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What Causes Anxiety and Depression? Can Supplements Help?

Updated on March 3, 2023

There is no one answer to what causes anxiety and depression. However, many things can contribute to both conditions, including genetics, lifestyle choices, diet, and environmental factors. Some people may also experience anxiety or depression due to stress from personal relationships or work obligations.  Nutritional deficiencies and hormone imbalances can cause or worsen depression and anxiety. Common causes of depression and anxiety include low progesterone levels, often seen in menopause, perimenopause, PMS, and PCOS. Low or high cortisol levels can also cause mood changes. In men, low testosterone levels can cause depression and weight gain. A low thyroid hormone (free T3) level is associated with depression.  Nutritional deficiencies like B12, folate, and vitamin D have been linked to depression. Unfortunately, most doctors prescribe medications with testing for these problems.  Prescribing medicines for undiagnosed medical problems offers a band-aid fix.   Since anti-depressants and anxiolytics do not address the underlying issue,  no or minimal responses to these medications can occur.

What Causes Depression

Depression is one of the most common mental health conditions in the world, affecting more than 264 million people. It can have devastating effects on a person’s physical and psychological well-being, leading to feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and decreased energy. But what causes depression? Scientists are still trying to understand what triggers depression in different people; however, many things can lead to the development of this condition.

One known cause of depression is genetics: if someone has a family history of depression, they are more likely to experience it themselves at some point. Environmental factors such as childhood trauma or stressful life events can also trigger depressive episodes. Other potential causes include changes in brain chemistry or hormone levels, chronic illnesses, or certain medications that may disrupt neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine.

What Causes Anxiety

Anxiety is a feeling of worry, fear, or unease caused by numerous factors. Stress is often the most common cause of anxiety, as it can be triggered by events such as work deadlines or physical and emotional stressors. Hormone imbalances in the body can also lead to anxiety. Anxiety may develop if hormones like cortisol and adrenaline become too high due to prolonged periods of stress. Nutritional deficiencies have also been linked to anxious feelings; if someone doesn’t eat a balanced diet full of essential vitamins and minerals they are more likely to experience symptoms including irritability and restlessness which can lead to them feeling anxious. Other bodily changes, such as low blood sugar due to skipping meals or dehydration, could contribute to feelings of discomfort that could manifest into panic attacks if left untreated.

Feeling low occasionally or anxious is common in individuals, and there is nothing to worry about. But if petty issues draw your attention and you are constantly worried about things for long periods,  chances are that you are experiencing depression or anxiety. 

Since anxiety and depression are treated almost the same way, people often get confused and can’t differentiate between them. The fact is that depression and anxiety are different mental disorders that evoke other emotions.


What are Depression and Anxiety

These days we hear that almost every other individual suffers from depression, and you wouldn’t be surprised to know that nearly 350 million people have become victims of these disorders worldwide. Moreover, chances are that women will read this article more because 70% more women than men are likely to experience depression in their lifetime. In addition, men and women experience depression differently.  In contrast, women go through feelings of guilt and sadness; men are likely to experience anger and restlessness, which is usually coped by alcohol or drugs.

Depressed people experience anger, despair, and hopelessness; their energy levels are usually low, and developing personal relationships is essential to survive. People suffering from anxiety go through feelings of fear, panic, or anxiety in situations where most people would not feel threatened or anxious. If such disorders are not treated properly, the sufferer might lose his ability to maintain relationships or even isolate himself from the outside world.

But what symptoms indicate if an individual is going through depression?

If you are having trouble sleeping, i.e., sleeping for a long time or not sleeping; shifts in appetite or weight, i.e., excessive weight gain or loss; chronic physical symptoms, i.e., headaches or gastrointestinal disturbances. Loss of energy and fatigue; Feelings of hopelessness, guilt, or sadness. Thinking difficulty, i.e., memory loss, difficulty while making a decision or concentrating, and thinking about death or suicide, you should see a psychologist before the matter worsens.

