Chronic stress elevates cortisol which creates excess fat around the middle. Adequate intake of vitamin C however, may lower levels of this adrenal hormone.
Stress Increases Cortisol, Overproduction Harms Health
Cortisol, a hormone produced by the adrenal glands during stress, increases when the pituitary gland releases another hormone called adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH).
Humans experience a physiological reaction to stress as a built-in protection response to perceived threats from predators and other aggressors. While primitive dangers are now rare, people are still hard-wired to respond to threats which today generally means daily stress. Stress elicits a “flight or fight” reaction in the body.
This stress response varies in individuals and is similar to if a soldier stands guard, reacts to a threat, sees the threat isn’t real and either relaxes or remains on alert. Chronic overwork, financial strain, lack of exercise, too little sleep, relationship problems, substance abuse, ill health, poor nutrition, any stress prompts cortisol production in the body and puts the body on alert.
It astounds me how many people today are desperate for help to manage their long-time anxiety and depression.
Many people have been caught, some for decades, in a medication loop with their doctors. Numerous physicians with the best intentions, simply practice what they know — conventional symptom-based medicine, rather than applying a functional, holistic and integrative approach to treating their patients.
We are complex beings, mind and body. You can NOT separate the two for how they affect each other. It is I believe, impossible.
Because most doctors based on their schooling, focus on conventional treatments rather than integrative approaches, patients suffer needlessly for years. Their health, job and relationships spiral down, and in the most severe cases of mood disorders — suicide sometimes becomes the final solution.
A firm belief you deserve to feel good is the best springboard toward finding answers, towards solving any problem.
Woman desperate for help off the anti-anxiety medication rollercoaster
Recently a woman from Canada named Lisa emailed me. She explained that she’s been on a roller-coaster of anxiety-depression medication for years. She had great success managing her anxiety with cognitive therapy but due to life stresses, Lisa had setbacks. Over time she gained 150 pounds and was at the end of her rope. Today, back on track, she’s 26 pounds away from her goal weight, weaning off two medications and in search of a natural approach to help her replace the GABA meds long relied on. She told me one of her doctors had her stop her benzodiazepine meds cold turkey, a dangerous protocol that sent her brain into a serious tailspin.
After reading a few of my GABA articles, Lisa asked me in an email, for my advice. I told her I wasn’t a doctor; I don’t claim to have the answers to managing mood disorders or that my answers are vetted for 100% accuracy, but I do extensively research what I write from peer-reviewed sources (Pub-med etc).
And more, I offer what I’ve learned through my own experience. Ultimately however, people have to do their own homework.
My advice to anyone trying to recover from anxiety, panic, depression and insomnia
Wow. It sounds like you’ve been through it.
Of course I’m not a doctor but I have spent a fair amount of time, over 10 years, researching natural mood and hormone balancing, largely because I suffered with fibromyalgia (no longer) and monthly mood swings (PMS, PMDD) the result of a long-time benign pituitary disorder and other factors.
More recently I came out of a very serious bout of unexplained insomnia that led to panic, mild depression and overall misery. The bottom line for what steers my work is I believe we are supposed to feel good. Anything less is unacceptable.
I try so hard to find answers, to steer my own well-being rather than “accept” from doctors quasi-solutions — as so many of us have come to expect, particularly as we age.
Brain “hiccups” or imbalances are the result of the interplay of one or several hereditary, chemical, environmental (food allergies etc.), and psychological factors (stress, bad childhood, trauma), and I might add recovery is also contingent upon — attitude.
We breed what we believe.
The combination of all these factors can have a complex and cascading effect on your health. Yet, any imbalance can be cured or at least managed with more effective and safer treatment protocols than long-term meds — or “learning to live with it.”
The traditional approach of trying various medications is often a band-aid until the underlying causative factors are uncovered and addressed:
- Neuroendocrine (hormones – neurotransmitters, the Hypothalmic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA axis) feedback system)
- Psychological stressors (work, relationships, childhood trauma, crisis)
- Environmental (food sensitivities, chemical, pollen etc.) U subscribe to a holistic approach for healing and in some cases to integrative healing (low dose traditional meds in conjunction with natural therapies).
