People with a thicker ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) may be better to cope with stressful experiences. And vulnerability to anxiety may depend upon the size of a brain structure involved in fearful experiences, according to a Massachusetts General Hospital study that appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science in October 2005.
The findings may help explain why some people develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) while others bounce back after adversity, according to the October 31, 2005 BBC health news release, “Brain structure link to anxiety.” Volunteers in the study were exposed to experiments. And the volunteers with the least anxiety responses were gauged by how sweaty their palms were during the tests. The volunteers with the least anxiety responses had the least sweaty palms and, according to the study, tended to have thicker vmPFCs.
Are you an anxious or tense “hot reactor” or a calm reactor to any type of stress or crises? Sometimes there’s a holistic nutrition-related solution to certain anxiety issues, with entire families, especially those problems partially caused by childbirth, sudden hormonal changes, and predisposition to chronic anxiety and panic attacks. Were you ever tested to see whether you inherited a short 5-HTT gene?
Here’s how one Sacramento homemaker used holistic health remedies to solve her problem of an over-stimulated nervous system with mild stretching activities and vitamins, particularly the GABA in almonds which calmed much of her chronic anxiety. Emotionally, she’s known as a “hot reactor.” This means a person who responds emotionally to any given stimulus with chronic anxiety or fear. Years ago the condition was called “free-floating anxiety.” Today it’s labeled as having “the short-stemmed 5-HTT anxiety gene.”
Sacramento homemaker, let’s call her Xyz, of the Arden Arcade area, suffered from one of the most common chronic anxiety problems, becoming housebound within weeks after each of her children were born. How do you deal with Mother’s Day when you’re not able to walk outside your home? Is it a nutritional problem, a lack of exercise issue, or a reaction to the sudden drop in hormones after the birth of each child, compounded by inheriting a predisposition for chronic anxiety and panic?
During her pregnancy she became well, completely normal as far as her ability to walk outside her home. But as soon as she gave birth and returned home, she became housebound by agoraphobia, a fear of panicking when she left the familiar area of her own home and yard.
For three years the Sacramento mom of two toddlers remained housebound until finding a California State University program that offered free counseling to community members at the time she had been housebound.
It took her about a year of practice walking outside her home with the support of counselors on the college campus before she could walk beyond her own yard. When asked what contributed to her becoming housebound she reported that it was a combination of large dogs allowed to run loose during the daytime in her neighborhood as well as her genetic predisposition to anxiety under stress. For years, the dogs that lived a few houses from her roamed her block and chased her when she tried to reach the bus stop or mail box a few blocks away, keeping her within the confines of her home and yard.
Instead of reporting the loose dogs, she remained at home for years, with the agoraphobia keeping her from leaving her home. But the final break was when her husband divorced her, sold their home, and took the children back to his native country did her agoraphobia finally recede. When faced with no alternatives and no living relatives to move in with, she finally became able for the first time in several years able to take a bus ride downtown and look for clerical work.
Years later, she attributes postpartum agoraphobia to a sudden drop in hormones and genetic predisposition. She also changed her nutrition from one or two largely pasta and meat meals daily to a more balanced vegetarian and fish diet with multiple vitamins, especially several small meals a day to combat her metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, and abdominal obesity tendency. Who might get postpartum agoraphobia after the birth of each child?
What’s the 5-HTT gene got to do with agoraphobia or anxiety? How limited are future career plans when you are trapped at home for many years with agoraphobia—the fear of panicking in unfamiliar spaces?
Research at the Stoneybrook University in New York revealed that if you inherit a short version of the gene called 5-HTT, you’re more likely to be predisposed to experiencing anxiety and fear or to become depressed. It could happen after stress or a trauma, or from hormonal changes, such as the weeks following childbirth. And it could last for years. Or a person could develop “white outs” while riding the bus. Chronic anxiety with tremors when arriving at work in the morning could follow you the rest of the morning.
Other studies reveal that you also may be sensitive to carbon dioxide in the air, feeling panicky when the there’s five percent carbon dioxide in the air. For people without a genetic sensitivity, the air in your environment would have to reach seven percent carbon dioxide before you’d feel anxious.
If you’re chronically anxious, have panic disorder or have advanced to agoraphobia, and are afraid of leaving your home or other familiar surroundings, if you can’t drive, ride in a bus without getting a white-out, or walk more than a few feet from your home without anxiety causing you to return home, tailoring your nutrition may be of help. You may not even feel depressed or be aware of any other feeling but a physical sense of dread, trembling, or numbness in your elbow.
