Anxiety disorders affect millions of people globally, causing significant distress and impairment in daily life. While conventional approaches typically focus on managing symptoms with medications and therapy, functional medicine takes a different approach. It seeks to identify and address the underlying root causes of anxiety. By understanding the interconnectedness of various bodily systems, functional medicine offers a holistic perspective to effectively manage anxiety. In this article, we will delve into the root causes of anxiety from a functional medicine standpoint, supported by scientific research and evidence.

Chronic Stress and HPA Axis Dysregulation:

Chronic stress is a well-known trigger for anxiety disorders. In functional medicine, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is closely examined. The HPA axis is responsible for regulating the body’s response to stress. Prolonged stress can lead to HPA axis dysregulation, causing an imbalance in cortisol levels and triggering anxiety symptoms. Research studies have demonstrated the association between chronic stress and HPA axis dysregulation, emphasizing the role of stress reduction techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, and exercise in managing anxiety (Smith & Vale, 2006).

Gut-Brain Axis and Microbiome Imbalance:

Emerging research has highlighted the influence of the gut microbiome on mental health. The gut-brain axis refers to the bidirectional communication network between the gastrointestinal system and the brain. Disruptions in the gut microbiome, such as dysbiosis (imbalance of beneficial and harmful bacteria), have been linked to anxiety and other mood disorders. Studies have shown that certain probiotics and prebiotics can improve anxiety symptoms by modulating the gut microbiome and reducing inflammation (Wallace & Milev, 2017).

Nutrient Deficiencies and Neurotransmitter Imbalances:

Nutritional imbalances and deficiencies can play a significant role in anxiety disorders. Functional medicine practitioners analyze nutrient status, paying particular attention to key micronutrients like magnesium, zinc, vitamin D, and B vitamins. These nutrients are crucial for the production and regulation of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which are involved in mood regulation. Studies have shown that correcting nutrient deficiencies can help alleviate anxiety symptoms (Sarris et al., 2015).

Inflammation and Oxidative Stress: Inflammation and oxidative stress are physiological processes implicated in various mental health disorders, including anxiety. Functional medicine explores the underlying causes of inflammation and oxidative stress, such as poor diet, chronic infections, and environmental toxins. Research has suggested that reducing inflammation and oxidative stress through dietary modifications, antioxidant supplementation, and lifestyle changes can positively impact anxiety symptoms (Berk et al., 2013).

Functional medicine offers a comprehensive approach to understanding and addressing the root causes of anxiety. By examining the interplay between various bodily systems, it recognizes the importance of factors such as chronic stress, gut-brain axis imbalances, nutrient deficiencies, and inflammation in contributing to anxiety disorders. This holistic approach enables personalized treatment plans that target the underlying causes, leading to more effective and sustainable management of anxiety symptoms. However, it is essential to note that functional medicine should be used in conjunction with conventional medical care, and individuals should consult with qualified healthcare professionals before making any significant changes to their treatment plans.

References: Smith SM, Vale WW. The role of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis in neuroendocrine responses to stress. Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2006;8(4):383-95.

Wallace CJK, Milev R. The effects of probiotics on depressive symptoms in humans: a systematic review. Ann Gen Psychiatry. 2017;16:14.

Sarris J, Logan AC, Akbaraly TN, et al. Nutritional medicine as mainstream in psychiatry. Lancet Psychiatry. 2015;2(3):271-274.

Berk M, Williams L, Jacka F, et al. So depression is an inflammatory disease, but where does the inflammation come from? BMC Med. 2013;11:200.

About Liz

Liz Spicer, MS, DNP is an accomplished medical professional with a unique blend of knowledge and experience spanning over seven years in various health care settings, including Intensive Care Units and Urgent Care centers. She holds a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree from the esteemed Medical University of South Carolina, a B.S. in Biology, and an M.S. in Forensic Science. Prior to her nursing career, she honed her analytical skills as a Forensic Scientist and in medical research roles.

Whether you're combating a chronic illness or seeking to optimize your overall health, you can count on her dedication to uncovering the root cause of your health concerns and her commitment to your wellness journey.

Expert Knowledge:

Beyond her wide-ranging qualifications, Liz has undertaken advanced coursework in pathophysiology, molecular, and cellular biology. This allows her a profound understanding of the intricate physiological foundations and pathways that underpin human health.

Comprehensive Care:

Liz's passion lies in unravelling the complexities of individual health conditions, taking a deep dive into the underlying causes rather than treating superficial symptoms.

Personalized Treatment:

With her patient-centric philosophy, Liz works collaboratively with you to craft customized treatment plans. Her goal is not merely to treat, but to restore balance to your body and life, fostering sustained wellness.

My Commitment:

I believe that each patient’s health journey is a unique and intricate story. Just as I’ve woven together diverse threads of medical expertise, research, and forensic science throughout my career, I aim to connect the dots within each individual’s health narrative to reveal the root cause of their health challenges.

In my practice, I leverage my extensive knowledge from the ICU and Urgent Care environments, as well as my investigative background in forensic medicine, to take a truly comprehensive, analytical approach to health care. Instead of just treating symptoms, I delve deep into understanding how your lifestyle, genetics, and environment influence your well-being. My forensic science experience has taught me the value of thorough, meticulous inquiry, and I bring this mindset to every patient interaction.

As a functional medicine practitioner, I strive to create a collaborative and compassionate space where your unique health story is heard and respected. Together, we’ll navigate the complexities of your health, formulating a personalized treatment plan to restore balance, enhance resilience, and guide you towards optimal wellness.

I am committed to empowering you with the knowledge and tools you need to reclaim control of your health and live your life to the fullest. I look forward to walking with you on your journey to improved health, balance, and vitality.

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