What's Causing my Anxiety and Depression

There is nothing really that bad going on in my life so why am I so depressed?

Published 3/4/2021

I have faced sever depression firsthand, hating being alive, feeling like I was treading water to just show up every day. For years I believed it was just my personality, something that I would have to cope with. By working hard to increase my gut health I was able to alleviate my most sever symptoms, regaining my joy and ability to take actions to live my best life!

Maybe its a new onset of fatigue and disinterest in your life. Maybe you have noticed that you just can't concentrate like you use to, re-reading work emails over again because you spaced out, but you think its just stress or that you're getting older. Maybe it's something that you think is just part of your personality because its been present since you can remember. You believe that you're just an unhappy or anxious person, but this is likely not true. New research is showing that depression and anxiety is not in you head at all, its in your gut!

Depression is a serious condition that can truly be debilitating. Anxiety can consume your life, turning a family gathering into an isolating and painful experience. These mood disorders are still not completely understood but they often occur from both physical and psychological causes. When you have addressed the psychological causes and still feel like somethings not right it might be time to look at the physiological causes.

I feel a lack of motivation

I have one word for you, dopamine.

If you don't know about dopamine you want to. Dopamine gives you drive to accomplish anything. You know someone, the type A personality, who is so motivated all the time. The Nike slogan, "just do it", plays to the people who have a normal, healthy level of dopamine. For those of us who don't, we are made to believe that losing weight and being healthy should be as easy as just getting off your couch and going for a 5 mile run, because doesn't it feel great to run? No, not if you don't have dopamine, and a great cocktail of other hormones, to give you a feeling of pleasure from completing that 5 mile run. Dopamine is a feel good chemical that is in charge of the reward center in our brain. Some drugs that increase dopamine, cigarettes, Adderall and cocaine are are all addictive because of this. In fact your body typically produces small amounts dopamine when you achieve tasks and play games. A healthy level of dopamine is necessary to give you drive to accomplish goals, even if your goal is to shower and brush your teeth.

A lack of dopamine may make you feel unable to focus on your tasks, which is why so many millennial's have turned to Adderall to boost their productivity. Low dopamine levels could make you feel unmotivated to exercise or really do anything, even things that you love. If you are sitting on your couch beating yourself up over the list of things that you need to do but just can't find the will to do, don't. Give yourself a big hug and realize that there are chemicals in your body that could be causing this feeling.

Mental health is not all in your head, in fact more than 50% of dopamine is created by the microbes in the gut! [1] This means that if your microbiom is unhealthy you may not be producing enough of the neurotransmitters your body needs to function optimally.

I've been experiences a lot of anxiety lately

Anxiety can be a powerful way that your heart and body communicates that something is not right in your life. If you get a panic attack when you think about a certain relationship, your body could be telling you that this is not a healthy person for you to be around. On the other hand if you are feeling constant anxiety and feel as if you are on edge all the time, this may have more to do with your gut health.

One microbe in particular, Campylobacter jejuni, has been studied in relationship to anxiety.[4] In a study done on mice introducing this bacteria in otherwise health and happy mice caused an increase in anxiety like behavior. Unfortunately mice can't easily communicate to tell us if they are having panic attacks or how they are feeling, but we can check for indicators of anxiety such as cortisol levels and analyze their behaviors. When scientists did this, they found that mice who were given antibiotics and then inoculated with campylobacter jejuni had higher cortisol levels and an increase in anxiety like behaviors compared to their peers who did not get inoculated with this microbe.[4] The main stress indicator in this study was level of cortisol present.

If you are not familiar with cortisol, it's a hormone that your body makes to wake you up in the morning and to give you energy when you are under stress. Cortisol also increases blood sugar levels so that you will have enough energy to run way from the stressful "predators" that your caveman brain believes that your boss and screaming children are. Since you don't typically run away from these daily stressors and use up this increased fuel, you are left with elevated blood sugar levels which feeds your microbiome, specifically candida. Candida feeds off of excess sugars in your body. Removing excess sugar is actually one of the beneficial roles that candida plays in our bodies! Where the issue arises is when we are in a constant states of stress which increases cortisol which in turn increases blood sugar that feeds candida which grows in numbers due to the constant source of food. Candida has also been proven to deregulate the endocanibinoid system which alters the neuroendocrin system causing anxiety like behaviors. [3] This means that there is a viscous cycle of anxiety increasing your blood sugar which feeds candida which are shown to alter the neuroendorcin system (this is the bodies nervous system which communicates what hormones to make and how much) leading to heightened anxiety. Anxiety increases blood sugar and the cycle repeats.

So what can you do about this endless cycle of anxiety? There is one probiotic strain,Lactobacillus rhamnnosus that has been shown in animal studies to reduce the stressed induced cortiocosterone hormone.[1] This means it might be possible to lower cortisol, the stress hormone that is connected to belly fat and high blood pressure, just by increasing your probiotic intake of this specific species.

I'm lethargic and unhappy all the time

Serotonin is most well known as the happy mood neurotransmitter. SSRIs, selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, are a class of antidepressants which are thought to raise serotonin levels and increase feelings of well being, but that's not all that serotonin does in the body.