As an aside, the mind-gut connection is regularly ignored as a potential contributor to mood disorders. Food sensitivities, chronic gut inflammation, can wreak havoc on the brain. A good probiotic is useful (Jarrow etc.) as well as digestive enzymes — but food sensitivity or allergen avoidance is ideal.
When I was suffering from insomnia it threw me into a panic, the result of my brain getting out of whack from severe sleep deprivation, high cortisol and an adrenal imbalance. After weeks of doing extensive (and desperate!) research I found a website called Integrative Psychiatry, a company located in Sarasota, Florida.
IP offers tests for various functions involved in mood, sleep and cognitive/attention issues. Many companies offer self-testing that includes a print out to explain your results, but IP also offers a one hour consult over the phone with a Physician’s Assistant who explains implications and suggested treatments.
Admittedly, their solutions are tied to purchasing their products but I trust the company’s recommendations I received – it worked.
IP’s testing and supplements are expensive, unfortunately, but if you contact IP they’ll help you pinpoint which test(s) can address your specific issues, and you can shop the supplements online in search of better value.
Lisa, shame on the doctor who told you to cold turkey benzo’s, that advice wasn’t only ignorant — it was irresponsible. The nurse at IP suggested I take a low dose of Klonapin to sleep and while I only took it for for two weeks she told me to wean off it gradually.
Kavinace supplement for anxiety, panic, sleep and to wean off benzodiazepene drugs
Among other things, she suggested I try Kavinace which contains a derivative of GABA found to be more effective than straight GABA supplements or L-theanine. It also contains Taurine. It’s non-addictive and non-habit-forming, although I suspect all supplements have at least some potential to habituate. I can’t say if that’s the case for Kavinace.
Kudos to you for practicing yoga. Yoga’s been proven to increase GABA in the brain so it’s a great idea to incorporate this ancient practice into your mind-body balancing journey.
Holistic healing requires a gradual sleuthing process to pinpoint causes. Once you nail down the underlying causes (not the least of which is a belief that you CAN recover and that you DESERVE to feel good) recovery is INEVITABLE.
Lisa, I hope some of my suggestions help. Holistic healing can sometimes take longer than a shot-gun approach of rotating medications but holistic and integrative medicine offers an effective, safer, LONG term approach to healing and well-being.
I suggest you:
a) Test for underlying causes
b) Taper your benzos using 1-2 capsules of Kavinace as needed
c) Get an IP consultation to discuss your test results
d) Don’t underestimate the potential for a food sensitivity which increases inflammation in the body, elevates histamine in the brain (an excitatory neurotransmitter) and can contribute to or exacerbate an anxious state.
e) Continue with cognitive therapies and mind-body work (yoga).
f) Perhaps find a belief system that resonates within you — mine is Law of Attraction. Whether it is God, nature, or some spiritual force, having a belief in a good and divine power can be quite comforting and empowering.
All the best. To feeling good.
Insomnia and anxiety relief without side effects
I recently went through the most hellish chronic insomnia that over time caused me daytime and night time misery (anxiety, depression, appetite changes, concentration problems). After endless online research I suspected the problem was an adrenal gland imbalance so I ordered an Adrenal Stress Index test.
Once I received the results (which were nearly all abnormal) I consulted with a Physician’s Assistant (PA) who specializes in neuro-brain balancing. Based on my specific results, the PA told me how to address my adrenal issues (food avoidance, lowering cortisol, etc) which in and of itself lowers cortisol and calms the brain to promote sleep, and about a product called Kavinace, a supplement that calms the brain by working on the GABA receptors.
GABA, as well as other neurotransmitters, play a key role in the sleep cycle.
GABA is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter. It’s main role is to calm the central nervous system by neutralizing the effects of glutamate, an excitatory neurotransmitter. Low levels of GABA are detected in patients with bipolar and anxiety disorders.
I can say that Kavinace is gold. It got me to sleep like a baby with NO hangover effect the next morning. And while I sometimes still wake during the night (blood sugar balancing is part of adrenal health for some), I usually fall right back to sleep.
