paul C., Wilson, Dr. Lawrence. “Copper Toxicity.” Eck Institute of Applied Nutrition and Bioenergetics, Ltd. (1989) : 1-12.
Reference 32: Mailloux, Richard, B.S., Pfeiffer, Carl C., Ph.D, MD. “Excess Copper as a Factor in Human Diseases.” Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine 2.3 (1987) : 171-182.