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Biological Causes of Anxiety: Root Causes of Anxiety Part 2

Article Summary:

The health of your brain and body directly affects your mental and emotional health. In Part 2 of this series, we uncover the biological causes of anxiety...

Over the past few decades, medical and scientific researchers have better understood the connection between people's biological health: the brain, body, nervous system, and organs, and their npsychological health: moods, thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

Research has shown that the health of the brain and body plays an essential role in a person's overall psychological health.

One significant benefit of this new understanding is a better understanding of the underlying biological causes of anxiety.

When people correct these underlying causes, their anxiety is often significantly reduced or even eliminated.

Unfortunately, many people need to be made aware of this information.

A person may not know that an underlying health issue is causing anxiety.

Biological causes of anxiety (and depression) can range from many possible health issues and physical changes in the brain and body.

Issues can occur when a person has too much or too little of a particular biological component (a deficiency or an imbalance, for example).

For example, being deficient in one or more brain chemicals, vitamins, minerals, or hormones.

Moderate to severe anxiety can also occur due to disease, injury, or illness.

The biological directly affects the psychological.

Chemical changes in the brain can directly affect your mood and overall psychology – just as what you eat or drink can affect how you think and feel.

For this article – when I say "biological causes," "biological," or "biology," I am referring to the broad definition of organic processes of the brain and body.

Hopefully, the term "biological" or "chemical imbalances" doesn't scare you off.

You don't need to know the systems of the body, technical terms, or brain processes for this article to help you.

The fundamental point is that your mind and body are interrelated.

You can improve your psychological and emotional health by improving, repairing, or correcting any underlying biological issues.

If you want to check out the previous article on causes of anxiety, where we discuss psychological causes of anxiety, you can find it here:

Psychological Causes of Anxiety: Root Causes of Anxiety Part 1

Please note:

Information in this article is not meant to be taken as medical advice. The information provided is for educational purposes only. Consult with your doctor or healthcare provider before changing your diet, prescriptions, or making any other health-related changes.

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Health Anxiety: A Word of Caution

In addition to the many everyday worries and anxieties of life – anxiety around health, disease, and illness can be a problem for many people.

Even reading about potential illnesses, diseases, or other health concerns can awaken the hypochondriac in some people.

If this is you - please don't let this guide cause unnecessary anxiety.

As someone who has personally dealt with years of intense anxiety, I've spent countless hours Googling medical conditions I "knew" I had after reading about it online.

I was jumping from one potential illness to the next.

Please don't use this guide in that way.

The purpose here is to provide information.

It is important to bring to light biological causes of anxiety you may not have known about and can take action to rule out – such as getting your thyroid tested or eliminating specific triggers in your diet.

This article is meant to educate you – not cause you more anxiety and worry.

Chemical Imbalance

By far, the most popular theory behind biological causes of mental health issues like anxiety and depression is the chemical imbalance theory.

This theory states that when there are higher, lower, abnormal, or fluctuating levels of available neurotransmitters (chemicals/hormones) in the brain and body – the result can be anxiety or depression.

At the center of this theory is the pharmaceutical industry.

Not only has this theory led to the development of some of the most commonly prescribed medications in the world (SSRIs), but the (arguable) effectiveness of these drugs for treating anxiety and depression has helped to reinforce the chemical imbalance theory.

Pharmaceutical companies spend millions of dollars advertising to promote these medications.

These pharmaceutical companies also have a powerful influence over doctors, psychiatrists, and the medical community.

If you go to your doctor and tell them you have anxiety or depression, they are almost certainly going to prescribe an SSRI as a first-line treatment.

They'll probably tell you about how low serotonin can lead to depression and anxiety and how these medications work to correct this deficiency.

Even though this theory is still central to most medical practices – it has begun to come under scrutiny in the past decade or so.

Some medical experts claim there is no such thing as a "chemical imbalance."

Other experts claim that while someone may have low serotonin (or any other neurotransmitter), there is no relation between an "imbalance" and anxiety or depression.

Others say that having an imbalance can be one possible cause of anxiety and depression.

If a chemical imbalance is an issue – the imbalance has a root cause – either biological (such as a poor diet) or psychological (such as excessive stress or trauma).

The point, they say, is to treat the underlying cause, and the imbalance will eventually correct itself as a result.

Lastly, through recent neuroscience, there is the belief that the drugs that supposedly "correct" the chemical imbalance (antidepressants in particular) work not because they fix some chemical imbalance but because they stimulate neurons to remodel themselves.

This remodeling in the brain and promotion of BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) leads to increased flexibility in the brain and the ability to form new responses and thought patterns.

This is known as neuroplasticity.

Therefore it's not so much about increasing neurotransmitters or correcting imbalances as it is about creating new structures and flexibility in the brain so the person can better handle (adapt) to life.

The truth is – no one knows for sure.


No one knows what causes anxiety or depression, let alone how particular medications work, including the drug companies themselves.

Regardless of which theory is true, prescription medications such as SSRIs, SNRIs, and other drugs can significantly reduce anxiety.

Whether you want to chalk it up to the placebo effect, correcting an imbalance, or increasing neuroplasticity in the brain, for some, medication can be effective for anxiety and depression.

After years of taking antidepressants, I've experienced this firsthand.