What symptoms indicate if an individual is going through anxiety?

To add to your knowledge, anxiety is the most common mental disorder in the United States, and figures suggest that every one in five individuals suffers from anxiety. Feeling anxious before your exam or on your first day at the job is alright but constant feelings of fear, uneasiness, or worry sum up to anxiety disorder. These feelings accompany physical symptoms like headaches, chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness or light-headedness,  fatigue, muscle tension, difficulty swallowing, trembling, sweating, irritability, etc. People suffering from anxiety often seek to avoid people and even certain places.

Chemical Imbalances Depression and Anxiety

Mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, are often linked to chemical imbalances in the brain. Neurotransmitters are the chemicals responsible for carrying messages between brain cells, allowing us to think and feel. When these neurotransmitters become unbalanced due to genetic or environmental factors, it can cause depression and anxiety disorders.

Depression and anxiety can be caused partly by chemical imbalances in the brain. Neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and GABA significantly regulate our emotions and behavior. When these levels are out of balance, it can lead to depression or anxiety.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood, sleep, and appetite. Low serotonin levels have been linked to depression, while higher levels result in improved moods. Dopamine helps us feel pleasure and rewards us for activities we enjoy doing. Low dopamine levels have been linked with low motivation as well as depression and anxiety symptoms. Gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that helps reduce feelings of fear or panic by calming the nervous system. Low GABA levels may lead to increased feelings of fear or worry which can exacerbate depression or anxiety symptoms further.


Supplements for Depression and Anxiety

Supplements can offer another solution to those suffering from depression and anxiety to enhance the effectiveness of medications or as a stand-alone for those who can’t tolerate medications. While many prescription medications are available to treat these conditions, some people may prefer to try supplements first. B vitamins, St. John’s wort, 5-HTP, l-theanine, and SAM-e are all-natural supplements that have been shown to offer some benefits for depression and anxiety.  Some scientists believe supplements like omega-3 fatty acids can help to alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression. Supplements and bioidentical hormone replacement can help to alleviate symptoms of anxiety or depression 90 percent of the time. Be sure to ask your holistic doctor about getting tested for hormone problems and nutritional deficiencies at your next visit. 

Amino Acids Shakes, Depression and Anxiety

Amino acids and protein shakes can also be helpful supplements for those with depression and anxiety.

Amino acids are an important building block of life and play a key role in how the body functions. Now, research suggests that certain amino acids may benefit those suffering from depression and anxiety.

Amino acids are essential to the brain’s communication system as they create neurotransmitters that can positively affect mood and behavior. Neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and GABA are all produced with the help of specific amino acids. Increasing the intake of amino acid precursors can help increase these neurotransmitter levels in the brain, relieving symptoms associated with depression or anxiety, such as difficulty sleeping, hopelessness, fatigue, lethargy, and irritability.

Adaptogens, Herbs, Depression and Anxiety 

Adaptogens are herbs that help the body adapt to stress and can help manage symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Adaptogens are herbs and plant-based supplements that have been gaining popularity for treating depression and anxiety. These botanical remedies have the potential to help balance out hormones in the body, aid in better sleep quality, regulate stress levels, and more. While research is still being conducted on how adaptogens can benefit mental health, preliminary studies show great promise for their effectiveness.

Adaptogens such as ashwagandha, astragalus root, schizandra berry extract, Rhodiola rosea extract, and holy basil appear to be some of the most helpful in managing symptoms associated with depression and anxiety. When taken regularly over time, these natural anti-anxiety agents regulate cortisol levels in the body – thus reducing the effects of stress on both mental and physical bodies.

St. John’s Wort has been a herb used to treat mental health disorders for centuries.  It is thought to work by increasing serotonin levels. Serotonin helps to regulate our mood. 

