Naturopathic Approach to Anxiety

  • Tara Andresen

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Anxiety is a normal response to stressors in life.  When we are afraid our metabolism speeds up, our muscles tighten and our adrenal glands produce extra adrenaline that increases our heart rate.  Anxiety becomes a problem when it is inappropriate for the situations encountered or when it interferes in normal daily activities. People who are exposed to prolonged periods of anxiety often suffer from insomnia, digestive problems, high blood pressure, skin disorders, mood swings, depression and many other conditions.  Anxiety effects tend to make most health conditions worse.  Extreme states of worry and anxiety are called panic attacks.  During a panic attack the heart races, breathing becomes difficult and dizziness can occur.

Natural treatments for anxiety range from dietary interventions to herbal and nutrient supplementation that work to manage stress hormones and stabilize mood.  Dietary interventions focus on balancing blood sugar, support serotonin and gaba production and balancing cortisol.  Cortisol is one of the fight or flight hormones while gaba and serotonin are calming neurotransmitters. Complex carbohydrates contain serotonin while protein balances blood sugar and supports gaba production.   Protein is a significant source of various B vitamins, with vitamin B6 being particularly important for treatment of anxiety.  Calcium and magnesium also calm the nervous system and can be found in green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds and salmon.

It is also important to avoid certain foods that can worsen anxiety.  Caffeine and alcohol can both cause anxiety or anxiety-like symptoms. Refined sugars should also be avoided by anxious people. Refined flour and processed foods deplete your body of B vitamins and magnesium and so should be avoided. In some cases, a response to food allergies can lead to trembling, dry mouth, palpitations, diarrhea and other symptoms that can mimic anxiety.

In addition to dietary changes, there are number of effective herbal treatments that can address anxiety. Your naturopath may recommend herbs called anxiolytics which are known to decrease anxiety. For example, passionflower extract relaxes the nervous system and is gentle enough to use during the day.  Kava kava is another anxiolytic herb and can significantly relieve a panic attack, as well as generalized symptoms of anxiety.

There are other nutrients that can address anxiety related to serotonin or cortisol production.  For example, 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) increases serotonin levels, which have a calming effect on the mind.  Moreover, L-theanine is an amino acid that balances cortisol increases.

To find out more about how a Naturopath treats anxiety, book your appointment with Dr. Andresen at one of her Toronto Naturopathic Clinics.