You may panic, feel dizzy, become short of breath, hyperventilate, and go through the fight or flight syndrome. You may have adverse reactions to stress, medicines, anesthesia, or foods. You could become allergic or sensitive to loud sound effects in movie theaters, have a fear of bus travel beyond a certain point, or have white-outs while traveling, perhaps developing more frequent migraines.
You crave healing sounds in music that make you feel relaxed. Perhaps you are experiencing post traumatic stress disorder. If you don’t have agoraphobia, perhaps it is sociophobia that keeps you away from opportunities to meet people and make friends. Or your stress may be from a physical condition that worsens when you talk on the phone or meet new people and have to speak in public. Or your panic may increase when you are in a group and fear that you’re being singled out, judged, or discriminated against.
Sometimes you develop an increasing sensitivity to dental anesthetics. For example, you react immediately with a panic attack when given a dental injection, but can be calm when the same minor dental work, such as a deep cleaning on one tooth, is done without anesthesia.
Why do you feel anxious, get panic attacks, or become homebound for decades with agoraphobia? Hyperactivity in the brain’s fear center due to the fact that you’ve inherited a short instead of a long 5-HTT gene could be the cause. The brain’s fear center is connected to the amygdala and hippocampus.
Perhaps you have a short 5-HTT gene. Maybe you can’t travel without become anxious, stressed, or panicked. Maybe you get headaches from travel or have a low stress level. Maybe you panic when you laugh or are in any way emotionally stimulated by sound, touch, sight, scent, or experience.
You may not be able to sit in a movie theater or view a play without feeling anxious from the loud sound effects or the flashing lights. You look for calming experiences. The problem is you have electrical activity in your brain.
The electrical activity is in motion all the time, even when nothing should cause fear—such as when you laugh or make love. You overreact to anything that stimulates that electrical center in your brain’s fear center. It doesn’t have to be anything that would cause fear to people who have inherited a long copy of the 5-HTT gene.
The world is divided between calm people with a long 5-HTT gene and anxious individuals with a short 5-HTT gene. People with a short 5-HTT gene live with constant electrical activity in their brain’s fear center.
You may feel either anxiety or depression if you have a short 5-HTT gene. Look up the article reporting a study that links depression to an overactive fear center in the brain titled, “Bound for Gloom and Doom,” Proceedings of the National Academy or Sciences, October 11, 2006. You can find this online at ScienceNOW Daily News. Online, check out ScienceNOW’s search engine.
If left untreated, agoraphobia can burn itself out with moderate exercise, but it may take years. You need to study how your genes react to various treatments so that you don’t become dependent upon the treatment and not find the cause.
If your problem is post partum anxiety or menopause, and you’re concerned about hormonal imbalances on top of genetic predisposition, such as a short 5-HTT gene or defects in your autonomic nervous system inherited at birth compounded by your environment and trauma from physical, emotional, or environmental stress, or even a slight head injury years ago, work on the physiological, nutritional, and genetic causes of what is keeping you bound to your home.
Always first ask your doctor whether you’re healthy enough to try out vitamins and supplements. What worked for one person may be similar or very different from what will work for you. Be sure to find out how your genes react to the buildup of certain vitamins or minerals from food supplements.
Consider taking a genetic test for adverse reactions to vitamins or other consumable items. Or if you don’t want to spend any money for a test that may or may not work correctly yet, as the science is in its infancy, try out one vitamin or nutrient at a time in small amounts until you know how you react to tiny amounts before you consume the whole capsule.
Be warned that you could be allergic to any amount and have a shock reaction to anything you eat, including vitamins that come from a bottle. So if you do test yourself, start with whole foods, natural vitamins and not synthetic types.
Your doctor will tell you whether you are healthy enough to try out any vitamins or minerals that come from a bottle. Ask the doctor to tell you what you might expect such as how a certain vitamin or supplement will affect your body. For example, ask whether the vitamin or supplement you take will over-stimulate your thyroid?
Are certain B complex vitamins you take over-stimulating your thyroid? Know your body type, metabolism, and genetic predispositions. Find out how fast or slow your body builds up and metabolizes vitamins, foods, and supplements in ways that might build up in your body to over stimulate glands or organs.