B Vitamins, Depression and Anxiety 

B vitamins are essential for mood regulation and cognitive function. A study published in Nutritional Neuroscience found that B vitamins effectively reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety.  Research has shown that b vitamins have a positive effect on mental health and can reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety.

B vitamins are essential for good brain health as they are important in nerve cell communication and energy production. Vitamins B3, B6, B12, and folic acid are particularly effective when it comes to improving mood regulation in those suffering from depression or anxiety. For example, Vitamin B6 helps create neurotransmitters like serotonin which aid in regulating moods; meanwhile, Vitamin B12 plays an important part in helping make red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout the body — including our brains.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids, Depression, and Anxiety 

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for the optimal functioning of our brains and bodies. Research has shown that omega-3s provide numerous benefits for people suffering from depression and anxiety, making them an effective supplement to traditional treatments.

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish, algae, and plant sources like flaxseed, chia seed, and walnuts. They contain two primary components: Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) and Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA). DHA is highly concentrated in the brain and is responsible for supporting healthy cell membranes, while EPA affects mood regulation by reducing inflammation in the brain. Studies have shown that taking recommended doses of Omega-3 significantly reduces symptoms associated with depression, such as sadness, lack of energy, inability to concentrate, guilt, and negative thoughts.

Phosphatidylserine, Depression, and Anxiety  

Phosphatidylserine is a lipid that helps to improve depression, anxiety, and insomnia.  It is found naturally in the body and has been studied for its potential to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. Research indicates that phosphatidylserine may benefit these mental health conditions due to its ability to lower cortisol levels. Cortisol is the hormone responsible for feelings of stress and anxiety.

Studies have demonstrated that taking phosphatidylserine supplements can help improve symptoms associated with both depression and anxiety. In one study, participants who took 500 milligrams (mg) of phosphatidylserine daily for four weeks experienced a significant reduction in their cortisol levels and a decrease in depressive and anxious symptoms compared to those taking a placebo. Other studies report similar findings, suggesting that supplementing with this essential fatty acid could benefit individuals struggling with these mental health issues. Research indicates that phosphatidylserine, in addition to reducing the symptoms of depression and anxiety, can improve cognitive performance.

It is also believed that the anti-depressive effects of phosphatidylserine are due to its ability to increase levels of dopamine and serotonin in the brain, two hormones associated with feelings of happiness and contentment.


Read more about the health benefits of phosphatidylserine. 

While supplements should not replace traditional therapies for mental health conditions, they can be useful for some people.  


More Health News Articles About Depression and Anxiety:

St John’s Wort and 5 HTP Benefits for Depression
Phosphatidylserine and Phosphatidylcholine Benefit


About Author

Picture of  Ava Bell-Taylor, M.D

Ava Bell-Taylor, M.D

Ava Bell-Taylor, M.D., originally from Atlanta, Georgia, received her Bachelor of Science degree from Spelman College. She later received her medical degree from Morehouse School of Medicine. She completed her Family Practice training at Floyd Medical Center in Rome, Georgia and her psychiatry residency at Emory University School of Medicine. Dr. Bell-Taylor has extensive post-graduate medical training in Functional, Integrative, and Anti-Aging Medicine. She is certified in Functional Medicine. Ava Bell-Taylor, M.D. is a holistic doctor with a focus on functional and integrative medicine. Combining functional medicine with her knowledge of conventional medicine has enabled Dr. Bell-Taylor to help many patients suffering from depression, anxiety, insomnia, attention-deficient, dementia, and eating disorders. Dr. Bell-Taylor specializes in functional medicine with a special emphasis on how hormone disorders, environmental factors, lifestyle choices, and nutritional deficiencies contribute to brain dysfunction, like depression, attention deficiency, anxiety, insomnia, dementia, and other chronic medical illnesses. Dr. Ava Bell- Taylor is the co-author with her husband, Eldred B, Taylor, M.D, of two must-read books, Are Your Hormone Making You Sick? and The Stress Connection: How Adrenal Gland Dysfunction Effects Your Health.

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