Many different factors can cause anxiety. One little-known cause is a genetic variation that prevents your brain from making enough GABA, a calming brain chemical that prevents anxiety. You can do a simple test with a supplement to find out if this genetic variation affects you.
GABA: The brain chemicals that prevents anxiety
When GABA is low, anxiety goes up, it’s difficult to sleep, and you always feel like you’re in a hurry or living under the threat of imminent doom.
GABA is made from another brain chemical called glutamate. Glutamate is the opposite of GABA in that it is excitatory and stimulating to the nervous system. Both are necessary for healthy brain function. Ideally, they operate in concert with one another, keeping the brain both sufficiently stimulated and calmed as necessary.
However, many disorders today, including anxiety, involved excess glutamate and insufficient GABA. Excess glutamate not only over stimulates the nervous system, it is also toxic to the brain and can age, or degenerate, it too quickly.
The alpha-ketoglutaric acid challenge to screen for genetic cause of anxiety
A variety of factors can cause excess glutamate, however, for some it is faulty conversion of glutamate to GABA that is genetic. Consider this possibility if you have a family history of anxiety.
You can test whether you have this genetic conversion variation with a supplement called alpha-ketoglutaric acid (AKG). The body makes AKG into glutamate, some of which will be made into GABA, unless you have this genetic issue.
How to do the AKG challenge
To perform the challenge, take 3,000 to 4,000 mg of alpha-ketoglutaric acid. Some people have a response after taking it once; others have to take it for several days to respond. Use trial and error to test it.
If you do not have this genetic conversion issue, the AKG will cause either no symptoms or perhaps a little extra energy from the increased glutamate production, but not anxiety.
For the person with the genetic variation, however, the surge of glutamate production combined with the genetic inability to convert it to GABA will cause excitability, nervousness, anxiety, insomnia, and other GABA-deficiency symptoms.
If you have a positive result with the AKG challenge
If the AKG gave you anxiety or insomnia, then you know a perpetual GABA shortage may be an issue for you. Taking GABA support on a regular, lifelong basis may help alleviate symptoms of anxiety, insomnia, nervousness, and catastrophic thinking.
Compounds that work well to support GABA pathways include l-theanine, l-taurine, vitamin B6, valerian, passion flower, and lithium orotate. These can be taken regularly.
Be careful with drugs that increase GABA, such as benzodiazepenes (Valium, Xanax, etc.) They cause many people to build a tolerance to them and withdrawal can be extremely difficult.
Some supplements such as phenibut act like benzodiazepenes and can also cause tolerance if taken regularly, so be mindful of those. Straight GABA is too large to cross the blood-brain barrier, so if it works, then this may indicate you have a leaky blood-brain barrier, which is commonly associated with leaky gut. Also, taking straight GABA regularly can cause you to build a tolerance as well.
Regular exercise, stress-reducing techniques, blocking blue light at night avoiding foods or supplements that raise glutamate (such as MSG or artificial sweeteners), stabilizing blood sugar, and avoiding foods that cause an immune reaction are some other ways to manage your anxiety naturally.
The cerebellum (the area at the back of the brain) is best known for its role in balance and coordination. However, the cerebellum does more than that — when it starts to malfunction, the results can be not only worsened balance, but also anxiety, insomnia, and hyper sensitivity.
The cerebellum is a primary integrator of information for the brain. Our body has hundreds of thousands of receptors that detect motion, vision, and where and how our body and joints are positioned at all times. These receptors constantly relay information to the brain so that we can move and function properly in our environment.
This information requires organizing before heading to the rest of the brain. The cerebellum condenses the information and “gates” it, meaning it releases it in manageable amounts to the brain’s cortex, the outer covering with its characteristic folds.
The cortex, which is responsible for higher-order functions of thought and action, decides if you need to carry out a specific action or thought in response to the information, such as turn left, answer a question, run from danger, make a decision, etc. The cortex then sends its information back to the cerebellum to help carry out actions.
When things go wrong with the cerebellum
The cerebellum is a common site of dysfunction. It can degenerate, meaning neurons die. The cerebellum is very susceptible to sensitivity to gluten and other foods, environmental toxins, and oxidative stress. It also can degenerate with age — why older people notoriously have bad balance. Children born with brain developmental disorders often have poor cerebellar function.
Poor cerebellar function is observed in various ways, such as poor balance, lack of coordination, or a tremor as you go to pick something up or bring a glass to your mouth (known as termination tremors).
Stand with your feet together, your arms at your side, and then close your eyes. If you sway more frequently to one side, that may indicate the side with more cerebellar dysfunction — it takes it longer to respond to falling on that side of your body.
Other tests your doctor may use to observe cerebellum function are coordination tests such as: finger to nose, walking heel to toe in a straight line, performing complex alternating movements, and ocular tracking (the eyes give insight into function).
Poor cerebellar function can also cause dizziness, disorientation, and nausea in cars, on boats, or when seeing things move swiftly, such as in a movie. Basically, the cerebellum is not able to respond appropriately to input from the environment.
