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  • A Naturopath’s Guide to Treating Anxiety

    RedheadAnxiety, in all its forms, is a common condition that affects more than 20 million Americans. It can manifest as excessive worry or unwarranted fear, or even nervousness, shortness of breath or a racing heart. If you experience any of these symptoms, read on to learn more about anxiety and how you can treat it, naturally.

    What is anxiety?

    Anxiety is a normal, albeit unpleasant, human emotion that all people experience, ranging from mild unease to intense debilitating fear. But anxiety is different fromfear; fear is a rational response to real danger, whereas anxiety usually lacks a clear or realistic cause.

    Feeling anxious about a work presentation, preparing for a test or anxiousness over meeting a blind date constitutes normal anxiety. Abnormal anxiety happens consistently and at higher levels that interfere with normal life. For people with anxiety disorders, life can be overwhelming, and their symptoms can manifest into physical disorders such as adrenal fatigue, compromised immunity and heart disease.

    Common symptoms of general anxiety include the following:

    • Feelings of panic, fear, and uneasiness
    • Problems sleeping
    • Cold or sweaty hands and/or feet
    • Shortness of breath
    • Heart palpitations
    • Inability to be still and calm
    • Dry mouth
    • Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
    • Nausea and gastric upset
    • Muscle tension
    • Dizziness

    What causes anxiety?

    Many factors can contribute to a person’s likelihood of experiencing anxiety. Here are a few common causes:

    • Biochemical problems, including substance abuse [e.g. alcohol, drugs (recreational or prescribed), caffeine or tobacco], stress hormones and neurotransmitter deficiencies (e.g. low GABA or serotonin levels)
    • Genetic abnormalities, or errors with neurotransmitter receptors
    • Environmental factors such as trauma, life stress, toxicities or fungal exposure
    • Psychological factors, including daily stress

    Conversely, the effects of long-term anxiety on the body and overall health can be significant. The stress hormone cortisol is elevated during periods of stress and anxiety, and chronic cortisol elevation can lead to poor learning and memory, low immune function, low bone density, weight gain, increased blood pressure, cholesterol and heart disease, and more.

    Treating anxiety naturally

    The two divisions of the autonomic nervous system—the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems--are heavily involved in our anxiety response. When we’re anxious, we go into sympathetic overdrive, also known as the fight-or-flight response. On the opposite end, the parasympathetic nervous system works to regulate repair, maintenance and restoration of the body.

    The below treatments are focused on supporting the work of the parasympathetic system by addressing nutritional factors that can immediately help bring the body back into balance and reduce anxiety symptoms.

    1. Avoid alcohol
    2. Avoid caffeine
    3. Avoid sugar
    4. Address B vitamin deficiency (particularly B1, B3, B6)
    5. Address calcium or magnesium deficiencies
    6. Address and eliminate food sensitivities and allergens

    Adopting a healthy lifestyle is pivotal to managing anxiety. Here are a few vital lifestyle changes that can help relieve anxiety symptoms.

    1. Exercise regularly. It can help reduce tension, anxiety and mild depression, and improve mental outlook, self-esteem and our ability to handle stress.
    2. Get 7-8 hours sleep. Sleep deprivation disables mental and physical function, and makes anxiety worse.
    3. Eat a whole-food and plant-based diet that includes a rainbow of fruits and veggies and complex carbohydrates, balanced protein and good fats. This will also help reduce exposure to toxins (pesticides, heavy metals and food additives) and support blood sugar.

    And remember, stress management is critical in managing anxiety. Efforts to calm the mind and body can help generate a physiological relaxation response. To achieve this response, try deep breathing or progressive relaxation (whereby one compares muscle tension with muscle relaxation to bring awareness to tension throughout the body and thereby consciously change tension to relaxation). Joyful, relaxing activities—such as a walk on the beach, a hot bubble bath, a cup of tea by the fireplace or yoga—along with quality sleep, can evoke a relaxation response.

    Supplements for anxiety

    Fish oil. Anxiety sufferers tend to be deficient in omega-3 fatty acids. DHA, a fatty acid found in fish oil, nourishes the brain and nervous system. Try Nordic Naturals or Pharmax brands for superior quality and absorption.

