4 Surprising Reasons You’re Feeling Low

by | May 12, 2022

If you’ve ever experienced low mood or depression you know just how long a day can be. It spreads out before you like an odyssey fit for someone much stronger than you.

You move one leaden foot after another, mustering up just enough energy to make it through the day.

You’re not alone.

Some 280 million people world-wide live with the persistent low mood and low energy of depression.

For some, they find relief in prescription pharmaceutical drugs.

For others, it seems like nothing will help.

It’s true that depression resides in the brain. But the brain is a complex system that is constantly interacting with, and being informed by, its environment, both internal and external.

If one or more systems in the body are compromised so will be the brain.

Think About Thyroid

Around 12% of the US population will be diagnosed with some type of thyroid dysfunction in their lifetime and it’s estimated that up to 60% of these individuals are unaware of their condition.

The thyroid is a small butterfly shaped gland on the front aspect of the neck. It is a critical component in the regulation of the metabolism, heart and digestive functioning, immunity, mood and memory.

Hyperthyroid is an overactive thyroid gland that produces too much thyroid hormone. Symptoms of an overactive thyroid gland include weight loss, agitation, anxiety, heat intolerance, increased heart rate, and diarrhea. Hyperthyroidism, though not uncommon, is rarer than an under functioning thyroid.

Hypothyroidism, when the thyroid underproduces thyroid hormone, causes opposite symptoms like slowed heart rate, constipation, weight gain, low mood, low energy, and cold intolerance.

Because of the close connection between mood and thyroid it’s important to have your thyroid levels checked when experiencing depression-like symptoms or anxiety.

For those that are already taking a prescription for synthetic thyroid hormone, an adjustment in dosing may be necessary.

Can Leaky Gut Lead to Depression?

Increasingly the research is defining a relationship between gut inflammation, leaky gut and depression. Physiologically this makes sense because the gut, the brain, and the immune system function as one super system.

When unbalanced, symptoms occur.

The gut is a long tube, exposed to the outside world that is comprised of a semi-permeable membrane. The membrane that lines the gut is responsible for selectively allowing beneficial substances like food to cross the barrier into the system and preventing pathogens and other microbes from entering. In fact, to protect us from invasion of external substances, 70% of the immune system is housed in the gut. This lining can become inflamed for a variety of reasons, ranging from inflammatory foods, chemicals and solvents, to prolonged cortisol exposure from elevated stress. When this lining becomes inflamed it is less proficient at its job and allows pathogens and toxins to enter the blood stream where they once wouldn’t.

This triggers an immune response that can cause systemic inflammation.

When these inflammatory and immune markers impact the brain, they can cause symptoms of depression.

Some studies even show that the leakier the gut the more severe the depression.

Given that systemic inflammation and leaky gut is a reversible condition that is greatly impacted by what you eat and other lifestyle interventions, it’s profoundly important to consider. Especially for individuals who have medication-resistant depression. A change in treatment approach may lead them to lifestyle interventions that can alleviate symptoms they’ve been unable to help with pharmaceuticals.

A Simple Vitamin Deficiency?

Vitamin and mineral deficiency are growing concerns as monocropping and poor farming practices have stripped the soil, resulting in food that is devoid of nutrients.

Unfortunately, it’s becoming much more challenging, if not impossible, to get proper amounts of these vital nutrients through food alone.

Unidentified deficiencies may indeed be at the root of your depression and anxiety.

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is activated through sunshine exposure on the skin. Deficiency in this vitamin have been linked to heart disease, multiple sclerosis, and diabetes to name a few. The connection between mood disorders and vitamin D deficiency has also been investigated in scientific literature. It’s been shown in depressed individuals that the severity of symptoms increases as vitamin D levels decline.

Over 40% of the US population is deficient in vitamin D.

Those who live in northern climates, wear sunscreen, and people with darker skin are at greater risk of deficiency due to differing levels of sun exposure.

Along with vitamin D, other vitamins and mineral deficiencies have been associated with anxiety and depression. Namely, vitamin B12, folate, iron, zinc, and selenium.

What may be misinterpreted as deficiencies in serotonin may in fact be a deficiency in one of these common micronutrients.

