Anxiety and Panic Attacks
by Larry Wilson, M.D. —
Anxiety is a very uncomfortable feeling of nervousness, irritability or foreboding about the future. Panic attacks, also known as anxiety attacks, are sudden drastic increases in anxiety to the point where one may have trouble breathing, muscles tighten, pulse rate increases and one may collapse, or even urinate or defecate without control.
Causes of anxiety
Four basic causes of anxiety are:
1. Biochemical imbalances — These types of imbalances are not well understood by most medical and psychological professionals. They are discussed in detail below.
2. Improper ways of thinking — The brain functions much like a computer. If the thoughts and feelings that go in are primarily negative, the brain processes this negativity and often draws fearful and anxious conclusions. Therefore, dwelling on fear, foreboding, negative self-image, horror, grief or despair and other negative thinking habits, including second-guessing yourself, questioning your motives and/or continuous self-doubt can cause panic attacks.
3. Improper diet and/or lifestyle — Ways to correct these problems are discussed later in this article.
4. Stress — The negative effects of stress on the body are well documented. Any stressful situation can cause a fight-or-flight reaction in the body and activate the sympathetic nervous system. This tends to increase heart rate and blood pressure, increase blood sugar level and cause other effects that may all contribute to feelings of anxiety. A long-term example might be that as Americans continue to lose control of their health care options, stress may cause the population as a whole more anxiety in the future.
Improving diet and overall health will help anyone handle stress without undo anxiety.
5. Other causes — At times, chiropractic misalignments, electromagnetic stress from overusing cell phones or computers and other factors can cause anxiety and panic attacks.
Biochemical imbalances associated with panic attacks
The most important biochemical reasons for anxiety are:
Fatigue and adrenal burnout — A common and often overlooked cause of anxiety is fatigue. If fatigue alone is the cause, a few nights of great sleep will solve it. If one has adrenal exhaustion or “burnout” (so called because vital minerals are literally gone or burned out of the body), then a more intense nutritional balancing program is required to correct it.
An alarm stage of stress — This is a condition of the body’s autonomic nervous system in which the body is constantly geared up in preparation to fight or run away. It is like being in “emergency mode” all of the time. The nervous system is hypersensitive. It reacts to the smallest stimulation, often overreacting, causing anxiety and possibly a panic attack.
In terms of body chemistry, tissue calcium and magnesium levels decrease, as do zinc and copper. Calcium, magnesium and zinc are called “the sedative minerals.” With lower levels of these three minerals in the tissues, the body becomes prone to feelings of anxiety.
Some people live this way much of the time. It may be due to chronic or acute stress, nutritional deficiencies, or an improper diet or lifestyle. Regardless of the reason, this state of body chemistry strongly predisposes one to feelings of anxiety and to panic attacks. A nutritional balancing program corrects it easily.
A very sluggish metabolic rate — Reasons for anxiety when the oxidation rate is too slow are:
- A deficiency of biologically available calcium and magnesium can cause the same symptoms as a calcium and/or magnesium deficiency.
- Excess copper is found in the tissues.
- A low energy rate can trigger stress and, thus, feelings of anxiety and panic.
- High levels of toxic metals, such as mercury, cadmium, nickel or lead are present. When the metabolic or oxidation rate is slow, the body cannot properly eliminate these metals.
Copper imbalance — Copper excess in the tissues enhances the production of stimulatory neurotransmitters and appears to stimulate the activity of the diencephalon. This is also called the “animal brain” or the “emotional brain.” This causes generally enhanced emotions, one of which is often anxiety and feelings of panic.
High levels of toxic metals — While well understood by toxicologists, knowledge about toxic metals causing anxiety has not filtered down to the medical and psychological professions to any great extent.
Millions of people have too much lead, cadmium, mercury, nickel, and toxic forms of iron and manganese in their bodies. These settle in various parts of the brain, irritate the nervous system and often contribute to anxiety. They also can replace the sedative minerals, calcium, magnesium and zinc, upsetting the normal ways the body relaxes.
Hypoglycemia — Episodes of low or fluctuating blood sugar are another common cause of anxiety today. When the blood sugar level becomes too low, the brain literally begins to starve for fuel. Many people have experienced the anxiety that can accompany low blood sugar.
One usually becomes very hungry, almost desperate for food, and can easily become shaky, weak, confused and panicky. These feelings will go away in a few minutes after eating something sweet. At least half the American population experiences low blood sugar, often due to an improper diet and/or lifestyle. Cutting out all sweet foods and eating protein and perhaps some fat every three or four hours can help prevent this cause of anxiety. Removing underlying causes, such as mineral imbalances of zinc, chromium and manganese, is an even better solution.
Nutrient deficiencies — The nervous system requires up to 40 minerals, vitamins, fatty acids and amino acids to function properly. Deficiencies of nutrients, such as calcium, magnesium, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamins A, B-complex, C, D3 and E are rampant, especially if refined foods are part of the diet. Poor eating habits, such as eating on the run, can also interfere with nutrient absorption and lead to nutrient deficiencies.
Inflammation — Anxiety and panic attacks are inflamed states of the mind and correlate to having an inflamed body chemistry. This is often due to excessive iron, manganese or aluminum, low zinc, a high sodium/potassium ratio or other more complex biochemical imbalances.