I've also witnessed dramatic changes in others.

That's not to say these types of medications will be a good fit for everyone.

These drugs are also not without their downsides, including the potential for side effects, an adjustment period when starting, trialing different meds to find the right one, and withdrawal (often termed discontinuation syndrome) when coming off after extended use.

In my opinion, it's also essential to correct the source of the imbalance and develop the skills necessary to cope with life's challenges; otherwise, you're simply treating the symptoms, not the cause.

The goal is to find the cause of the imbalance (if there is one) and treat it while developing skills for dealing with anxiety.

That being said, for some, there may be an actual chemical imbalance where the brain doesn't produce enough (or too much) of a specific neurotransmitter.

Schizophrenia, borderline disorder, severe OCD, certain diseases, and brain injury are common examples.

In these cases, medications may be needed long-term or for the rest of the individual's life.

You can learn more about medications for anxiety in our in-depth guide here:

The Guide to Medications for Anxiety: Everything You Should Know

Causes of a Chemical Imbalance

Most theories behind the causes of a chemical imbalance focus on psychological stress and trauma.

Any factors that cause repeated stress responses can cause neurotransmitters to become imbalanced.

Other common factors include diet and health-related issues.


One way or another, all biological causes of anxiety have a direct effect on brain chemicals and stress hormones.

Depleting certain brain chemicals at the expense of others leads to a chemical imbalance, which can lead to anxiety and depression.

Believes Causes of a Chemical Imbalance:

  • Chronic Excessive Stress
  • Past or Present Trauma
  • Genetics
  • Living/Working in Unsafe Environments (war zones, abusive households, violent neighborhoods)
  • Poor Diet/Nutrient Deficiency
  • Health-Related Issues (disease, infection, illness, injury)
  • Environmental Toxins (persistent exposure to toxins, such as living in a home with mold or exposure to chemicals and other toxins at work)
  • Past or Present Drug Use/Addiction

The Stress Response (Fight-or-Flight)

When you experience intense stress or trauma, whether biological or psychological, real or imagined, your brain and nervous system react by producing more stress hormones/neurotransmitters.

When these stress hormones, such as epinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol, are released, your body goes into survival mode or a fight-or-flight response.

These responses are natural and serve the purpose of gearing your body up to either "fight" (defend yourself) or "flight" (run away from danger).

The stress response and the stress-related chemicals aren't bad in and of themselves; they serve essential functions.

However, significant problems can arise when the stress response becomes your automatic response to situations that don't warrant a fight-or-flight, survival mode response.

For instance – if you have a stress response because you get to the grocery store and realize you left your purse or wallet at home.

Is that really a fight for survival?

Problems will also arise if you remain in this ultra-stressed state for long periods.

Examples of this include living in an unsafe, unstable, or unpredictable environment or having a health issue that leaves you sick and stressed for a long time.

Over time the stress chemicals and hormones can reduce the more calming, "feel-good" neurotransmitters like serotonin and GABA.

There becomes an imbalance.


With less calming neurotransmitters and more brain chemicals and hormones to gear you up for fight or flight, responding to experiences without stress and anxiety becomes harder.

The stress response becomes a cycle.

The mind can become "trapped" in a loop of negativity, hyper-alertness, fear, and anxiety.

Children who grow up in unsafe, abusive, or stressful homes tend to produce less of the calming/feel-good neurotransmitters, not only during childhood but also as adults.

They become stuck in fight-or-flight mode, remaining in a hyper-alert state, always on the lookout for danger.

As these children grow up and become adults, they may remain in this stressed state – even if the original stressors are no longer there.

Whether a chemical imbalance is the result of stress and trauma or the cause – the point is the same.

After long-term exposure to stress or trauma, the brain rewires to create more hormones and neurotransmitters associated with fight-flight (or freeze) responses.

If you believe it is necessary to be "on guard" against potential threats – the brain and body will comply by producing the chemicals and hormones to protect you.

Going in-depth into how the stress response works and the role of neurotransmitters on anxiety is beyond the scope of this article.

If you're interested in learning more about how anxiety works, check out our in-depth article:

The Guide to How Anxiety Works: Using Neuroscience to Explain Anxiety

Correcting an Imbalance

You shouldn't assume that you have a chemical imbalance just because you have anxiety – even though that seems to be a popular tactic among physicians and psychiatrists.


The truth is, as of right now, there is no accurate, reliable way to test the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain. So, until tests become available that can do this, the chemical imbalance theory will always be just that, a theory.

That being said, if you suffer from severe anxiety or depression, a prescription medication, such as an antidepressant, could be an effective option.

Prescription medication can be used long enough to calm the mind and balance mood, allowing you to learn and practice how to deal with your anxiety effectively.

In addition to prescription meds, many herbs, amino acids, and other supplements act in the brain similarly to prescription drugs and can reduce many anxiety issues and symptoms.

These herbs and supplements can be a safer alternative to prescription drugs.

When you become stuck in an overly stressed, fight-or-flight response, you may have difficulty relaxing and constantly feel anxious until the core causes are addressed.

While some people are against medications of any kind, we believe prescription antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications have their place.

Many medications recommended by a physician can help significantly.

For those with severe anxiety and depression, they can even be life-saving.

If you are considering taking medication for anxiety – do your research.