Cerebellum function and anxiety and insomnia
As the cerebellum loses function it begins to falter at its job of gating information delivered to the cortex. As a result, excess information slips through.
This means the cortex and areas in the brainstem receive more information than they can adequately manage. Much of the role of the frontal cortex is to act as a brake pedal on the brainstem, preventing the brainstem from spinning out of control. Our brainstem governs myriad functions, such as emotions, heart function, blood pressure, and digestion.
This poorly gated sensory overload can cause many symptoms:
Many factors work against us when it comes to healthy brain function that prevents an overactive brain and anxiety. They include a culture that cherishes overworking, inflammatory diets, unstable blood sugar, too much screen time, stressful lives, and not enough sleep.
Ask my office for information on how to dampen brain activity and help relieve anxiety and insomnia.
New research shows increasing your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables can boost your well-being in as little as two weeks. Although the study didn’t explain why, previous studies show eating more vegetables impacts brain, immune, and gut health — all of which affect your mood.
The New Zealand study divided more than 170 young adults into three groups. The researchers personally gave one group two servings on fresh fruits and vegetables each day. The second group was given vouchers and text reminders to consume extra produce. The third group was not given any produce or vouchers.
The first group given the extra produce in person consumed an average of 3.7 servings a day of fruits and vegetables. After two weeks they reported feeling improvements in mood, vitality, motivation, as well as a flourishing of well-being.
The other two groups reported no change.
5 ways eating more produce makes you feel better
When you look at the effects of a plant-based diet on health, the results of this study are no surprise.
Here are five reasons why eating more fruits and vegetables can make you happier and more motivated:
Eating more vegetables increases the gut bacteria that promotes relaxation. Brain scans show healthy gut bacteria promotes relaxation.
Eating more vegetables increases the gut bacteria that lower brain inflammation. A Harvard-affiliated study found that healthy gut bacteria lowers brain inflammation, thus lowering the risk of dementia. Brain inflammation is also linked with depression, anxiety, and irritability.
Eating more vegetables increases the gut bacteria that lower depression, anxiety, eating disorders, autism symptoms, and obesity. By now you get the picture. Studies continue to find links between gut bacteria and a variety of mood and mental disorders. Eating a wide variety of plenty of produce is the best way to create a healthy diversity of gut bacteria.
Regular bowel movements from increased fiber of a high-vegetable diet improve your mood. It’s no mystery why constipated babies are so fussy. Research shows a higher prevalence of mood disorders in those with chronic constipation. Although myriad factors can cause constipation, often it’s as simple as too little plant fiber. Eating ample amounts of vegetables and fruits promotes regular, healthy bowel movements (unless you have a gut disorder that makes digesting produce difficult). Constipation increases circulating toxins in the body, which can inflame the brain and leads to bad moods.
What does a serving of vegetables look like?
The new recommendation from the American Institute for Cancer Research is to eat at least five servings a day of fruits and vegetables, but ideally you should eat seven to ten. Five of those servings should be vegetables and two to three fruit (to avoid consuming too much sugar). In other words, two-thirds of each meal should be vegetables.
A “serving” is a vague reference. Here are some ideas of what a serving looks like:
Most Americans don’t eat near enough vegetables. It takes some practice and discipline to develop a vegetable habit (vegetable for breakfast, anyone?), but once you do you’ll be motivated by how much better you feel.
Pre-prep veggies for quick salads, and make big batches of veggie soups and stews to facilitate the transition.
Do you suffer from acid reflux, indigestion, slow gut transit time, or feeling like there’s a brick in your stomach after eating? Or perhaps you’re on a restricted diet for a chronic health condition but still react to an ever shrinking list of foods. If so, you need to work on restoring digestion.
Many factors affect digestion, including aging, poor brain function that affects gut function, poor diet, and more. Often the problem often isn’t the food itself, but a hyper sensitive immune system reacting to food proteins that are not broken down properly. Thankfully, you can improve your symptoms greatly with proper supplementation.
Breakdown of food proteins is key for good digestion
For good digestion, you need sufficient hydrochloric acid (HCl) and digestive enzyme activity in the gut. These both serve the important function of breaking down food proteins, which prevents the immune system from targeting them and causing symptoms.
HCl is naturally present in the stomach and is vital for digestion of proteins. Low HCl symptoms include:
It may sound contrary that low stomach acid can cause acid reflux. In fact, many people with acid reflux-like symptoms are mistakenly prescribed acid-blockers intended to cut stomach acid, when in fact it’s low stomach acid causing the problem — the low stomach acid results in undigested food becoming rancid and moving back up the esophagus to cause the pain and burning sensation. What these people need is additional HCl to improve digestion.
Many people with poor digestion also have poor pancreatic enzyme output. Similar to stomach acid, these enzymes are critical to break apart food proteins so the immune system doesn’t react to them, causing inflammation.
Supplement with HCl and digestive enzymes for healthy digestion
Supplementing with HCl and digestive enzymes can go a long way toward improving your digestion by supporting breakdown of food proteins as well as relieving symptoms.