    Pharma-GABA. GABA is an important neurotransmitter that slows down the firing between the synapses in the brain. People with low GABA are prone to anxiety and depression, so supplementing with GABA can help to slow down the rapid-fire worry. Try Thorne Research’s PharmaGABA, Natural Factors’ Pharma GABA or Jarrow Formulas’ GABA Soothe (also featuring a blend of relaxing herbs).

    L-theanine. Theanine is an amino acid found in green tea that helps promote alpha waves in the brain; alpha waves are calming brain waves that promote a relaxed physical and mental condition. Theanine also increases GABA. Try Natural Factors’ Suntheanine L-Theanine or Jarrow Formulas’ Theanine 100.

    Kava Kava. Kava has been shown to significantly reduce anxiety symptoms such as nervousness, heart palpitations, chest pains, headache, dizziness and gastric irritation. Kava is effective for anxiety in peri-menopausal and post-menopausal women. Note: Do not use kava if you have liver problems or regularly consume alcohol. Try Herb Pharm’s Kava or Pharmaca brand Kava.

    Magnesium. Magnesium relaxes small muscles throughout the body and aids in metabolism; deficiency has been known to exacerbate anxiety. Try Pharmaca brand Magnesium Citrate, Natural Vitality’s Calm powdered magnesium or Pure Encapsulations’ Magnesium (glycinate).

    B Complex. B vitamin deficiency also exacerbates anxiety, since B vitamins are critical to many functions in the body including calming the nervous system. Try New Chapter’s Coenzyme B Food Complex, Thorne Research’s Basic B Complex or Pharmaca brand B Complex.

    Multivitamin. Take a quality multi everyday to ensure you’re receiving adequate vitamins and minerals, since deficiencies can aggravate anxiety. Try food-based and readily absorbed multis from New Chapter or MegaFood.

    WishGarden Herbs’ Emotional Ally is a specialized combination of emotionally supportive herbs such as St. Johns wort, skullcap and passionflower that can help you ground and re-center.

    Hyland's Calms Forte is a simple, non-toxic homeopathic blend to aid nervous tension and sleeplessness. A great product to partner with other herbal anxiety remedies or try alone!
  • A Holistic Approach to Stress

    Whether you need just a few extra minutes of calm in your day or more long-term stress relief, Pharmaca offers a variety of different approaches to beating anxiety. And don’t forget—helping your body better cope with stress can go a long way toward optimal health and reducing your risk for chronic conditions like cancer, obesity and heart disease.

    The Herbal Approach
    When it comes to stress-fighting herbs, Cassy Dymond, ND at our Seattle - Wallingford location, says her go-tos are passionflower, lemon balm and milky oats. “WishGarden Herbs has some really nice formulas,” says Cassy. Deep Stress, for example, contains herbs like nettles, oat seed, thyme, bladder wrack and skullcap—“a really great herb for stress. This one is ideal when you have stress and anxiety with agitation and a hard time falling asleep,” says Cassy. She also likes their Emotional Ally, which can be helpful when you’re going through a difficult period in life, like a personal or professional change. That one also includes skullcap and St. John’s wort.

    In addition to calm-inducing herbs, says Cassy, “My tendency is to look for herbs that are supportive to the adrenals. If someone is stressed out it’s important to address the adrenal glands, too.” That’s when she turns to adaptogenic herbs like ashwaghanda, eleuthero and rhodiola, found in Gaia Herbs’ Adrenal Health and Vitanica’s Adrenal Assist.

    The Vitamins & Supplements Approach
    “B vitamins are also hugely important regarding stress,” says Cassy. “They are co-factors in so many different cellular processes, and when we’re stressed, we burn through B5 and B6 more quickly.” Look for B complexes from Thorne Research, MegaFood or New Chapter.

    Two more to add to the stress-fighting toolkit, according to Cassy: vitamin C, which offers good antioxidant support during times of stress, and magnesium, which can be help relaxing the muscles and offer physical calm.

    The Homeopathic Approach
    This subtle, gentle form of healing can work on very specific forms of stress.  Elizabeth Vassar, homeopath at our Brentwood store, tells us about some of her favorites.

    Ignatia amara: “This is one of my number ones for coping with sudden disappointment or loss, such as the ending of a relationship,” says Elizabeth.

    Natrum muriaticum: “This is good for people who have a tendency toward mild to moderate depression,” she says.

    Kali phosphoricum: Elizabeth commonly recommends this for overworked people. “I usually give it to people who are tired of their job! It helps calm the nerves.”