Look into the potential for addiction, side effects, and withdrawals, and discuss it with your doctor.

I've seen antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications make a huge difference in people's lives, but I've also witnessed and experienced nasty side effects, addiction, and painful withdrawals that can accompany some of these drugs.

For an in-depth guide to medications, check out our article on anxiety medications:

The Guide to Anxiety Medications: Everything You Should Know

If you're more interested in natural alternatives to medication, you can check out the herbs and supplements we recommend for anxiety in this article:

Herbs & Supplements for Anxiety: An In-Depth Guide to Anxiety Supplements

Always discuss your options with your doctor before taking anything new – even natural supplements like herbs and amino acids- especially if you are currently on prescription medications or have a medical illness – as these supplements could interfere.

Diet & Nutrition

What you put into your body directly influences how you feel.

Think about how you feel after eating something unhealthy – like gorging on a pint of ice cream – compared to how you feel eating something healthy like a fruit and vegetable smoothie.

One can leave you feeling satisfied, light, and rejuvenated – while the other can make you feel lethargic, spaced out, or irritable.

Now think about how often you tend to reach for the ice cream or the fast food in proportion to healthier options.

Diet and nutrition go beyond just eating sweets or fast food, however.

The number of unhealthy choices you make daily, your body's overall health, and your body's ability to metabolize and digest food and nutrients also play a large part in diet and nutrition.

Many specific factors in your diet can directly affect the amount and intensity of anxiety.

These factors include vitamin and mineral deficiencies, stimulants like caffeine, sugar intake, food allergens (like gluten), and excitotoxins.

Nutritional Deficiency/Excess

Your brain and body rely on many different vitamins, minerals, and amino acids to function at your best.

The body supplies these essential nutrients for many people through the foods they eat.

However, if you have a poor diet, take certain prescription meds, or have trouble absorbing the proper nutrients because of an illness or other issues, you may lack some of these crucial nutrients.

Common nutrient deficiencies related to anxiety:

  • Magnesium: essential to the proper function of the nervous system; low levels can be associated with anxiety, muscular tension, restless leg syndrome, panic attacks, and constipation
  • B Vitamins (especially B6, Folate, and B12): B vitamins play a significant role in many critical processes in the body; B6, Folate, and B12 are essential nutrients for positive mental health; B6 helps convert Tryptophan found in food into Serotonin; all 3 B-vitamins are crucial for proper methylation in the body; poor methylation has been linked to anxiety and numerous mental illnesses; low levels of any or all these essential B vitamins can have adverse effects on physical and psychological health
  • Zinc: supports the brain, nervous system, and hormone processes; we associate low levels with anxiety, depression, low testosterone (in men), and poor immune system function
  • Iron: Iron is responsible for carrying oxygen throughout the body and is essential for nervous system health; we associate low levels with poor concentration, irritability, anxiety, headaches, and fatigue (always consult your doctor before supplementing with iron)
  • Omega 3 Fatty Acids: necessary for normal brain functioning and lowering inflammation, typically found to be lower in those with anxiety; low levels can cause ADHD, poor mental abilities, anxiety, and depression
  • Vitamin D: essential for a wide variety of brain and body processes; although lower levels are commonly associated with winter months, vitamin D deficiency can be an issue anytime due to diet, illness, or lack of sun exposure; we associate low levels with SAD (seasonal affective disorder), depression and panic attacks
  • Amino Acids: the building blocks of proteins, responsible for a variety of bodily systems as well as the precursors to neurotransmitters; deficiency in certain amino acids is associated with brain fog, anxiety, depression, fatigue, inability to concentrate, lack of motivation and many other problems


Sugar directly impacts your mood and weight, can increase the risk of diabetes, and even make you less intelligent.

Sugar can also exacerbate symptoms of anxiety.

You can experience increased nervousness, irritability, and even brain fog from consuming too much sugar.

As your body works to stabilize blood sugar levels, you may experience these and other negative effects.

This is typically known as the crash from a "sugar high."

High sugar consumption goes beyond short-term sugar crashes and spikes of blood sugar.

Over time, sugar can reduce essential vitamins and minerals in the body, increase inflammation and oxidative stress, and even cause plaques in the brain (abnormal protein fragments).

Over the long term, continually eating excessive amounts of sugar can lead to insulin resistance, also known as Prediabetes.

Insulin resistance can lead to a buildup of glucose, eventually leading to Type 2 Diabetes.

It goes without saying it's best to reduce refined sugars as much as possible – eliminating them altogether is the best option.

While the obvious culprits can be easy to spot, there are over 50 different names for sugar in our foods, making eliminating it more challenging.

Foods to Limit/Avoid: Refined Sugars

  • Anything w/ High Fructose Corn Syrup: one of the worst forms of refined sugars, should be avoided completely
  • Sweets: candies, chocolates, doughnuts, ice cream, snack cakes, etc.
  • Soda
  • Fast Food: almost all fast food restaurants use refined sugars
  • Fruit Juices
  • Processed Foods: most boxed or canned products, frozen meals, cereals
  • Pastas
  • Cereal Bars: "breakfast" bars as well as most protein bars (unless otherwise stated)
  • Sauces: most spaghetti sauces, BBQ sauces, ketchup
  • White Breads
  • Energy Drinks
  • Added Sugars: sugar added to coffee, baking, or other foods

If the list above covers much of what you consume, you should have a better idea of how much sugar you put into your body daily.

