The Brain Chemistry Connection
Panic disorder is a real condition that affects over 2 million Americans per year. Treatment often consists of talk therapy and/or medications. Age of onset varies and it affects both young and old. While a stressful life event or chronically high stress levels can be major contributors, many psychological, lifestyle, genetic and nutritional factors can lead to this condition. Panic Disorder can become debilitating to one’s life, as fear of a panic attack coming on while driving, in public, at work, traveling, and so forth can heighten and amplify one’s anxiety, while hindering their ability to carry on as usual.
Whether the panic attacks are a minor nuisance or severely debilitating, there is help. Balancing neurotransmitters can help attain the correct ratios between neurotransmitters - specifically the excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters. In many of the neurotransmitter panels that we have completed at Neurogistics, we find that when panic disorder is present - there is a higher level of excitatory neurotransmitters than inhibitory neurotransmitters. As you can imagine, any excitatory input can easily cause a panic event to happen. Neurotransmitter balancing is considered complimentary to pharmaceutical medications as well as counseling for Panic Disorder management.
Common Symptoms of Panic Disorder
- Chest pains or racing heart
- Sudden onset of shaking, trembling or sweating
- Feelings of being overcome by fear or anxiety
- Difficulty breathing or catching ones breath
- Fear that you are losing control or “going crazy”
- Nausea or vomiting due to anxiety
- Dizziness, room feels like it is spinning or walls are closing in on you
Neurotransmitters and Memory
The proper release of adrenaline is determined by the brain. The brain must be well balanced so that the Central Nervous System (CNS), and the body, peripheral nervous system (PNS), can communicate properly. When or brain chemistry is out of balance, many of the body’s communication systems become altered, leading to many of the symptoms outlined above. Neurotransmitter regulation is crucial for balancing communication between the brain and body. For example, following stressful events adrenaline or epinephrine is released into the bloodstream. This is the body’s natural fight-or flight-mechanism. This event signals a ‘shut-off’ mechanism in the brain, which prevents further adrenaline release. Chronic long-term stress can damage receptors in the brain, resulting in a disrupted shut-off mechanism. If adrenaline release mechanisms and regulation systems become disrupted, sudden adrenaline surges can occur, resulting in Panic Disorder. Chronic stress can also deplete many of the neurotransmitters that are involved in preventing heightened anxiety as well as Panic Disorder. Two of these key neurotransmitters are GABA and Serotonin.
Stress can occur in many forms: low level daily stress, stressful life events such as death of a spouse, physical stress to the body such as severe illness, mental stress and anxiety, sleep disruption, overwork, are just a few examples. Both physical and mental stress can disrupt the balance of neurotransmitters within the CNS. Stress also depletes the body’s adrenal glands, the tiny glands which sit atop of the kidneys. Under normal conditions, neurotransmitters and adrenal glands buffer stress and enable us to stand up to life’s great demands. However, if stress exceeds the body’s capabilities, this intricate balance between body and mind becomes hampered, and our ability to overcome stress is diminished. Often times this disruption can lead to Panic Disorder.
The neurotransmitters involved with treating and preventing Panic Disorder, as well as the body’s adrenal glands, require vitamins and other nutrients to function properly. During times of stress, our bodies use up and excrete greater amounts of vitamin C and magnesium than usual. Vitamin C and magnesium are two key nutrients which also are crucial for stress regulation. Magnesium blocks excitatory (stress-promoting) neurotransmitters from over-firing, thus being ‘Nature’s tranquilizer”. The adrenal glands, which buffer stress, contain some of the highest concentrations of vitamin C in the body and can shrink when vitamin C levels diminish. This can become a vicious cycle as far as Panic Disorder is concerned, if these nutrient depletions are not addressed. Additionally, stress-regulating neurotransmitters such as Serotonin rely on Amino Acids, such as tryptophan found in foods such as turkey for synthesis. Events leading up to Panic Disorder can heighten Serotonin excretion leading to depletion. Without replenishing the precursor nutrients for the neurotransmitters that are being used in excess, the disorder will continue perhaps even intensify.
The propensity for panic can run in families since so much of our brain chemistry is inherited. It does not mean that there is a genetic link for panic disorders but the likelihood that they could occur generation after generation is very real. If a family tends to run with excitatory neurotransmitters in greater quantity than inhibitory neurotransmitters a panic situation could occur.
Often, patients dealing with Panic disorder are prescribed medications such as anti-depressants (Prozac) or anxiety fighting medications such as benzodiazepines (Xanax). Anti-depressant medications such as SSRI’s, (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) prevent reuptake of Serotonin and leave this neurotransmitter lingering around longer in the synapse of the nerve cell. SSRI’s take the Serotonin that is already there and alter its uptake mechanism, in order to produce the desired effects~ that being mood regulation. The amino acids which are the natural precursors to these neurotransmitters do not affect uptake mechanisms. Instead, they increase the total pool of the neurotransmitter. Depleted levels of neurotransmitters are often the reason why symptoms and conditions arise in Panic Disorder and medications are used. Amino Acid therapy can get to the root cause of the problem.
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