Dear Dr. Penner,
“My older son suffers from debilitating anxiety that often leads to panic attacks. He believes he just has to live with it, but I was wondering if whole food medicine can help with this?”
This is a topic close to my heart. When I was 33 I was starting my first practice in San Diego, commuting an hour each direction on a 4-lane, high speed free-way to work 6 days a week, fueling myself with caffeine, and struggling to make ends meet. About 2 ½ years into this rat-race, I had a panic attack!!!
I recall waking up at 3 AM one morning with my heart racing at over 200 beats per minute, my arms and legs completely numb, shaking like a leaf in a windstorm. If I didn’t have the medical back ground to recognize what I was experiencing (which took a few minutes) I would have thought I was dying and started hollering for help. As it was, I laid there long enough to sort out what was going on and eventually was able to crawl over to the wall heater with a blanket, where I laid in fetal position for hours until the feeling came back into my extremities, my heart slowed down a bit, and I could make it to the phone to call my office and tell them I wasn’t coming in that day.
Panic attacks are a big red flag that your sympathetic (fight/flight) nervous system is over stimulated. Often, this over stimulation is due to circumstantial things like relational troubles, financial stress, or trauma. Other times, the nervous system is responding to inflammation caused by foods, drugs, toxic environmental factors, or microbial infections.
Regardless of the initiating factors, if your nervous system is under too much stress for too long, things start to devolve into brain agitation and adrenal exhaustion.
Your adrenal glands are your stress handlers. They are under the direction of your higher brain centers, the hypothalamus and pituitary. Together, they are known as the HPA axis. When you are under any kind of stress, the hypothalamus and pituitary release hormones that trigger the adrenals to produce the stress hormones adrenalin and cortisol which turn on the “fight-flight” nervous system to manage the situation.
While cortisol initially acts as an anti-inflammatory, it is a “catabolic” hormone which means that over time it causes tissue break down. When stress is prolonged, tissue break down becomes profound. Tissue breakdown means increased inflammation. Increased inflammation means increased infection potential, and eventually disease.
The first tissues to break down are the delicate ones; brain, gut, lungs. This leads to problems such as; anxiety/panic attacks, ADD, brain-fog, asthma, bronchitis, gastritis, leaky gut syndrome, IBS, allergies, and on and on.
These diagrams show in very simple terms what happens physiologically with your stress hormones as adrenal fatigue and exhaustion set in.
What can you do about this? A lot!
Take the new Standard Process Stress Assess questionnaire (click here) for starters. If a more in depth evaluation is indicated, we can order a saliva test to assess the circadian output of cortisol during the waking hours.
In this crazy day and age virtually everyone is dealing with some level of brain/HPA axis agitation aka “stress!”
Fortunately, there are some wonderful whole food medicine protocols that really help!
Optimizing your energy pathway is a primary objective to reduce adrenal stress, lower inflammation, and settle down the brain.
Liver/gall-bladder detox is often indicated in that the liver has over 500 bodily functions including inflammation control, carbohydrate, protein, and fat metabolism, and hormone balance.
Since tissue breakdown and inflammation throws open the door for microbial infection, microbial management becomes important for many people. This involves utilizing herbs and whole foods to improve immune function and discourage microbial proliferation.
And lastly, but certainly not least, calming support for the poor HPA axis! While adequate sleep and stress management strategies are important, there are wonderful herbs and whole food medicines that help, too.
My favorites include Neuroplex (Standard Process) and Medi-Herb’s Kava Forte for hypothalamus-pituitary support. SP Drenamin & MH Adrenal Complex for adrenal support. All available through my office.
Don’t let anxiety eat you alive!
I look forward to hearing from you!