Cutting back on most or all of these foods can make a profound difference.

Cutting out all sugars is unnecessary; some natural sugars, like Agave Nectar, do not spike blood sugar levels like processed sugars.

Honey is also considered a sugar but can have positive health benefits when used in moderation.

Refined sugars have zero benefits.

The point is to be aware of what you consume daily and try to cut out refined sugars as much as possible.

Your brain and body will thank you!


Caffeine is a popular stimulant in coffee, tea, energy drinks, and sodas.

While many of us enjoy caffeine, it can make our anxiety worse.

Many of us are already overstimulated – consuming caffeine daily can be like fueling the fire.

Some people are sensitive to caffeine and other stimulants.

Consuming high amounts of caffeine can lead to increased anxiety and panic attacks.

Stimulants, in general, should be approached with caution if you have anxiety, caffeine being the most commonly consumed stimulant.


Excessive caffeine consumption can cause anxiety, irritability, overstimulation, feelings of being "wired," insomnia, high blood pressure, and even addiction or physical dependence

Despite the potential for adverse effects, caffeine is not necessarily bad in moderation.

Caffeine can even have many positive benefits.

Potential benefits include increased energy and focus, improved physical performance, and improved mood.

It may not be necessary to cut out caffeine entirely; the problem is consuming too much caffeine on a daily basis.

I enjoy a cup of coffee almost every morning, especially if I write.

But if you are sensitive to caffeine or other stimulants or consuming a lot of caffeine daily, you may want to take a look at how much you are consuming.

If you drink coffee in the morning and then sodas (which also contain high amounts of sugar) all day long – you may want to try eliminating the sodas and not drinking any coffee after noon.

In addition, try to avoid drinking caffeine within 6-8 hours of going to bed, as it can interfere with sleep.

You could also take a break from caffeine completely.

Take a week or two off and see how you feel.

If you're a daily coffee drinker, you may feel more tired at first, but typically these feelings will pass in a few days.

You may find you feel better without it.


You may already know that sugar, caffeine, and nutritional deficiencies can cause or worsen anxiety.

But what about excitotoxins?

Excitotoxins are chemicals that overstimulate the brain and nervous system (neuron receptors).

These overstimulated neurons essentially "burn" themselves out, leading to various health-related problems.

The two most common excitotoxins are MSG and aspartame.

These additives are found in many of the foods people eat every day.

While these food additives are relatively harmless in small amounts, the constant consumption of these toxins in large quantities can lead to overstimulation.

The result can be anxiety, depression, migraines, and other adverse health effects.

It is believed that constant consumption of these excitotoxins may even play a part in more severe diseases like Alzheimer's and Multiple Sclerosis.

Common foods that often contain the excitotoxins MSG and Aspartame:

  • Artificial sweeteners (sugar substitutes): diet sodas, sugar-free candies, NutraSweet
  • Processed foods: canned meats, crackers, snack cakes, canned soups
  • Fast food: McDonald's, Wendy's, Chinese Takeout, etc.
  • Monosodium Glutamate: pure MSG is often found in many canned and processed (packaged) foods
  • Spices and seasonings: soy sauce, salad dressings, salt substitutes, "natural flavorings"

Given the havoc these additives can reap on your brain and body, avoiding these excitotoxins as much as possible would be wise.

Some people can be more sensitive to these additives than others – and may not even know it, which is an even greater reason to limit your consumption.

We can agree that artificial sweeteners, processed foods, and fast food are not healthy food options in the first place.

If you can establish good eating habits, you will eliminate most of these unhealthy foods from your diet and reduce the amount of these additives you consume on a daily basis.

Environmental Toxins & Heavy Metal Toxicity

Whether you realize it or not – you are exposed to many toxins throughout your daily life.

As part of living in an industrialized world – these toxins can be found in soil, water supplies, and even the air.

The level of these toxins is generally minimal, and there are guidelines in place in most countries to keep these toxins out of food and water – or at least reduced to a non-harmful degree.

(Even if these guidelines are seriously flawed or limited in many areas).

Your body is also a master filter. There are numerous ways your body eliminates harmful toxins and other substances.


You may run into problems, however, when your body isn't eliminating these toxins properly, you consume high amounts of toxins through certain foods or water supplies, or you are exposed directly, such as through work, an accident, ingestion, or exposure in your home

If a person experiences toxicity, there can be any number of symptoms with a wide range of severity.

Many toxicity-related symptoms are neurological, as most toxins directly affect the brain and central nervous system.

Common neurological impairment symptoms due to toxicity include anxiety and panic attacks, restlessness, irritability, depression, "brain fog," and insomnia.

Due to the nature of toxicity – it may be difficult to diagnose – as toxicity can mimic many diseases that affect the nervous system.

It can also be challenging to uncover through standard testing.

