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Can Food Intolerance Cause Anxiety and Depression?

For most people, stress is inevitable in certain stages of life – starting a new job, buying a house, leaving home for university. For some, however, a high level of stress can be a daily battle, leading to anxiety or depression. This may lead you to searching on the internet, topics such as ‘stress symptoms’, ‘how can I reduce my mental stress?’ and ways to manage it.

Symptoms of anxiety include:

  • a rapid heart beat
  • a sense of dread
  • feeling dizzy or light-headed
  • grinding your teeth, especially at night when you’re sleeping
  • headaches
  • pins and needles
  • changes in your sex drive
  • feeling restless or unable to sit still
  • hot flushes

It’s worth noting that anxiety can be a symptom of depression. If you feel as though you’re currently experiencing a high level of emotional stress in your life and you’re concerned you may have depression, it’s worth checking in with your GP to talk to them about your current well-being. It may feel daunting to open up but be assured that they will have the knowledge and support to help you.

Symptoms of depression can be especially complex. However they can include:

  • feeling anxious or worried
  • continuous low mood or sadness
  • feeling tearful
  • having suicidal thoughts or having the urge to harm yourself
  • not getting any enjoyment through the hobbies you used to once love

Can autumn/winter cause anxiety or depression?

As we progress into the final months of the year, it’s safe to say that summer is long gone. The trees are shedding their final few leaves, the chill in the air is ever increasing, and nights are becoming longer and longer. The turning back of the clocks signals autumn’s transition into winter, and a final effort to maximise on those precious few hours of daylight. Here we take a look at the relationship between food intolerances and low mood.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

For many people, this time of year can be difficult. It’s estimated that around 2 million people in the UK experience signs of Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD, or winter depression. For sufferers of Seasonal Affective Disorder, with winter and the lessening of daylight hours comes a lack of interest in life, and a feeling of low mood. Frequent symptoms include:

  • tiredness
  • sleeping for longer than normal
  • overeating
  • a general lack of motivation.

Can food trigger anxiety or stress?

The exact causes for SAD are not fully understood, with lack of exposure to sunlight often being suggested as a potential contributor, as well as changes in diet and eating habits during the colder months. The role of diet on mood cannot be understated, and in recent years there has been an increased focus in scientific circles of the relationship between the digestive system and the brain. 

Did you know that the gut produces 90% of the body’s serotonin, the hormone responsible for feelings of happiness? Or that 90% of the fibres that make up the body’s main nerve, the vagus, are responsible for carrying information from the gut to the brain? 

This means if the gut is unhappy, it’s likely you’ll be unhappy too. Around a quarter of people will suffer from depression at some point in their life, and according to a leading UK charity* around 45% of people will show symptoms of food intolerance.

Research has discovered that gastrointestinal inflammation, one of the most frequent symptoms of food intolerance, is frequently found in those showing signs of depression. The relationship between gut health and depression has also been suggested to be bi-directional. This means that if you’re feeling depressed, the health of your digestive system is likely to suffer. Likewise, if you’re suffering from digestive problems, the chance of experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety markedly increases.

In the past 5 years, prescriptions for anti-depressants have risen by around 40%...

While these medications may work for many, they potentially represent dealing with the problem of low mood at a surface rather than root level. For those undergoing feelings of anxiety and depression, tackling these problems first hand may be a daunting prospect. If you find yourself feeling lower than usual at this time of year, it’s a good idea to have a think about what the contributing factors might be, and if changing your diet could help.

Do certain foods cause anxiety?

What foods cause a reaction for one person may not be the same for another. This is why at YorkTest we refer to this as an individual’s ‘food fingerprint’ and recognise that there is a no-one-size-fits-all approach.

We find that an average YorkTest customer reacts to 4-5 different foods and some ingredients may be unsuspecting. 

Here at YorkTest, we want to help

YorkTest, accredited nutritional practitioners for over 35 years, have a proven track record in dealing with food intolerances and their symptoms. One survey** showed that 97% of YorkTest customers reported signs of low mood, and that after taking the YorkTest food intolerance test and changing eating habits, 73% showed signs of improvement to food intolerance symptoms, as well as improved mood. So, dealing with food intolerance first hand doesn’t only serve to address physical symptoms, but can also have a lasting effect on mental health.

We also take an active role in mental health. Our Scientific Director, Dr Gill Hart, published a white paper on the study of mental health and food intolerance. You can view this paper here.

In one of our largest studies to date, involving over 5,000 people, 81% of participants who reported symptoms of mental health saw an improvement in their symptoms following one of our programmes. You can take a look at the full results here.

If you notice a low mood, increased feelings of anxiety, or feel tired, stressed and unmotivated at this time of year, you don’t have to suffer in silence. There can be many contributing factors towards the state of your mental health, and it’s always important that you check these out with your GP, but the influence of diet and nutrition is hard to neglect.

If you think food intolerance is having a negative effect on your mood, YorkTest may be able to help you optimise your diet to help you on the road to improved wellbeing. Our friendly advisors are on hand or you could always look at our FirstStep Test to get the process started.

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Customer Testimonials

Emily Catterall, 24: IBS

“I feel like I’m in a new body! I’m so much healthier. I can’t tell you how amazingly different I have felt since!”

Sally Gunnell OBE, 52: Energy levels

“I’m not waking up as much during the night, not as bunged up in my nose and I’ve got so much more energy”

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*Allergy UK
** Survey of YorkTest customers. Figures based on responsive customers only.
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