Low serotonin levels are responsible for:

  • feelings of sadness, irritability and anxiety

Serotonin acts on the central nervous system as a neurotransmitter, this messenger chemical gives us the boost we need to feel energized and have the sense of emotional stability.

  • constipation

Something that you might not know about serotonin is that it stimulates smooth muscle contractions and thus gut motility, aka. it helps create peristalsis! What does that mean for you? If you struggle with constipation that is alleviated by coffee, a stimulant laxative, low serotonin may be a cause!

  • migraines

Migraine headaches are also linked to low and fluctuating serotonin levels, although there is still a lot of debate in the scientific community as to what actually triggers a migraine. Most people with migraine headaches take a medication that increases serotonin levels during a migraine attack to lessen the severity so there is absolutely a link.

  • sleep disturbances

Sleep issues also have a link to serotonin. Melatonin is derived from serotonin, so a lack of serotonin could also be a contributing factor to some types of insomnia. Melatonin is produced by the body naturally when we have less light exposure in the evenings, preparing our bodies for sleep. When we are exposed to a lot of light in the evenings this natural signal for melatonin production is inhibited and we can have a harder time falling asleep.

So now that you know what an important chemical serotonin is for your entire body, you might wonder how to get more of it. Over 90% of serotonin is produced in the gut.[2] You may be wondering how your gut knows to make a neurotransmitter, it's a fairly simple process. Specific strains of bacteria in your colon create certain types of metabolites, a byproduct of the bacteria just living, these metabolites tell cells in your colon to synthesize serotonin. This means that by altering the bacteria in your gut you can change the levels of serotonin being created.

In studies on mice, adding the probiotic bifidobacterium to the diet of depressed mice showed a reduction of depression symptoms and increased 5-HTP levels. [1] 5-HTP, which is made by your body from tryptophan, is the precursor to serotonin. How can something in the colon change your mood? The vagus nerve is believed to transmit information between the brain and the gut, this has recently been coined the gut-brain axis. This information highway is where the chemicals made by bacteria in your colon literally talk to your brain. Depending on the chemicals present the messages could tell you to eat salad or sugar, they could make you feel happy or give you symptoms of depression.

If SSRIs have not reduced or eliminated the depression you are feeling then there are likely other factors that are causing your specific depressive symptoms. There are a lot of possibilities but the first step is to look at other neurotransmitters, unprocessed emotions, chronic inflammation and gut dysbiosis.

Feeling fatigued

If you have had chronic fatigue you know all to well the good intentions of the friend who suggests you just need to need to take a nap or says "you look fine to me".

Fatigue can be mild and transient, more of a malaise where you don't have the emotional or physical energy to handle tasks or it can be severe to the point that even getting out of bed or replying to a phone call can be an overwhelming task. When fatigue begins to take control of your life, it's time to look for the root cause.

We all know how energy levels are zapped when we get a bad cold or flu, but what we often don't think about is why our energy is low. For example when we get strep throat, a bacterial infection that our immune system identifies as dangerous, the body diverts most of its energy to fighting this pathogen. Whats causing the fatigue in this case is the bodies immune response, not necessarily the pathogen. This can be true in other bacteria and fungal infections that don't cause upper respiratory symptoms. As our immune system develops when we are young children, it learns ignore the bacteria that make up our microbiome and treats this unique collection of bacteria as friendly. When our microbiome becomes unbalanced due to an overgrowth of a specific pathogenic bacteria the body will launch an immune system attack, if this attack lasts for a long period of time then our body can start to become fatigued.

Common reasons for unexplained fatigue:

  • Sinus infection

  • Candida overgrowth

  • SIBO

  • Autoimmune diseases

  • Allergies

Living with fatigue can be depressing. It's sad to not feel vivacious, to feel like you are every task takes more energy than you have. Feelings of depression can quickly arise when you don't have energy to visit with friends or do activities you use to love. This isolation can increase feelings of depression as we have all experienced during the covid pandemic. You do not have to face these health challenges alone, you deserve to have support. Reach out for a health coaching session to learn tools to gain more control over your own health, happiness and well being.

Be happy,

Be healthy,

Be your best self.


[1] Joe Alcock, Is eating behavior manipulated by the gastrointestinal microbiota? Evolutionary pressures and potential mechanisms. BioEssays, Volume 36, Issue 10, pages 940-949, https://doi.org/10.1002/bies.201400071

[2] Jessica M Yano, Indigenous Bacteria from the Gut Microbiota Regulate Host Serotonin Biosynthesis. Cell, Volume 161, Issue 2, pages 264-276, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2015.02.047

[3] Laura Markey, Colonization with the commensal fungus Candida albicans perturbs the gut-brain axis through dysregulation of endocannabinoid signaling. Phychoneuroendocrinology, Volume 121. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2020.104808

[4] Goehler, Lisa E et al. “Activation in vagal afferents and central autonomic pathways: early responses to intestinal infection with Campylobacter jejuni.” Brain, behavior, and immunity vol. 19,4 (2005): 334-44. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbi.2004.09.002