Common Toxins That Can Lead to Toxicity:

  • Copper: although copper is an essential nutrient, high levels are toxic and can lead to many psychiatric conditions, including high levels of anxiety, ADHD, bouts of anger, and depression; copper has even been linked to schizophrenia; copper can be found in supplements, copper pipes, oral contraceptives, and cookware as well as many other sources
  • Lead: not as commonly used as it once was (lead was banned in the U.S. for consumer use in the late 1970s), lead can still be found in industrial paints, car batteries, contaminated water supplies or pipes, herbal supplements, and some plastics; common symptoms of high levels of lead include developmental and neurological issues, nervous system and organ damage and many cognitive problems such as irritability, hyperactivity, and anxiety; lead toxicity is hazardous for children in particular
  • Mercury: toxic to the human nervous system, mercury can find its way into the brain, organs, and spinal cord – leading to a whole host of psychiatric and physical problems; mercury is commonly found in fluorescent lights and batteries; the real culprit for exposure in most people is through dental (amalgam) fillings – also referred to as "silver fillings" – and high consumption of certain fish (such as tuna, swordfish, and mackerel); coal-burning plants can release mercury gases into the air
  • Weedkillers (Glyphosate Herbicides): ingestion or direct contact with the skin can lead to a whole host of problems, including cancer and various neurological disorders
  • Fluoride: although common and typically accepted as safe, fluoride is a neurotoxin that has been linked to brain fog, anxiety, memory loss, and other adverse neurological effects; it is commonly found in city drinking water and dental products such as mouthwash and toothpaste
  • Mold: found in damp/humid homes, basements, and buildings where there has been a leak or flood; breathing mold (especially daily) can negatively impact your health in a vast number of ways, including cognitive, emotional, and physical issues
  • Aluminum: found virtually everywhere in our environment, including city water supplies, deodorants, and baking powders; although toxicity is not common, those with poor kidney function or constant exposure to high levels of aluminum may accumulate aluminum in the brain and body, leading to toxicity and resulting symptoms
  • Iron: another essential nutrient that can be toxic, iron toxicity is usually associated with children but can occur with anyone who has unhealthy levels of iron in their blood; causes of high levels of iron include disease, poor elimination, supplementation, direct exposure, or ingestion or diet; iron toxicity can cause many problems in the brain and body
  • Pesticides (Organophosphates): long term exposure to even low amounts of organophosphate pesticides/insecticides have been shown to produce neuropsychiatric and neurological disorders in those exposed; this includes directly related increases in anxiety and other psychiatric problems; those with the highest risk are farmers

The list above is far from a definitive list of all the possible toxins we may encounter; however, it provides a solid overview of the most common ones.

In addition to the toxins above – many of the body's essential nutrients can be toxic when taken in excess.

Zinc, Vitamin A, selenium, copper (as mentioned above), and other vitamins can lead to toxicity when taken in excessive doses for long periods.

Effects of Toxins on the Brain and Body

Toxins have a direct effect on the brain and nervous system.

Symptoms can vary based on the individual, the amount of exposure, or the toxin encountered.

The result always negatively impacts our brains, bodies, and nervous systems.

Symptoms of Toxicity:

  • Aches and Pains – joint pain, headaches, migraines
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Neurological Disorders
  • Brain Fog
  • Mood Disorders
  • Respiratory Problems
  • Other Severe Health Issues – cancer, kidney problems, liver problems

Who's at Risk?

The human body typically does a great job of flushing out toxins, but some people are at greater risk of experiencing toxicity

  • Children
  • Industrial workers: those working directly with various chemicals and other toxins
  • Farmers: those who regularly use pesticides and weedkillers for crops
  • People with amalgam ("silver") fillings or those handling these fillings, such as dentists
  • The elderly
  • Those with compromised or weakened immune systems
  • Landscapers and gardeners
  • Mold clean-up crews or those living in homes with excessive mold
  • Those whose tap water contains high levels of fluoride, copper, or lead and otherwise improperly filtered water supplies
  • Worker's exposed through a workplace accident or improper protection (such as not wearing a respirator or chemical spill)
  • Those whose bodies can't properly detox toxins (liver or kidney problems)

While walking around paranoid about everything you touch is unnecessary, you should know the risks when handling certain chemicals or being in specific environments.

Always take the proper precautions whenever necessary.

If you have been exposed to these (or other) toxins, either in the distant past or recently, and have been suffering from any of the above symptoms, talk to your doctor.

They can provide advice, tests, and treatment if necessary.

Please know this information is not meant to scare you.

Most people will not become exposed to these toxins to the degree that they develop toxicity.

However, it is important to be informed if you have been exposed to, handle, work with, or live with any of these toxins or have issues detoxifying due to liver or kidney problems.

Although uncommon, toxicity is a rarely discussed biological cause of anxiety.

We've provided this information to bring this topic to greater awareness.

Health-Related Issues: Injury, Illness, and Disease

As stated many times, your physical health is essential to your psychological health.

And this includes injury, illness, or disease.

Injury, illness, and disease can profoundly affect a person's mental state.

It can cause anxiety as well as many other psychological conditions.

When a person is injured (especially with head trauma), their brain and body may not function at their best until the injury is corrected or their body can recover.

If you suffer from an illness or disease, any of your mind/body systems may be affected, causing imbalance or overcompensation in one system at the expense of the other.

Having a disease, injury, or illness can cause a person to feel anxious and afraid.

They might begin to worry about recovery or their future health.


But what we are discussing here are health issues that have been directly linked to causing anxiety symptoms – not anxiety/worry as a reaction to the illness.

