- Anxiety disorders are characterized by excessive worry about everyday things.
- Unlike those who are anxious from time to time, individuals with anxiety disorders are plagued by excessive worrying over a prolonged period of time – generally at least six months.
- According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety disorders are the most common psychiatric illnesses affecting both children and adults.
- 19,000,000 adult Americans suffer from anxiety disorders.
- Anxiety disorders may develop from a complex set of risk factors – including genetics, brain chemistry, adrenal gland dysfunction, personality, and life events.
- Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only about one-third of the people suffering from an anxiety disorder receive treatment.
- Anxiety disorders are commonly misdiagnosed and undertreated.
- Anxiety disorders can mimic physical illnesses, causing fatigue, restlessness, sleep problems, insomnia, muscle tension, sweating, nausea, cold hands, difficulty swallowing, jumpiness, gastrointestinal discomfort, or diarrhea.
The Role Neurotransmitters Play
Anxiety disorders are among the most common neurotransmitter–related conditions. Others include depression, compulsive behaviors, insomnia, and migraines.
Neurotransmitters are chemicals that relay signals between nerve cells, called “neurons.” They are present throughout the body and are required for proper brain function. Serious health problems including anxiety and panic disorders can occur if certain neurotransmitter levels are too high or too low.
Every neurotransmitter behaves differently. Some are inhibitory, meaning they tend to calm the brain. Others are excitatory and have the opposite effect. Extensive scientific research has revealed a close link between imbalances in gamma-amino-butyric acid (GABA, the central nervous system’s primary inhibitory neurotransmitter) and anxiety disorders. Elevations in a number of excitatory neurotransmitters including epinephrine, norepinephrine, palmitoylethanolamide (PEA), glutamate, and histamine may also be associated with anxiety disorders.
Environmental and biological factors – including stress, poor diet, neurotoxins, or genetics – can cause imbalances in the levels of neurotransmitter chemicals in the brain. These imbalances can trigger or exacerbate anxiety disorder symptoms.
Prescription Drugs vs. Orthomolecular Medicine
Most of the drug–based methods to treat anxiety include chemicals that either imitate neurotransmitters or redistribute existing neurotransmitters (such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, known as SSRIs). Many affect serotonin, and some affect other neurotransmitters like GABA, norepinephrine, or dopamine.
It is generally believed that drugs supporting serotonin signaling will be beneficial when anxiety results from a lack of serotonin and that GABA-supporting drugs will be effective when a person’s symptoms are caused by lack of GABA. While the idea of matching a drug to a chemical imbalance is generally supported, the vast majority of healthcare practitioners prescribe psychological drugs based only on an individual’s symptoms, and very few actually try to match a drug to a biochemical imbalance. This may explain why drugs are ineffective for most individuals.
The most exciting treatment modality is orthomolecular medicine, founded by well known psychiatrists Abram Hoffer, MD, and Carl C. Pfeiffer, MD, PhD, as well as two-time Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling, who were all instrumental in developing this innovative and effective style of medicine.
Neurotransmitter function can best be supported via orthomolecular medicine using targeted amino-acid therapies; specific herbs, minerals, and megavitamins as neurotransmitter precursors; enzyme cofactors; and receptor modulators necessary to help maintain normal neurotransmitter levels.
Adrenal Gland Function
The adrenal gland, as the name implies, is a major producer of the stimulant called adrenaline (also known as epinephrine). It plays a major role in the physiology of stress, acting like a “sprinter” able to support a short burst of energy and capable of dealing with the flight-or-fight response of acute stress. When released, adrenaline has been known to give a person that “super-human” strength capable of lifting a car. Like a sprinter, it is short-acting yet powerful. However, when the stress persists, the hormone that takes on the role of the “long-distance runner” is cortisol, providing energy and clarity to get you through those prolonged periods of stress.
If this hormone is elevated for too long, however, it can lead to tissue breakdown, diabetes, cataracts, weight gain, belly fat, and osteoporosis, to name a few.
Another hormone produced by the glands is DHEA, responsible for the ability to take in the noises and sights of stress and channel them appropriately to the brain. It is also necessary in stimulating the immune system to thwart any foreign invaders, such as the venom in the bite of a snake you were unsuccessful in fleeing from.
Adrenal Fatigue: The “Tipping Point”
Ever wonder whatever happened to the good old-fashioned “nervous breakdown?” Well, it still exists… we just call it something different today. And as smoothly as stress enters our busy lives (that is, the unrelenting chronic stress), along comes a pivotal event: the son lost at war, the tragic accident, the unforeseen health issue, the divorce, the bankruptcy, etc.
Soon, those same glands that were there to save our lives become fatigued and unable to see us through the next stressful experience.
The picture of adrenal fatigue can be summed up in the following set of symptoms:
- difficulty getting up in the morning (you hit the snooze button three times and still don’t feel awake enough to lift your head off the pillow)
- continuing fatigue not relieved by sleep
- craving for salt and sugar
- lethargy or lack of energy (everything seems like a chore, even things you enjoy)
- increased effort to do everyday tasks
- decreased sex drive
- decreased ability to handle stress
- increased time to recover from illness, injury, exercise, trauma
- light-headed when standing quickly
- low blood pressure
- depression or low mood
- less enjoyment or happiness with life, and
- increased PMS (bloated, tired, crabby, cramping, and craving chocolate)./li>
Your symptoms increase if meals are skipped or inadequate:
- your thoughts are less focused, more fuzzy
- your memory is less accurate
- you have a decreased tolerance level (people seem a bit more irritating than they use to be)
- you don’t really wake up until mid-morning and hit a low point in the afternoons (like you’ve been drugged with sleeping pills)
- you’re dependent on caffeine
- you feel better after your evening meal (after dinner you start to feel alive again)
- you have decreased productivity (it takes you longer to complete tasks and it is harder to stay on task), and
- you experience sensitivity to light and sound.