Are there toxic substances in the water you’re drinking? Are you using a water distiller that takes out all the magnesium and calcium, and you aren’t replacing those minerals in your food supplements so your body can function properly? What trace minerals are you taking?
Who else in your family had anxiety problems, migraines, or other inherited issues? Did a parent smoke, drink too much caffeine or alcohol, or take any medicines or supplements during pregnancy that might have influenced your autonomic nervous system’s response to stress or other perceived changes?
When you eat fruit or sugary foods, is there a rush of insulin and adrenalin that makes you tremble with anxiety? Are the sugars in your diet worsening chronic gum disease by keeping your blood glucose level too high?
Anaerobic bacteria under the gums thrive on excess sugar and yeast in your blood. Have you looked at your reactions to food that is a combination of protein and good oils such as extra virgin olive oil and Omega 3 fish oils?
Have you discussed with your health professional whether certain foods “hit you like a bomb” and cause anxiety or other symptoms of blood sugar changes? Agoraphobia has a female-to-male ratio of 2-3:1. Social phobia is more common in females, but more males ask for treatment due to the social pressures on men to earn an income throughout adult life. Talk with health professionals that specialize in these symptoms.
Is it metabolic syndrome for you or something else? Do you have the short 5-HTT gene? Or is another part of your body giving you an important message to heed? Find out how your genes process what enters your body and how your genes and brain electrochemistry react to stress. Stress is rapid change. Does food hit you like a bomb?
What Nutrition Helped Mrs. Xyz’s Hyperinsulinism and Metabolic Syndrome
You need to tailor your foods and treatments to your own genes and work with health professionals that look at the whole person, and not solely the one symptom. No real names, she requested. So we’ll call her, Mrs. Xyz who had postpartum agoraphobia soon after her first and second baby’s birth.
What worked for Xyz may not work for you because your metabolic system is different from hers. Between 1965 and early 1972 Xyz was housebound with agoraphobia and panic disorder. It began after the birth of her first and second children in March 1965 and in November 1966. It resumed in 1981 to 1985 and from 1999 until 2004 when she started a better nutrition program without eating the chocolate that she craved, sugary desserts, and shell fish.
Each body type has different nutritional variations just as you have different genes that can be switched on and off by various methods. Her metabolic syndrome and agoraphobia with panic disorder, her sensitivities to carbon dioxide in the air, to dental anesthetics, and to a variety of foods and scents would be different than yours.
What set off anxiety experiences or panic attacks or the insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome that caused her to gain weight after childbirth in her belly rather than in her hips or thighs is genetic. It could be different from what sets off your physical reactions or experiences.
Sugar and too much salt, too many dairy products and too little greens were not good for my health. You are different. Keep in mind that your genes influence how food affects your body. What environmental sounds, scents, or experiences affect your panic level?
By switching to vanilla instead of chocolate desserts, and a largely vegetarian Mediterranean and Japanese diet (seaweed, salmon, whole grains, green vegetables, no caffeine, and decaf green tea with lemongrass or herb tea with blueberry leaf), she was soon able to travel by bus and walk for a half hour near her home. Caffeine and other foods were wreaking havoc causing adverse reactions as well as her growing allergy to most dental anesthetics.
More than two million people in the United States suffer from this incapacitating anxiety, a panic state, when traveling away from their homes. It’s a fear that wells up when under even the slightest stress or in an unfamiliar situation.
When traditional medicine failed to help, a friend sent Xyz a book on yoga exercises and meditation. She practiced the positions with determination to help herself.
In addition to the approximately 28 Yoga postures, she used music therapy, calming ethnic music of strings, flutes, and slow drums at 60 beats per minute to bring down her naturally high adrenaline state. She also changed her diet to vegetarian and low-mercury fish such as wild (not farmed) salmon. She cut out all white sugar and salted foods, all caffeine and chocolate as she had genetically inherited hypertension from the age of eighteen.
She added raw vegetables and cut out certain starches in high amounts such as cooked potatoes and loads of cooked rice and substituted tofu, protein powder, and grapefruit pectin powder, two scoops per day. A fish and fruit diet also worked wonders and is helpful for those not strict vegetarians. Xyz’s breakfast began with cooked fresh cold water fish like baked salmon in lemon juice because it’s helpful to those with genetic-based hyperinsulinism and genetically high blood pressure.
Her monthly estrogen migraines also grew less painful as a result. The vitamins she took were Vitamin E in the natural form with all eight toctrienols and with 100 mg. of selenium, Vitamin C, and beta carotene, and the usual B complex vitamins found in health food stores in normal amounts fewer than 100 mg.