Health issues that cause anxiety typically affect the essential systems we've been discussing. These include neurotransmitters and brain function, nervous system function, and hormones.

Always discuss any health-related issues with your doctor. The information provided is for educational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice.

Chronic Inflammation (Brain, Gut, and General Inflammation)

Inflammation is at the core of almost every chronic health condition.

There is also a well-known link between inflammation, anxiety, and depression.

Recent research has repeatedly shown the link between brain inflammation and everything from anxiety and depression to autism and schizophrenia.

Over time – chronic inflammation can wreak havoc on a person's immune system, alter brain chemicals and hormones, negatively affect internal organs and damage the tissue and cells of the body.

Gut inflammation has been linked to anxiety, and much evidence suggests that most inflammation may begin in the gut.

The gut is generally the first line of defense as many of the toxins and bacteria we encounter enter the gut through the foods we eat.

Much of what you consume directly impacts your level of inflammation in the body.

Causes of Chronic Inflammation:

  • Diet: caffeine, alcohol, food allergens (such as dairy or gluten), processed foods, refined sugars; see above
  • Toxins: see above
  • Nutritional Deficiencies: see above
  • Bacteria and Infection
  • Chronic Stress
  • Smoking
  • Underlying Disease
  • Poor Sleep Habits: see below

Short-term options for inflammation can include NSAIDs (Advil, naproxen, etc.), Turmeric/Curcumin, or Fish Oil supplements.


While treating the inflammation is an excellent short-term strategy – the goal should be uncovering the underlying cause. Treat the cause, not just the symptom.

If you suspect chronic inflammation to be an issue – discuss it with your doctor.

They can order blood tests – such as the C-Reactive Protein (CRP) test – to check inflammation levels.

Your doctor can also perform other tests/procedures to rule out any underlying disease, infections, or illness.

Thryoid Issues

There has been a long-established link between thyroid issues and anxiety and depression.

Many people whose anxiety stems from abnormal thyroid function may find their anxiety and nervousness significantly reduced or eliminated once they correct this problem.

Not everyone with abnormal thyroid function experiences anxiety or depression directly.

Some people may have little to no symptoms at all.

Others may experience severe physical, emotional, and psychological symptoms that are reversed or eliminated once the thyroid has returned to normal functioning.

There are two major thyroid issues: Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) and Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)

Hyperthyroidism: caused when the thyroid produces more thyroid hormone than the body needs; can speed up the body's metabolism; those with Hyperthyroidism – or Graves Disease – may constantly feel "revved up" and typically suffer from anxiety, nervousness, irritability, insomnia, weight loss and restlessness; an overactive thyroid is more commonly associated with anxiety and panic attacks than an underactive thyroid

Hypothyroidism: caused when the thyroid is unable to produce enough thyroid hormone; can drastically slow the body's metabolism; those with Hypothyroidism – or Hashimoto's Disease – can feel slow or sluggish and can suffer from depression, weight gain, fatigue, and muscle weakness.

Despite the general classifications – a person may experience increased anxiety with both Hyperthyroidism and Hypothyroidism.

Depression can be found in both forms as well.

Neither is exclusive to one or the other.

However, anxiety – especially moderate to severe anxiety and panic attacks – is much more commonly found in Hyperthyroidism.

This makes sense as the body, brain, and metabolism are in constant high gear as the thyroid continues to pump out excess thyroid hormone.

It should go without saying: everyone should have their thyroid checked as a matter of personal health and preventative care.

Your doctor can order blood tests to check your thyroid hormone levels.

Gut Health

The gut and the digestive system have recently come to the forefront of medical research as researchers have linked poor gut health and infections with numerous mental and physical diseases.

Gut health is a vitally important topic that is often underestimated.

The gut also has many essential behaviors outside of just digestion.

We do refer to our guts as our "second brain," after all.

The gut controls the enteric nervous system, which contains more neurons than our spinal cords and can control gut behavior independently of the brain.

Your gut also communicates directly with your brain.

Disruption between the brain and gut's communication can directly affect psychological and emotional health.

Neurotransmitters are also present in your gut.

In fact, 95% of the body's serotonin is found in the bowels.

If you've visited any health websites in the past few years, you've probably seen a lot of discussion around gut health.

Popular topics include "leaky gut," probiotics, and infections like Candida.


Recent research and a better understanding of the gut's role in all bodily processes have placed the gut center stage in many illnesses.

Research has now linked a poor gut microbiome (the healthy/unhealthy bacteria, viruses, and fungi that live in our guts) with autoimmune diseases, mental health disorders, skin conditions, and many other issues.

We shouldn't ignore this critical link between the gut and mental health.

A healthy gut is vital to an overall healthy mind and body.

In a future article, we will dive into gut health and leaky gut as this is a deep topic we can only cover briefly here.

Hormonal Imbalances

Hormones can have a direct impact on your mood and mental health.

The three major hormones, Estrogen, Progesterone, and Testosterone, can cause anxiety and depression when out of balance.

A hormonal imbalance can often be an overlooked biological cause of anxiety.

Estrogen & Progesterone Imbalance

Estrogen and progesterone levels in the body directly affect a woman's mood and psychological state (although they could also affect men).

Researchers are still studying the relationship between estrogen/progesterone levels and anxiety in women, but there are direct correlations so far.

