Functional Medicine Approach To Manage Chronic Stress And Anxiety
Stress and anxiety are incredibly common in today’s society and mental health issues were exacerbated during the COVID-19 lockdowns. Statistics from Mental Health America show that people seeking help for anxiety in America have skyrocketed, and they can find only limited solutions.
Conventional medicine relies on drugs to dampen the symptoms, but might not diagnose the root cause of the symptoms. On the other hand, functional medicine has much more to offer when it comes to managing chronic stress and anxiety.
In functional medicine, we know that anxiety may only be the tip of the iceberg. It is a clear warning that something wrong is happening below the surface and needs our attention. Anxiety is a manifestation of underlying issues, and functional medicine focuses on correcting those issues to manage anxiety or even eliminate it.
Here’s the three-step approach recommended by functional medicine for the management of chronic stress and anxiety.
STEP 1: Identify The Root Cause
As always, with a functional medicine approach, we aim to figure out WHY your anxiety is occurring to be able to address the root cause. Here are some of the most common causes found in most people with anxiety.
Gut-brain connection has been proven by science. It is crucial for mood and cognitive function. Most of your neurotransmitters, including 90% of serotonin your brain needs, are produced in the gut.
An unhealthy gut can wreak havoc on your mood and health due to GI inflammation, damaged gut lining, disrupted microbiome, and nutrient deficiencies. Irritable bowel, acid reflux, SIBO, and leaky gut syndrome can all be linked to anxiety.
Food intolerance is a significant contributor to brain diseases. This occurs when your gut cannot properly digest certain foods you eat. Your digestive system triggers a reaction, causing inflammation. But its symptoms are less severe, making it harder to identify.
Many vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin D, vitamin B, magnesium, and zinc, are essential for almost every brain function. Anxiety can develop if your foods are not vitamin-dense, or your digestive system cannot absorb these nutrients properly.
Deranged thyroid hormones, adrenal hormones, and imbalance between estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone can result in anxiety. A typical scenario is when some women experience a wave of anxiety or depression around menstruation and return to normal once their cycle starts.
Recommended Advanced Functional Labs Tests
Lab tests help dig deep into your symptoms and figure out the root cause of your anxiety. A few commonly advised tests for patients with anxiety include:
- Comprehensive Stool Test. This test detects bacteria, fungi, viruses, protozoa, and worms in your stool and evaluates digestive functions, leaky gut and inflammation levels.
- Food Sensitivity Testing. This helps pinpoint the irritant foods your gut can’t digest and absorb.
- Nutritional test. It looks at vitamins, minerals, and antioxidant levels in your blood and can indicate their GI absorption issues.
Hormone Testing. It measures the levels of diurnal variation of cortisol, underactive thyroid hormones, estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, DHEA, and other biomarkers related to hormones and neurotransmitters.
Organic acid testing- It specifically measures candida toxin, bacteria toxin, mould toxin, mitochondrial markers related to mitochondrial dysfunction
STEP 2: Ease Out Your Symptoms
The next step is to implement baseline techniques to help relieve your symptoms. Think of it as a bridge to make you start feeling better until we can make targeted changes depending on your labs in step 3.
Remove food sensitivities
Many patients see considerable improvements in their symptoms with this step alone.
You may unknowingly be eating the foods that trigger your stress and anxiety. An elimination diet is a helpful technique to figure out your food sensitivities and intolerances. Just stop consuming irritant foods like gluten, dairy, caffeine, sugar and alcohol etc for 3 weeks. Only include nutrient-rich whole foods in your diet.
After 3 weeks, start including one trigger food at a time to see how your body tolerates them and which one is linked with your anxiety.
Natural Supplements For Anxiety
Research suggests that including natural supplements in your daily diet can help relieve anxiety symptoms by promoting brain health. Some of the proven supplements for anxiety include:
- GABA Supplements. GABA neurotransmitter produces a calming effect in the brain, reducing the symptoms of stress and anxiety. Magnesium, vitamin B6, and zinc supplements increase the amounts of GABA in your brain.
- Green Tea. Green tea is rich in L-theanine —an amino acid that provides a calming effect on your brain without causing any drowsiness. It can be a lifesaver in periods of acute anxiety.
Mindfulness activities to slow down your racing mind can hugely help relieve your anxiety. Deep breathing exercises, yoga, meditation, or gratitude journaling are simple tools for dealing with anxiety flares.
STEP 3: Restore Balance
In this step, your functional medicine provider reviews your lab test reports to develop a personalized plan to correct imbalances and replenish what is missing. This is specifically tailored for your individual needs.
Although there are no one-size-fits-all treatments, the general framework may look like this.
Heal Your Gut
A healthy gut is the key to a healthy mind. Your gut can revive its health if you provide it with the right circumstances.
If your lab reports show any infections, treat them accordingly. Take probiotics and prebiotic supplements to maintain a healthy microbiome. Eating cooked foods reduces the workload on your gut. Intermittent fasting (every other day or two days a week) gives your gut a much-needed break to heal itself.
Optimize Your Diet
Based on your food sensitivity reports or elimination diet results, abandon the food your body is not fond of. Eat foods rich in fiber and prioritize the foods that replenish the nutrient deficiencies you have. It may be necessary to supplement your diet with B vitamins or magnesium to promote the synthesis of brain-relaxing neurotransmitters.
Suppose your anxiety is due to low levels of certain hormones. In that case, relevant hormone therapy is the appropriate treatment for your anxiety. Higher levels of hormones are tackled with different detoxification techniques, such as drinking plenty of water, eating a diet rich in fiber and antioxidants, and intermittent fasting.
If you are struggling with chronic anxiety and are looking for an effective solution for its elimination, the functional medicine approach to managing chronic stress and anxiety is your way. Begin by finding a functional medicine provider in your area who can make a personalized program as per your biochemical imbalances.
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Dr Menka Gupta
IFMCP, MSc, MBBS
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