She also took magnesium 400 and calcium 600 to 1000 mgs. At the time Xyz was 25 years old. She’s nearing age 70 now. Back then, she couldn’t exercise much with agoraphobia because exercise increased the lactic acid in her body. Lactic acid creates panic attacks in persons prone to panic disorder. Exercising caused exercise asthma, hyperventilation syndrome, and panic attacks.
During pregnancy, the estrogen and progesterone levels increase dramatically in a woman’s body. A pregnant woman has 200 times as much estrogen in her body than before or after pregnancy. After childbirth, that estrogen and progesterone level drops suddenly. The result for Xyz’s genetic make-up, lifestyle, and nutrition resulted in panic attacks with agoraphobia and hyperventilation syndrome.
One way for Xyz to get rid of her fear of leaving the house and the panic attacks was to get pregnant again. By the third month of pregnancy with all those hormones flowing, she’d feel incredibly calm again. But she couldn’t do that after childbirth when hormone levels of estrogen and progesterone plummeted.
Yoga was Xyz ‘s next resort. Yoga required stretching instead of the usual exercise movement that would increase her already hyper state of adrenaline and insulin in Xyz’s blood. In addition, she had low blood sugar (hypoglycemia and too much insulin as she previously mentioned–(genetic hyperinsulinism).
Too much insulin from too many fast burning carbohydrates grew Xyz a protruding belly that didn’t look great on her 112-120 pound average height body. Her fasting blood glucose of 84 to 86 would drop to 60 (boderline hypoglycemia-low blood sugar) when she drank two tablespoons of honey in lemon water during a fasting glucose tolerance test.
For several years Xyz was totally housebound and suffered dozens of panic attacks a day some days. Other days she’d have chronic anxiety for the entire day, and panic when she had to sit in her graduate school classroom. At the time, her evenings were spent as a graduate student in literature.
She’d tried every exercise from aerobics to belly dancing. She never learned to drive and frequently became allergic to the air in buses, trains, and as a passenger in cars. So she never traveled very far. Luckily, the supermarket and shopping centers were within two blocks.
Yoga was the only movement that relaxed her without giving Xyz exercise asthma and the tremors. The stretching of her muscles removed the lactic acid from her body in the same way that a runner stretches a leg against a tree to cool down and remove the lactic acid that builds up in the body during exercise.
The build-up of lactic acid may have been in part, causing Xyz to shake with the low blood sugar and over-stimulated hyperthyroid tremors and go into a panic attack upon exercise. Too much insulin poured into her bloodstream, possibly causing the shakes.
She had been under heavy stress and had a family history of inherited anxiety passed on from generation to generation. She wondered whether the city’s water she’d been living in contained mercury or rocket fuel causing her thyroid problems or whether her genes predisposed her to chronic anxiety for years after childbirth.
Persons who are biologically prone to agoraphobia and panic under the slightest stress normally are born with shy, over-aroused dominant introverted feeling) nervous systems. They often secrete a high level of catecholamines.
Their adrenaline level is frequently at a higher base level than in the average or naturally calm person. They secrete much more insulin into their blood than people who are literally immune from anxiety attacks.
On top of this, she had insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and a wide waist line with relatively narrow hips, although she had a slim, small-boned, ectomorphic body with a weight under 112 pounds after the birth of her second child. She consumed entire cheesecakes and pound boxes of chocolate with no weight gain. Forty-five years later, she weighs 125 pounds.
Sometimes the left hemisphere of the brain (high verbal intelligence) begins to fire at a different rate, faster or slower, than the right hemisphere (visual art and emotion). When the two hemispheres get out of sync, panic and shaking could occur at any time of the night or day, when you laugh or sleep, walk through the street or sit in a chair.
Stretching from the Yoga positions calmed Xyz so that she could relax and enjoy the day’s events. She’d been a person with an avoidant/dependent personality type. Xyz withdrew from direct people contact and became a recluse in order to stop being emotionally, a “hot reactor.”
An ‘invisible’ hot reactor reacts to the slightest stress not by outward anger, but inwardly and silently, by a dramatically increased blood pressure, pulse rate, and sudden, gripping fear to people and slight mental stress, even though there is no facial expression change or bodily motion to show what’s narrowing or calcifying from sugar (and insulin’s overabundance to sugar) on the inside.