  • Low Estrogen levels have been associated with increased anxiety symptoms in women: during the premenstrual period of a woman's monthly cycle – estrogen levels are lower, and an increase in anxiety is commonly reported during this time. Estrogen levels are also much lower during menopause and can cause significant increases in anxiety and panic attacks.
  • Estrogen dominance refers to an imbalance in estrogen vs. progesterone in women. Research has shown a direct correlation between this imbalance and increased anxiety. Progesterone directly affects GABA receptors in the brain – which calms the brain and body. With low levels of progesterone – the brain may produce less GABA, resulting in increased feelings of anxiety.

For women, estrogen and progesterone imbalances can lead to increased anxiety and other mood-related problems.

If you are approaching menopause, have reached menopause, or have noticed changes in your monthly cycle, your hormones may contribute to your anxiety.

If you believe estrogen plays a role in your anxiety, consult your doctor to discuss options and testing.

Testosterone Imbalance

Testosterone is typically associated with a man's sex drive and muscle mass, but testosterone also has a direct effect on a man's mood, cognition, and energy levels.

Low testosterone levels have been linked to increased anxiety and depression – as well as changes in mood and behavior, decreased motivation, and lower sex drive.

Although not as often discussed as the link between estrogen and anxiety – low testosterone levels can play a part in anxiety symptoms.

We should note; testosterone imbalances are not specific to men, nor are estrogen imbalances specific to women. Everyone has these hormones regardless of sex, and everyone needs these hormones to varying degrees.

While imbalances in either direction may or may not result in anxiety – they can often lead to mood, motivation, or sexual health issues.

Head Trauma/Injury

Your brain is a sensitive organ with a complex network of billions of nerve cells – protected only by the bones of your skull.

Any force or trauma to the head can cause short-term or long-term damage to the brain.

Head trauma or injury can directly affect the brain in unseen ways.

Head injuries – even so-called "minor" injuries – can lead to cognitive, psychological, and emotional problems in addition to the apparent physical injury.

Head trauma has been associated with increased susceptibility to anxiety and depression, cognitive issues, increased risk of suicide, short-term or long-term memory loss, coordination issues, and dementia.

Many symptoms of head trauma may not exhibit themselves until years or even decades after the initial injury.

This delay in symptom formation can make it challenging to diagnose head injury as a cause for psychological problems if issues do not appear soon after the injury.


Those who have experienced a head injury – ranging from concussions to skull fractures – are up to 400% more likely to be diagnosed with a mental illness down the line.

The potential for cognitive or psychological problems will only increase with repeated trauma or injury to the head.

Childhood head injury can lead to brain and behavior problems later in adulthood.

These problems can be more pronounced if the injury is severe or isn't appropriately handled by parents or guardians (such as getting an MRI or other medical care directly after the injury).

Luckily – with better information, improved protective equipment, and medical technology – there is much more we can do to prevent and treat head trauma than even a few decades ago.

In addition, there has been a marked rise in awareness of the potential for psychological problems from head trauma in the past few years.

CTE (which stands for Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) has stood at the forefront recently with the problems current and former NFL players have faced with their psychological and emotional health after years of repeated head injuries.

The good news is that despite the brain's sensitivity, it can be healed and repaired in many cases if handled appropriately.

Brain cells and neurons have been proven to regenerate, but some injuries may need additional support and time to heal.

If you or someone you know have experienced moderate to severe head trauma or repeated injury to the head – always seek medical attention immediately.

Always enforce the use of helmets with children when biking, rollerskating, skateboarding, etc.

Although an unpopular opinion; I always suggest children avoid or limit full-contact sports where a direct head injury frequently occurs; such as football, soccer, or hockey.

CTE has been shown in football players as young as 14.

If you believe a head injury is linked to your anxiety or other psychological problems, always discuss it with your doctor.

Doctors can order MRIs or CT scans to rule out the potential damage to the brain.

Additional Health-Related Causes

Although other health-related issues have been linked to anxiety, it is beyond the scope of this article to discuss every possible disease or illness.

It is also beyond the scope of this article to discuss severe illnesses such as brain tumors or cancer.

For informational purposes, we have created a shortlist of additional health causes linked to anxiety:

  • Neurological Disorders: there are too many neurological disorders to list here (well over 400); however, the two most commonly associated with anxiety are Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and Parkinson's disease.
  • Cancer: cancer, as well as the treatments for cancer, can release inflammatory cytokines that can disrupt the brain's neurotransmitters; anxiety can also be a side effect of chemo and cancer medications
  • Autoimmune Diseases: those with autoimmune diseases have a much higher rate of daily, long-term anxiety; this is most likely due to chronic inflammation in the brain and body and overactive immune system function
  • Infectious Diseases: many viral and bacterial infections have been known to cause or increase anxiety and psychological distress, including Lyme Disease, gut infections (such as Candida), some STDs, and other infectious diseases that can increase inflammation, disrupt neurotransmitters and immune system function

Genetics & Anxiety

It is believed genetics can play a role in anxiety, especially if it manifests in childhood, teenage, or early adult years.

While research continues on hereditary anxiety, there seems to be a direct link between family members that suffer from anxiety, depression, and other issues.