For people who aren’t falling or staying asleep due to “busy brain,” anxiety, etc. Kavinace is a natural, non-addictive solution.
For people who want to wean off of anti-anxiety benzodiazepene drugs (e.g. Klonapin etc), with the guidance of a health professional (weaning off benzodiazepene use must be done very carefully), this may be for them.
Kavinace isn’t the only supplement I take to help me sleep. For anyone suffering through insomnia, the key is to systematically figure out WHAT’S keeping you up, and to address each cause individually and in entirety.
My sleep plan includes proper sleep habits and a nightly mix of:
- Kavinace to support GABA
- Tryptophan to support serotonin. An amino acid that converts to serotonin which converts to melatonin
- Magnesium, a critical factor and co-factor for numerous processes in the body
- Bioidentical progesterone (capsules or transdermal cream) which has a calming effect, balances estrogen
Occasionally if I think my cortisol is too high I take Sleep Tonight by Enzymatic Therapy.
If I’m really sore from working out sometimes I take one of the best, and clinically proven inflammation-reducing supplements on the market, Zyflamend, regular during the day, PM formula at night.
I used to take L-theanine before bed (Suntheanine form only) but when I got chronic insomnia it wasn’t enough to address the underlying issues that disrupted my sleep.
L-theanine is a calming amino acid that can give you a focused-calm feeling during the day and help some people at night. My chewable Natural Factors is convenient for middle-of-the-night waking but Kavinace in my experience is more effective, or rather it’s a “stronger” GABA promoter.
Kavinace use and ingredients
Integrative Psychiatry writes:
“Kavinace by Neuroscience combines two powerful ingredients that have shown to be effective at addressing symptoms of:
- Sleep problems
- The GABA derivative Phenibut
Also known as 4-amino-3-phenylbutyric acid, Phenibut,easily crosses the blood brain barrier, binds to GABA receptors, and may increase GABA levels. Additionally, phenibut appears to inhibit the excitatory neurotransmitter phenylethylamine (PEA). Lastly, phenibut appears to have anti-convulsant, anti-arrhythmic and anti-aggression effects. No signs of toxicity and few side effects, including drowsiness, have been reported from,clinical studies.
Kavinace also contains taurine, which functions as an inhibitory amino acid.,Taurine is an osmoregulator, neuromodulator, and provides neuroprotective actions against cellular insults such as hypoxia, free radicals, excess ammonia, and excitotoxicity. Taurine is also a GABA agonist and may increase GABA levels by increasing GABA synthesis, preventing,GABA breakdown, and blocking GABA reuptake. Both phenibut and taurine may enhance enzodiazepine binding to GABA receptors. Vitamin B6 is included as an important cofactor for the synthesis of GABA, as well as other enzymatic pathways.”
Kavinace Ultra PM or Kavinace for sleep? It depends.
Integrative Psychiatry writes about Kavinace Ultra PM that it is “uniquely designed to promote sleep by promoting healthy levels of the primary neurotransmitters and hormones involved in sleep.”
All the ingredients in Kavinace Ultra PM are sleep-supporting and may work well for your insomnia, while Kavinace can be taken during the day for anxiety and at night for sleep support.
I could take the PM formula before bed instead and in the future I might, however, my combination seems to work very well for me. Because Kavinace Ultra PM contains 5 HTP (that I took for years and like tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin) and melatonin, (that again, I took for years), the PM formula might be a more cost effective approach for me.
However, I replaced tryptophan with 5 HTP because I’d been taking 5 HTP at night for so long I suspected (and the Physician’s assistant agreed) that it may have started having an inverse, stimulatory affect on me.
*It’s important to take supplement breaks, to rotate ingredients, to try them ONE AT A TIME to see what works. Over time you may habituate or build up higher levels which can cause potentially serious problems.