    Bryonia Alba: This is good for someone who has suffered big losses—like their job, a home, etc., and is experiencing depression because of it, says Elizabeth.

    Arsenicum album: “This is for the people who worry about everything!” says Elizabeth.

    Because homeopathy is so specialized to each person’s individual needs, it’s best to speak with a homeopathic practitioner at Pharmaca about proper strengths and dosages.

    The Flower Essence Approach
    Much like homeopathy, flower essences are made via multiple dilutions of flower, tree and bush extracts, and work on an energetic level. In the 1920s, British homeopath Edward Bach isolated 38 flower essences that he felt were especially helpful in balancing emotions—making them ideal for beating stress.

    Bach’s Rescue Remedy, a combination of five flower essences, is a best-selling stress-relief option. “Rescue Remedy is designed for immediate relief from stress or some kind of trauma,” says Lindsay Fontana, homeopath at our Santa Fe store.  “Sometimes when you can just get a little distance from things, you can find more peace. And that’s what Rescue Remedy really gives you.” Available in drops, as a spray and in tasty pastilles, the formula includes five flowers: rock rose, clematis, impatiens, cherry plum and star of Bethlehem.

    Lindsay cites a few other individual flower essences that can be helpful for different stressful scenarios:

    Aspen is good for stress—literally for fears and worries of unknown origin

    Cherry Plum is for fear of losing control

    Elm is for when you’re overwhelmed by responsibility

    Honeysuckle helps when you’re dwelling on the past

    Pine relieves self-reproach or guilt

    Again, because of the specialized nature of these essences, it’s best to work with a Pharmaca practitioner on choosing individual products.

  • The Scoop on Vitamins: B9 - Folic Acid

    This is part of our continuing series on the function of vitamins in the body.

    Folic acid is one of the more well known B vitamins because of its importance during pregnancy for healthy fetal development, particularly during the first trimester. While the connection isn’t completely understood, the demand for folate most likely increases because of unique hormonal changes. It’s important to note that women who are on the birth control pill but are not pregnant also have an increased need for folate and other B vitamins because the pill creates hormone demands that mimic pregnancy.

    Folate (also called folacin) deficiencies are observed in the depressed and the mentally ill, as well as the elderly. Smoking, alcohol and stress also readily deplete folate. Folacin deficiency is one of the most prevalent deficiencies, though it is difficult to identify because its symptoms can mimic those of a B12 deficiency—folate is dependent on B12 for proper utilization, and without it is useless in the body. Symptoms of deficiency include irritability, weakness, apathy, forgetfulness, hostility, paranoid behavior, headache, gastrointestinal disturbance and heart palpitations.

    Proper folate levels are critical for a healthy system. This powerful nutrient is used to nourish and repair tissues, and plays a key role in the manufacturing of neurotransmitters that help regulate sleep, pain and mood. Aim for at least 400 mcg of folate daily to maintain tissue stores and give your body the building blocks it needs.

    Supplementation of folate is an easy and affordable way to support energy, mental health and the demands of growth and aging. Studies have shown that the body responds quickly to supplementation therapy. I always recommend B vitamins taken together in the form of a B-complex supplement.

    My top recommendations:

    Basic B-Complex by Thorne Research, which offers 400 mcg of folate per serving. Thorne is a medical-grade company and I often recommend it for its potency, quality and avoidance of allergens, fillers and preservatives.

    I also recommend food-based supplements like MegaFood’s Balanced B Complex because they offer pure, bioavailable formulations.

    Studies have also shown that good folate levels can be maintained with the ingestion of two portions of leafy green vegetables each day (folate and folacin derive their names from “foliage”). That includes nutritionally rich and health-boosting greens such as spinach, kale and collards, along with other nourishing vegetables like asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, green peas, cauliflower, sweet potatoes and cantaloupe. But like the other B vitamins, folate is sensitive to high-heat cooking methods like boiling and microwaving that can deplete the nutrients, so it is vital to eat both fresh, raw produce as well as cooked.

    Elizabeth Willis is a Certified Clinical Nutritionist and Herbalist. She has a private practice in Boulder, Colo., and also works at Pharmaca’s downtown Boulder location. Elizabeth specializes in a holistic approach by connecting her clients with the more dynamic roles of food and nutrition. She believes that by eliminating food intolerances, building optimal nutrition and working directly with the emotional body, it is possible to greatly revive one’s health by reconnecting body with spirit.

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