One standard theory in the research today – and probably one of the more valid theories – is the inheritance of poor-performing serotonin receptors.

Inheriting poor-performing serotonin receptors would lead to naturally lower serotonin levels in the brain, making the person more susceptible to anxiety and depression.

I would suggest that inheriting poor-functioning GABA receptors or an overactive amygdala may also be a common issue.

There is a common argument about whether or not it is family genetics or family environment that leads to anxiety.

Genetics inherited from the parents that predispose a person to anxiety or developing anxious behaviors and beliefs from the parents (or caregivers) from living in the same environment.

I believe this argument goes both ways.

Psychological and biological factors can influence your predisposition to anxiety as you are greatly influenced by those around you – especially your parents or caregivers.

If you grew up in a home with a severely anxious parent – you might have witnessed avoidance behaviors, fear-based decisions and reactions, and a tendency for the parent to talk about worries, fears, and anxieties.

As children, we model our parents and take in their emotions and behaviors unconsciously.

This early exposure to anxiety can make a person more anxious and fearful than if they grew up in a home without excess anxiety, worry and fear.

Beyond exposure to anxiety and anxious behaviors, experiencing trauma growing up - witnessing or experiencing neglect, abuse, etc. - can be a significant contributing factor to experiencing anxiety and depression throughout one's life.

For me, there is a clear line of anxiety in my family tree – not just my immediate family but throughout my extended family as well.

Along with anxiety, excessive stress, heart disease, heart attack, stroke, depression, and prescription antidepressant and anti-anxiety use run in my family.

My household was filled with constant anxiety, fears, avoidance behaviors, and worry.

I developed severe anxiety at an early age that continued well into adulthood.

It is difficult to say whether I inherited a predisposition to anxiety from my genetics or if it only stems from my early home environment.

It's probably safe to guess that both played a large part in my anxiety as a child and into adulthood.

It doesn't matter now, as I have made the necessary changes and developed the skills that have made anxiety a non-issue.

I believe anyone can do this regardless of genetics or upbringing.

If anxiety runs in your family or you grew up in an anxious household – that doesn't mean you are doomed to anxiety. It simply means you may be more susceptible to anxiety.

If this is the case for you, you must take better care of your mental, physical, and emotional health.

Every step toward positive change is a step toward improving your overall physical and emotional health.

Sleep: Poor Sleep Quality & Sleep Habits

Sleeping well every night is essential for overall mental, emotional, and physical health.

When I say "a good night's sleep," I mean 8 hours of deep uninterrupted sleep.

Not 5-6 hours of sleep, night after night.

And not 7-8 hours of light sleep, tossing and turning, or waking up in the middle of the night.

Sleep's deep, restorative later stages are essential to your overall health.

During the deepest stages of sleep (N3), blood pressure drops, muscles become relaxed, tissue growth and repair occur, energy levels are restored, essential hormones are released (such as growth hormone), and other healing and therapeutic actions occur.

Getting 8 hours of deep, uninterrupted, restorative sleep every night is probably more of a dream than a reality if you struggle with anxiety.

Struggling to fall asleep at night or waking up at night due to anxiety and excessive worry can keep you from consistently reaching these deeper stages of sleep.

This lack of deep restorative sleep will eventually cause neurotransmitter imbalances in the brain, mood disturbances, and cognitive impairment.

This can start a vicious cycle.

Anxiety can cause sleep deprivation, insomnia, and sleep disturbance – sleep deprivation, insomnia, and sleep disturbance can cause anxiety.

Ignore those who say 6 hours of sleep every night is fine.

If your not regularly getting 8 hours of deep sleep every night, it is taking a toll on your mental and emotional health and is likely contributing to your anxiety.

As important as sleep is for mental health, most people completely ignore the importance of getting a good night's sleep every night.

We often never consider the possibility of improving our sleep as a way to reduce anxiety.

Sleep is vital to health and the one thing we could all use more of.

We have an in-depth article on sleep and how to improve your sleep coming soon.

Final Thoughts

Taking proper care of your health is essential, not only for your body but for your mind as well.

Psychological therapies and practices will only go so far in curbing anxiety if there is an underlying biological cause of anxiety.

That is why this article is so important.

The biological causes of anxiety are a piece of the puzzle that many self-help blogs and websites ignore entirely.

No amount of Cognitive Therapy, positive thinking, or meditation will eliminate your anxiety if your brain and body are going haywire from biological causes that need your attention.

If you are healthy overall, you can still do things to reduce your anxiety and ensure you stay healthy.

Things like improving your diet, reducing your intake of refined sugars and caffeine, improving your sleep, and scheduling routine tests and preventative care with your physician.

Your brain and body are truly incredible.

You feel light, alive, energetic, and present when they function at their best.

Your life can flow naturally without excessive thoughts about your mental or physical health.

When these parts of yourself develop issues, you may experience symptoms until you correct the underlying problem(s).

In many cases eliminating or correcting the problem can profoundly improve or even eliminate anxiety entirely.

These are causes of anxiety beyond stress or having a "negative" psychological outlook.

Hopefully, this article has helped foster a deeper understanding of anxiety and the mind-body connection.

If you're interested in reading about the psychological causes of anxiety, check out part one of this series:

Psychological Causes of Anxiety: Root Causes of Anxiety Part 1


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