Anxiety as a constant or recurring feelings of apprehension or fear
Many people suffer from anxiety—which may be defined as constant or recurring feelings of apprehension or fear. There may be physical symptoms as well, including heart palpitations, excessive sweating, trembling and rapid breathing.
There are many anxiety disorders, and they include panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social and specific phobias and generalized anxiety disorder. Anxiety may range from troublesome to debilitating, based on a wide variety of social, personal, genetic and environmental factors.
To begin, what is naturopathic medicine? Naturopathic medicine is a holistic and natural approach to healing. In naturopathic medicine, we use a holistic—a whole-person—approach to healing. In this article, for example, we will examine anxiety and how it can impact your energy levels, mood, weight, sexual interest and ability to think clearly and ability to function every day. With any mood disorder, it is extremely important to look at a person’s whole life very carefully in order to determine the best and most useful therapeutic approach. With a holistic approach, counseling and talking to the patient is nearly always a major part of the approach.
Giving a patient real tools to deal with their anxiety is important especially empowering a patient to take as much control as they can.
When a naturopathic physician is treating an individual with an anxiety disorder, they see a whole person in front of them. A naturopathic physician will be very interested in prevention and will use primarily natural, holistic methods to treat your anxiety disorder and treat you with vitamins, supplements, diet, lifestyle changes and natural medicines rather than with prescription drugs.
A naturopath will also be interested in maximizing your overall health while working to improve your problem and finding, if possible, the cause of the problem. A naturopathic physician may prescribe some drugs, if necessary, but they will usually only be used as a “stop-gap” measure and only as a temporary means of dealing with the problem.
Underlying causes of anxiety - stress and environmental factors
There may be many underlying causes of anxiety— nutritional, environmental, social, and psychological factors are often involved. It’s important to determine which combination of factors is important in your case. Counseling with a qualified therapist should always be recommended.
Stress is critical in the development of anxiety. Techniques used to modify stress include deep breathing exercises, yoga, tai chi, and biofeedback. A naturopath might also suggest adrenal and thyroid support, as these glands are extremely important in dealing with the effects of stress . This support may be glandular supplements, such as dessicated (dried) adrenals and thyroids from usually, cows or pigs. The idea behind the use of glandular is to nourish your glands. One should not overdo these glandular, however—dessicated thyroid, for example, contains thyroid hormone and you do not want to inhibit your own thyroid function.
A naturopath may also look for environmental toxins such as pesticides, allergens, heavy metals or lifestyle factors such as smoking, excessive caffeine, recreational drugs, alcohol use and the amount of exercise you get. Some environmental toxins may be removed by IV chelation (a process where you get a solution intravenously which allows the removal of certain heavy metals), by inducing excretion via the kidneys or the bowels or by colonics. Detoxification can also be accomplished using oral agents. Please see a qualified health care professional for these approaches!
Other adjustments can be made in lifestyle. If drugs or alcohol is a problem, a naturopath might suggest a 12-step program . This could be Alcoholics Anonymous , Al-Anon, for friends and families of alcoholics, Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA) or any of the many other support groups available.
Exercise is critical both for physical and mental health. Walking 10-20 minutes a day is a good way to start—it helps relax you, work your muscles, heart and lungs. You don’t need to get a “runner’s high” to feel better, you just need to start. Find an exercise that you enjoy—and will stay with!
Botanical medicines for stress
Another approach that avoids this issue is to use botanical medicines that support the glands and your overall health – these are often called adaptogens—they help the body adapt to different conditions . Examples of adrenal adaptogens are glycyrrhiza (licorice), Eleutherococcus senticosus , Schisandra chinensis , Rhodiola rosea Thyroid adaptogens include Melissa officinalis, Fucus vesiculosis, Macrocystis pyrifera and Chondrus crispus2.
Diet and Nutrition
Nutrition plays a very important role in anxiety.
A whole-food (non-processed) organic diet is strongly recommended for maintaining health. Its not always easy to find fresh organic foods—a good place to start is by finding the local farmer’s market. Local means fresher and you help out the local economy as well.
Blood sugar levels should be maintained at an even level. Small meals or snacks with complex carbohydrates are encouraged. Eat as many fresh vegetables and fruits as you can. We’ve been trained to think that vegetables are “bland”. Try them steamed with crushed nuts ore stir fried (in olive oil) with fresh herbs and spices. Eat them raw for even more nutritional value!
Vitamins and minerals
The B vitamins help reduce depression, anxiety, irritability, nervousness and fatigue. Often, 2-3 times the RDA is recommended, particularly for smokers, as smoking depletes B vitamins.
Minerals such as magnesium, zinc, selenium and chromium should be particularly maintained. Generally, a good multi-vitamin with minerals should be used.
Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oils can be the single most important supplement one can take for anxiety (and depression). A reasonable goal is 3-4000 mg a day. The omega-3 fatty acids are essential for overall health as well and at this level, there is very little evidence for interaction with prescription drugs.23
Amino acids and other botanical medicines as as anti-anxiety treatment
Special mention needs to be made of amino acids and derivatives of amino acids. There are many naturopaths who use amino acids almost exclusively in the treatment of anxiety and depression. Some of these are:
- PHENYLALANINE AND TYROSINE 7, 10
- L-TRYPTOPHAN AND 5-HYDROXYTRYPTOPHAN (5-HTP)
- S-ADENOSYL METHIONINE (SAME)7, 10
- GAMMA AMINOBUTYRIC ACID (GABA)
Essentially, these supplements provide the brain with the essential molecules it needs to make neurotransmitters—the messengers between the cells of the brain. It is believed that at least part of the reason anxiety occurs is that there is an imbalance in these neurotransmiteers.
All of these should be taken under the care of a health professional familiar with them. SAMe should not be used in people with bipolar disorder. 5HTP should only be taken with SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors), a type of anti-depressant, under the care of someone experienced with both 5HTP and SSRIs because of the risk of too much serotonin.
There are a number of botanical medicines that function as anti-anxiety treatments.
- HYPERICUM PERFORATUM (ST JOHN’S WORT),
- PIPER METHYSTICUM (KAVA KAVA) ,
- PASSIFLORA INCARNATA (PASSIONFLOWER)
- VALERIANA OFFICINALIS ,
- MATRICARIA RECUTIA (CHAMOMILE)
These herbs should be taken under the care of a health professional familiar with them. There are interactions between herbs and prescription drugs.
Hypericum/St Johns wort should not be taken with SSRIs, other anti-anxiety or anti-depression medications, MAO inhibitors and some cardiac drugs.
Piper methysticum/ Kava should not be taken with l-Dopa, alcohol, anticoagulants, barbiturates, benzodiazepines or muscle relaxants.
Care should be taken when using any herb with any drug that affects the nervous system.
In a holistic approach to anxiety, it is always helpful and necessary to try and determine the cause of the anxiety. Often, the cause may be related to some event in the past and should be examined. This is best done with a qualified therapist. The holistic physician will ideally have a relationship with the therapist and work together with them to ensure the patient can begin to overcome and control their anxiety.