SummerbluesDid you know that in Texas, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is just as common in the summer as in the winter?  While we have plenty of blazing sunlight here in toasty Texas, the reality is that the extreme heat drives many people indoors.  Some people actually get less sun exposure, make less vitamin D, and may even exercise less due to the extreme heat.  Adding this to dehydration, lighter food intake, and longer days, this means an increase in anxiety and depression for some Texans.

Another thing that comes with the spring / summer heat is rain & humidity. With that comes a big jump in mold levels. The warm weather not only activates mold in the ambient environment (outside), but it creates warmth and condensation in our air conditioning systems that create a perfect environment for indoor mold.  About 25% of the population are genetically sensitive to mold. For these individuals, mold exposure causes not just allergies but inflammation that affects the nervous system, joints, digestive system and immune system. Anxiety and depression are common symptoms of mold exposure in sensitive people.

One of the most common requests I have had this summer is for natural support for anxiety and depression. Anxiety and depression are often assumed to be due to low serotonin (many Rx medications for anxiety and depression are focused on recycling serotonin). In truth, low serotonin is a factor for many people struggling with keeping a calm, positive mood. However, there are many other things that can be factors in these common mood imbalances. Not only are there multiple brain chemicals involved in mood, but hormones, nutrients, and inflammation are also major factors.


Feelings of anxiety can be caused by:

Imbalance How it might present
Low serotonin Invasive, recycling negative thoughts
Low GABA Monkey mind, can’t turn “off”
Too much glutamate Overwhelming sensory input – noise, light, color
Too much cortisol Fight or flight
Too much adrenaline or norepinepherine Fight or flight
Too much or too little histamine hives, excess precision / perfectionism
Low blood sugar can feel spacy or fight /flight, headache, shaky, impending doom
Inadequate or imbalanced nutrients especially B vitamins and minerals
Too much thyroid hormone feels wired, but tired, fast heart beat – needs medical evaluation
Sudden drop in estrogen or progesterone PMS, perimenopause
Inflammatory foods, chemicals, heavy metals, mold Achy joints, hands, feet, brain fog, GI issues, poor sleep, headaches
Genetics that make you vulnerable MTHFR, COMT, MAO, GAD, VDR, etc


Feelings of depression can be caused by:

Low serotonin Invasive, recycling negative thoughts
Low dopamine No motivation, poor focus, reward seeking / feels flat
Low norepinepherine Fatigue, poor focus, flat
Too much or too little histamine Hives, exess precision / perfectionism
Low thyroid Low body temp, constipation, dry skin / hair, brain fog
Excess progesterone Weepy, retains water
Poorly metabolized estrogen More cranky
Low Vitamin D Gloomy, cloudy, easily inflamed
Inadequate or imbalanced nutrients especially B vitamins and minerals
Inflammatory food, chemicals, heavy metals, mold Achy joints, hands, feet, brain fog, GI issues, poor sleep, headaches
Genetics that make you vulnerable MTHFR, COMT, MAO, GAD, VDR, etc


Combination treatments:

Long term resolution of anxiety and depression usually requires a combination of approaches.

1) Identify and remove foods that are causing inflammation. The most common are gluten and dairy. Unfortunately these foods are often the foods we crave as comfort foods. Why? Our body recognizes the food as inflammatory and releases endorphins (our natural opiates) to protect us from the pain caused by the inflammation. This literally gives us a little “high” from eating these foods, but still leaves us with the chronic inflammation.

2) Identify vulnerable genetics and support with good nutrition and supplements. The “alphabet soup” acronyms above are names of genes that are related to mood. Finding out what genes you have can be very helpful in customizing the support your body needs. It is important to remember that for most issues “genotype is not phenotype”. What that means is that our genes are our potential for response to our environment, and that our environment determines what genes are turned on and off at any given time.

In working with MTHFr and mood genetics for the past 8 years, what I have found is that genomes tend to be self balancing if you look far enough. For example if a person has slow MTHFr (the gene that activates folate) and also makes serotonin slowly, they usually also have genes that mean they tend to break down serotonin slowly as well. This system works great if you have a perfect diet and no stress. For folks with these more vulnerable genotypes, it is easier to get out of balance during times of stress.  Taking vitamins and minerals that are specifically targeted to support your genetics can make staying in balance much easier.

3) Rule out endocrine issues. Getting your adrenal, thyroid and sex hormones tested may be helpful. Hormones can have a powerful impact on mood.  It is important to remember that most hormone imbalances will involve other symptoms, beyond mood issues. For example low thyroid may manifest as fatigue, depression and brain fog, but usually also includes low body temperature, dry skin & hair, and constipation.  

4) Identify low neurotransmitters (brain mood chemicals). There are blood and urine tests that can estimate neurotransmitter levels in the brain. Each neurotransmitter has a particular “personality” that can help identify it (see chart above), so detailed assessment of how someone is feeling can also help determine which neurotransmitters may be out of balance. Once identified, these deficiencies can be easily and quickly supported with highly targeted supplementation.  Amino acids such as tryptophan, glycine, tyrosine, theanine and can be used for both “as needed” relief and to help rebuild deficient brain chemicals over time.

5) Consider supplements that address inflammationInflammation doesn’t just affect the muscles and joints. Inflammation also affects blood vessels, the brain, and hormones.  There are so many things in our modern world that contribute to inflammation. In addition to foods (which we have control over), chemicals in the environment (pesticides, heavy metals, mold toxins) are also major contributors to inflammation. There are many supplements that can help reduce inflammation.  Some of my favorite are Vitamin D, Omega 3, Turmeric, and the new kid on the block: CBD (Cannabidiol).  CBD supplements have the benefit of being both anti-inflammatory as well as directly anti-anxiety. Vitamin D, Omega 3’s and Turmeric have well documented positive effects on mood, and are all powerful anti-inflammatory supplements.  

6) Consider herbs for relief. There are many herbs that can offer “as needed” relief, especially for anxiety. I often recommend products like Cortisol Manager, Sound Sleep, Adrenal Health Stress Response, or our new superstar CBD Oil, with many brands and forms to choose from.  

becky-andrewsBecky Andrews, ND*, LAc received her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine and Masters in Acupuncture at Bastyr University. She specializes in complex, chronic and “difficult” cases, especially relating to digestive health, fatigue, mood and detoxification. She works extensively with MTHFr and genetic challenges. In addition to seeing patients in Austin, she is faculty at AOMA School of Integrative Medicine.