Your Mood on Food

Revisiting the idea that depression can be caused by systemic inflammation resulting from a leaky gut, it’s then essential to investigate how different foods might be contributing to your depression and anxiety.


Americans consume a staggering 150 pounds of sugar and 130 pounds of flour (which turns into sugar in the body) per year.

It’s true that the 9 out of the top 10 causes of death in this country are either directly related to blood sugar dysregulation or significantly impact or accelerate the condition.

What is all that sugar doing to your brain?

Blood sugar is tightly regulated by a hormone produced and secreted by the pancreas called insulin. Insulin acts as a messenger to tell the cell to uptake glucose and what to do with it once it has. When blood sugar peaks after a starchy or sugary meal or snack, insulin is released to move glucose out of the blood and into the cell. This spike in insulin causes blood sugar to drop, which can cause reactive hypoglycemia, or reactive low blood sugar. In turn the body produces cortisol, a stress hormone to come in and remedy the issue. As you can see, most of us are riding a blood sugar roller coaster with extreme peaks and valleys, shown to cause symptoms that mimic psychiatric disorders like anxiety and depression.

Over time, repeated exposure to mass amounts of sugar and carbohydrates causes the cells to become resistant to the impact of insulin. They no longer open the door when insulin knocks, leaving glucose to hang out in the blood causing blood sugar to rise. High blood sugar is extremely inflammatory to the body and the connection between inflammation and depression has been reported in the literature for years.

In addition, the brain is a large consumer of glucose in the body as it uses glucose as its primary source of fuel.

When the cells of the brain become insulin resistant the brain is essentially being starved of energy.

Ketones, the back-up molecule made by the body when glucose is unavailable, aren’t being made because the body is getting the signal that there is plenty of glucose in the blood. The problem is that the glucose can’t get into the cell, AND ketones aren’t being made because the body thinks there is plenty of glucose to go around. It’s a vicious cycle that leads the brain needing fuel but unable to get it.

A starved brain is not a happy brain.


Gluten is the sticky protein found in wheat, barley and rye. It’s what makes bread light and fluffy, but it’s also what is contributing to your leaky gut.

Gluten increases a compound called zonulin in the gut which is a marker for leaky gut.

It is also heavily sprayed with herbicides and pesticides like RoundUP that on their own can cause inflammation in the gut.

It also doesn’t help that modern day wheat varieties have more gluten than their ancient counterparts, explaining why some older wheat varietals create less digestive upset and inflammation.

Gluten consumption has been linked as a neurotoxin and symptoms reported include depression, anxiety, seizures, headaches and nerve damage.


My hope is that the days of choosing margarine and vegetable oils over butter and olive oil are over. But to this day nearly all packaged and processed foods are loaded with these inflammatory fats.

The brain is nearly 60% fat and essential fatty acids are critical to the function and health of the brain. Two essential fatty acids that are not made in the body and need to be consumed are omega 6 and omega 3. Omega 6 pushes the inflammatory pathway and omega 3 pushes the anti-inflammatory pathway. We need both to survive, as inflammation is an adaptive mechanism used by the body to heal damaged tissue. However, we are eating a lot more omega 6 fats than omega 3 leading to more inflammation than anti-inflammation.

A healthy ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 in the diet is 1:1 up to 3:1. The average American consumes a ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 in the range of 20-30:1. The main source of omega 6 in the diet? Vegetable oils like canola oil, corn oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, and soybean oil.

Take a look at the processed foods in your pantry and you’ll likely find one or more of these oils on every box.

Omega 3 fats have been shown to improve symptoms of depression and other mood disorders like bipolar, particularly in the depressed phase rather than the manic phase.

They are found in fatty fish and wild game as well as chia and flax seed for a meatless option.

The role of functional medicine is to investigate the deeper causes of disease and symptomology. This is not to say that pharmaceuticals don’t have a role to play in managing depressive symptoms if the underlying cause is in fact a biological chemical imbalance. However, as you can see the body is complex and intricately woven together such that one system cannot function without the others. It is my hope that physicians do their due diligence in finding lifestyle interventions that can support your mental health from the ground up. Too many people are suffering to not explore other options, particularly when medications are not getting you to the wellness you deserve.


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