Follow this advice when supplementing with HCl and digestive enzymes:
Oral tolerance and digestive function
It’s particularly important for people with food sensitivities to support food protein breakdown with proper levels of HCl and digestive enzymes. At the root of this is the concept of oral tolerance Oral tolerance is how well a person’s immune system can tolerate acceptable foods while responding appropriately to bacteria or other harmful compounds.
While there are other factors that affect oral tolerance, it’s important for food proteins to be broken down small enough that the body accepts them and doesn’t mount an immune reaction causing symptoms.
You’ve heard the phrase, “You are what you eat.” When we can’t digest food properly, it means our bodies aren’t getting the fuel to function at their best. If you suffer from symptoms of poor digestion or food sensitivities, contact my office.
One of the biggest mistakes many people make is assuming a tremor signifies Parkinson's disease. The truth is many different kinds of tremors exist for different reasons. You can distinguish between them by knowing some basic characteristics.
Understanding the expression of the tremor
Tremors can be grouped into three categories: action tremor, resting tremor, and physiological tremor.
Action tremor happens with movement. These tremors typically stem from a disorder of the cerebellum, the area at the back of the brain involved in movement and coordination. The more calibration the movement requires (such as touching your pinkie finger to your nose with your eyes closed), the easier it is to see this tremor. Drinking alcohol may make this tremor worse.
Resting tremor happens when the hands are totally at rest. These tremors are related to the basal ganglia, and area of the brain involved in regulating movement. Moving the hands will stop the tremor. This is the type of tremor associated with Parkinson’s disease.
Physiological tremor results from a metabolic issue affecting muscle contractions, such as too much coffee, low blood sugar, too much thyroid hormones, or certain medications. The key feature of this tremor is that it happens both at rest and in action.
Types of tremors
Those are the three primary ways tremors express themselves. Beyond that, we can identify different tremors based on what causes them.
Essential tremor is the most common tremor and is caused by a hereditary disorder of the cerebellum. You know you’re a candidate for this tremor if drinking alcohol makes it better and other family members have it. It may also occur in the head and the voice.
Orthostatic tremor occurs in the legs when a person stands up but goes away upon walking. It is related to misfiring in the autonomic nervous system, which governs unconscious bodily functions.
Dystonic tremors occur with dystonia, a disorder in which muscles contract involuntarily.
Parkinsonian tremor is a pill-rolling rest tremor and re-emergence tremor (i.e., it occurs after the arms have been held out a few moments).
Cerebellar tremors occur when the cerebellum cannot correctly calibrate muscle movements during movement, such as bringing a glass to your mouth. Vertigo and nausea may be other complaints.
A Holmes tremor is also known as wing-beating, midbrain, or rubral tremor. It is associated with strokes that impact the midbrain, as well as copper toxicity.
Palatal tremor is a rare disorder that causes rhythmic tremoring of the soft palate.
Neuropathic tremor stems from neuropathy, more often an acute autoimmune neuropathy.
Neurotoxic and drug-induced tremors, are, like they sound, induced by toxins and medications.
Psychogenic tremors are a psychiatric disorder in which the individual creates the tremor.
Functional neurology and tremors
In functional neurology, we can often lessen the severity of tremors by identifying the area of the brain causing them and then using brain rehabilitation techniques to address dysfunction in those areas. We also work with you to reduce inflammation, ensure proper brain nutrition, and improve overall metabolic health so that your brain has the best chance at improvement.
For some women, their monthly period is no big deal. For others, it’s a grueling journey through depression, anxiety, irritability, pain, and more. If you think premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is too awful to be natural, you’re right — PMS is a symptom of a hormone imbalance often caused by too much stress.
Although a variety of factors can cause hormonal imbalances and PMS, one of the more common is low progesterone caused by long term chronic stress.
Low progesterone symptoms:
How stress lowers progesterone
Chronic stress causes pregnenolone steal, a situation that causes progesterone deficiency and hormonal imbalances. Pregnenolone is a precursor hormone used to make progesterone and the stress hormone cortisol.
The body can only make so much pregnenolone. This means that if stress is always high, it “steals” pregnenolone from progesterone to make cortisol in order to meet the demands of stress. This causes an imbalance between progesterone and estrogen.
Factors that cause pregnenolone steal
Progesterone cream use can further skew hormones. It’s better to address the causes of low progesterone, which is typically stress-induced pregnenolone steal. Causes of pregnenolone steal and PMS include:
Ways to reduce pregnenolone steal include an anti-inflammatory diet, restoring gut health, and managing autoimmunity.
A variety of compounds can help soothe PMS, such as omega 3 fatty acids and gamma-linoleic acid (GLA—evening primrose oil, borage oil, or black currant oil.
Supporting serotonin, a brain chemical that promotes well-being, may help with PMS mood symptoms — tryptophan, 5-HTP, St. John’s Wort, and SAMe.
This is a broad overview. Ask my office for more advice on using natural therapies to alleviate PMS and support healthy hormones.