Another important cause of inflammation is the presence of so-called excitotoxins. These include monosodium glutamate (MSG), found in some spices and many fast foods. Another one is aspartame found in diet soda and other low-calorie prepared foods. These chemicals inflame the nervous system.
Taking the wrong vitamins and minerals — Certain vitamins, such as B-complex, are stimulatory and can cause anxiety and even panic attacks in some people. Copper, manganese and other minerals are also stimulatory, as are certain herbs, such as ginseng and eluthero. Use caution when taking supplements and herbs.
Reactions to foods or toxic chemicals in foods or in the environment — Sensitivity, intolerance or an allergic reaction to a food or something else in the environment can cause severe anxiety. Common problems are wheat sensitivity or an allergy to pasteurized and homogenized dairy products. In other cases, the allergy or sensitivity may be respiratory or from contact with the skin.
Infections — A common digestive infection that can cause feelings of anxiety and panic in some cases is a chronic Candida albicans or yeast infection. It produces the chemicals acetaldehyde and alcohol that can irritate the nervous system. Following a candida diet may not be enough to stop it.
I rarely recommend medical drugs for a yeast infection, as they are not often needed, and all are somewhat toxic. Nutritional balancing usually solves the yeast condition, which is almost always related to a copper imbalance.
How panic attacks occur
A panic attack occurs when anxiety feeds back on itself, creating a vicious cycle that quickly escalates out of control. For example, a negative thought causes a bodily or physical fight-or-flight reaction. This makes one more panicky, which, in turn, feeds back and worsens the stress response of the body. The process escalates quickly until it overwhelms the nervous system. This is the same mechanism that can cause hypoglycemic attacks, post-traumatic stress episodes and even some epileptic seizures.
If one deeply understands this simple process, it may be possible to stop the attacks by breaking the vicious cycle that creates them before the full-blown attack episode occurs. Ways to do this are:
- Reduce excessive sensitivity of the entire central nervous system through biochemical balancing of the body.
- Remove triggers that start the attack.
- Interrupt the vicious cycle or negative feedback loop in some way, such as by breathing deeply and slowly, or thinking positive and calming thoughts.
Correcting anxiety and panic feelings
Solutions for anxiety and panic attacks follow directly from understanding their deeper causes.
1. Follow a nutritional balancing program. This is a very sophisticated healing program that will correct a dozen or more biochemical imbalances at the same time. In addition, it will help foster much clearer thinking, which makes it easier to correct faulty use of the mind. In fact, changes in perception and thinking often occur all by themselves as one’s brain chemistry improves. You can read more about nutritional balancing at drlwilson.com.
2. Correct your thinking. Learn to observe and change your thoughts. Substituting more realistic ideas and positive emotions helps some people overcome or minimize anxiety. At times, a trauma holds a person in a negative thinking pattern. Counseling and a nutritional balancing program can often break through traumas and release them.
3. Improve your diet. To begin, avoid sugars in any form, including all fruit and fruit juices. I know this advice is contrary to that of many health authorities, but I have found it to be effective for people. Fruit and all sugars act as adrenal stimulants, upset blood sugar, lower calcium, magnesium and zinc in the body, and can contribute to anxiety or even panic attacks.
Eat plenty of cooked vegetables — not raw ones. Most people do not absorb enough minerals from raw vegetables. More nutrients are absorbed from cooked than from raw vegetables. The few vitamins destroyed during cooking can be obtained from other foods. Sugars, fruits and raw vegetables are also all very yin in Chinese medical terminology. This, I find, is not helpful for one’s health and can cause anxiety.
Other offensive items to avoid are caffeine found in coffee, tea and soda, and other irritating foods, such as wheat. Also, stay away from aspartame and other food additives and chemicals, as some of these can irritate the nervous system.
4. Improve your lifestyle. Go to bed early and get at least eight or nine hours of sleep every night. In addition, take a daily nap if you can. Do some gentle exercise several times a week. Intense exercise is not needed, in my experience, and often just wears you out.
Practice slow, deep breathing for at least 15 minutes a day. Rub your feet firmly all over for 10 minutes a day, or more. This is called foot reflexology and is a wonderful way to reduce stress in the nervous system. Try to get some sunshine each day for 20 minutes or so, as this is very helpful for most people. Wear a hat if you are in the sun, but do not wear sunscreen, most of which is quite toxic.
Today, many people self-medicate anxiety with alcohol or marijuana. However, these are both quite toxic for the nervous system, no matter what is said to the contrary. Marijuana is very high in cadmium, a highly toxic metal.
Also, stay away from most medical drugs and toxic over-the-counter products, such as hair spray, hair dyes, nail polish and other chemicals. Other simple methods to reduce anxiety are meditation, chiropractic care and very gentle yoga.
5. Reduce stress. This may sound impossible, but anyone can do it. Correcting diet and lifestyle are important ways to reduce stress. Make an effort to simplify your life and keep a sane schedule. Do not overbook yourself. You may go to fewer parties or events and make less money, but your health will improve drastically.
Prayer is also a powerful way to reduce stress. Know that you are never alone and that prayers are always heard, although results are not always immediate. Also, be sure to laugh and seek out uplifting and inspiring books or spiritual material every day. If you make an effort to incorporate these things, prescription medications are very rarely needed.
Dr. Lawrence Wilson has a medical degree, has been in the health field for more than 25 years and is the author of several books. drlwilson.com or 928-445-7690.
Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 34, Number 1, February/March 2015.