Anxiety—It May Not Be in Your Head at All

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We have been taught many less-than-accurate things about our body and the way things work in general. Many of these ideas result in feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, often creating a situation where either suffering or reliance on never-ending usage of medication is necessary. Many complain of the side effects, which can at best be numbing and can actually make our mood much worse. In practice, I find more than 90 percent of mood imbalances, including anxiety, arise from functional issues below our noggins.

It would certainly seem to make sense that our thoughts are created in our mind, but that might not be as straightforward as it appears. Mood and well-being involve a very complex orchestration of many of our body’s intricate systems. Take neurotransmitters, for example. Different neurotransmitters and their levels have been shown to have significant impact on what mood state we are in. In fact, most mood-stabilizing medications are toying with the imbalances of these neurotransmitters, most notably serotonin. But where do our neurotransmitters come from? Most are not made in our nerves or brain. The majority are produced by the digestive tract, particularly in the small intestines.

Perhaps it’s gut dysfunction and not nervous disorders that has to do with how we feel. The obvious symptoms of gut disorders are heartburn, reflux, GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), indigestion, bloating, gas, loose or hard stools, in/frequency or urgency. Bloating is particularly important because it is often overlooked. Sometimes a chronic cough, sinus congestion, lump in the throat or post nasal drip are signs of digestive problems. At times, anxiety itself is the only outward sign of a gut issue.

Also contained in our gut is the far majority of our immune system. Immunity has a huge impact on our mood and especially anxiety. What is that connection many ask? There are a few different mechanisms. First, immune response involves inflammation. Inflammation can be obvious, such as a back, neck or joint pain, or subtle, such as background chronic inflammation from an unknown source. Obviously, it’s pretty difficult to feel happy when we are hurting, but imagine that a subtle discomfort and mild swelling were pervasive throughout our body (this is chronic or systemic inflammation, and it is very common). How would we feel? Uneasy, aggravated and anxious.

Our immune response is closely related to another response from a different system. When we have inflammation, our body increases the hormone cortisol to help control and reverse it. Cortisol is related to the medication cortisone or prednisone. Many feel very uncomfortable and have mood imbalances when on these medications. That feeling can be had and compounded with long-term high cortisol levels. Cortisol is also commonly known as a stress hormone because it increases with stress; this just adds to our discomfort.

Another common and subtle reason for anxiety is chronic nutrient deficiencies. Very common to us all but even more so for women is magnesium deficiency. Magnesium is required by our nerves, muscles and many of the body’s processes. It tends to have a calming effect. Obvious signs of magnesium deficiency are muscle pain or twitching, constipation, headaches and difficulty sleeping. Magnesium deficiency is very prevalent, as it is primarily found in green vegetables. Some might say, “I eat plenty of vegetables.” But the question is, “Do you actually digest them?” The most common symptom of poor vegetable digestion is bloating or loose stools.

Another common deficiency is any of the B vitamins. Vitamin B1, B6, B9 and B12 are the most associated with mood imbalances. B12 in particular is pervasively deficient for a few important and sinister reasons. First, vegetarians and vegans in general have B12 deficiency, as it is not very present in their food. Those over 55 years old, tend to have difficulty absorbing B12 due to changes in their digestive tracts and something called pernicious anemia, a common auto-immune issue that prevents people from absorbing B12. Besides making us feel anxious, B12 deficiency causes wide-ranging issues, including low energy and a type of anemia.

The last and “sinister” reason for B12 and even B9 deficiency is a common genetic disorder affecting 40 to 60 percent of the U.S. population. The gene involved is called MTHFR (methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase). The problem is it affects a process called methylation. Most affected by the methylation issue is B12 and B9. This gene can be tested for in blood work and requires supplementation of methylated B vitamins.

Lastly and just as common is so-called “vitamin D” deficiency. I hate the name vitamin D. We have all been taught it is a vitamin made in our body by the sun. And while some sunlight is required, more than 90 percent of the U.S. population is deficient in vitamin D. Many of those people work in the sun for a living or reside in sun-soaked states, like Florida, California and Texas. A vitamin by its original definition is a substance required for life that is not made either partially or entirely within the body. Vitamin D is entirely made in the body with just the tiniest pinch of sunlight. Vitamin D is not a vitamin, it is a hormone. There, I said it. And that’s why it has so many powerful effects and functions. Medical deficiency of vitamin D is often considered below 30. The normal range is often expressed as 30 to 100! That’s a huge range. Do you think if your level is 31, you will feel the same as if it were 70-plus? Most functional medicine practitioners believe a minimum vitamin D level is 50, with optimal ranges exceeding 70.

There are many real organic reasons for us to have anxiety, which is completely reversible and not all in our head. It just takes a little work to find out what is out of balance and how to create an appropriate comprehensive strategy to take control of our health.

Source: Dr. David Pollack, of Pollack Wellness Institute (66 Commack Rd., Ste. 204, Commack). For more information, call 631-462-0801 or visit

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