Writes Integrative Psychiatry: “Kavinace Ultra PM is frequently recommended for patients with elevated levels of glutamate and PEA, decreased levels of serotonin and melatonin, and may be beneficial in some individuals with elevated epinephrine and norepinephrine. Kavinace Ultra PM combines support for the top 3 calming neurotransmitters and hormones (GABA, serotonin, and melatonin) in one product.* 4-amino-3-phenylbutyric acid: Acts as a GABA agonist to inhibit the activity of wake centers in the brain. 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP): Provides a calming effect by supporting serotonin Melatonin: promotes sleep through multiple mechanisms!
As with all health issues and holistic approaches, the key is deciding what/if supplement to take to get to the ROOT OF THE PROBLEM. For example, some people find melatonin (which stopped working for me) works for them, and other people it does nothing. If you don’t need it, it won’t work. Do your homework, research carefully what you take (and the brand). Natural doesn’t always mean safe. Combining supplements with others and/or medication can have serious health hazards.
Throwing supplements at a health issue (which I did with my insomnia because I was desperate, and when those didn’t work I took medication), gets expensive, can be dangerous and may not get to the cause behind the insomnia or anxiety.
Depression and anxiety treatment continues to explode as a highly profitable industry for drug companies. A growing number of people are popping prescriptions, desperately seeking solutions that will work long term and don’t carry risky side effects.
Pharmaceutical companies continue to spend millions on advertising to convince consumers that the solution to conquering mood disorders comes from a doctor’s prescription pad. Yet there are numerous natural alternatives available that cost little money, are safe and effective and will treat a spectrum of acute and chronic mood issues.
Serotonin Not Always Solution to Depression
Many prescription anti-depressants are designed to address low levels of serotonin and nor epinephrine. Yet in a 2005 review, researchers Jeffery Lacasse and Jonathon Leo wrote that they couldn’t find any article to directly support the long-held claim that a serotonin deficiency causes mental disorders.
Moreover, not all mood disorders are due to a biochemical imbalance, and medications often miss the mark or don’t address the underlying causes. Drugs can have unpleasant side effects such as weight gain, loss of libido, or diminished affect (emotion); and can even exacerbate symptoms. Alternatively there are a number of natural alternatives to boost mood.
1.Increase Dopamine for Depression Relief
Dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in arousal and motor function is a precursor to adrenaline and a related molecule, not adrenaline. Dopamine is made from the amino acid tyrosine and is central to the creation of reward systems such as food, sex, positive social interactions, even humor. While doctors can prescribe medications to treat dopamine-dependent depression, there are natural ways to elevate dopamine.
Michael Lardon, a doctor and researcher on the neuroelectric assessment of athletic peak performance explains in an online article for the Modesto Bee that everyone who exercises can reap the benefits from the “dopamine buzz.”
“Dopamine is released within just 20 minutes of moderate exercise, says Lardon, “and triggers within your brain positive feelings about yourself even after your first session of exercise, before your body has had a chance to firmly establish an association between the exercise and the great feelings.”
2. Boost GABA for Mental Health
Another neurotransmitter involved with mood regulation is GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). GABA controls the brain’s rhythmic theta waves that allow individuals to feel physically and mentally balanced.
Dr. Ray Sahelian, author of Mind Boosters [St. Martin's Press, 2000] explains GABA’s key brain balancing role, “GABA is the most important and widespread inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. Excitation in the brain must be balanced with inhibition. Too much excitation can lead to restlessness, irritability, insomnia, and even seizures. GABA is able to induce relaxation, analgesia, and sleep.”
GABA is involved in the production of endorphins, brain chemicals that create feelings of well-being known as the “runner’s high.” An imbalance can be involved in bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and anxiety disorder but it’s also inherent to several critical day to day brain functions.
A GABA-rich diet and certain supplements can elevate GABA, and so can yoga, research finds. “The practice of yoga should be explored as a treatment for disorders with low GABA levels such as depression and anxiety disorders. Future studies should compare yoga to other forms of exercise to help determine whether yoga or exercise alone can alter GABA levels,” write scientists in a 2007 study.
3. Take Fish Oil to Improve Mood
Fish oil is most often associated with cardiovascular health, but the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil can also improve mood in some people.
According to Dr. Mercola, a leading natural health expert, “Numerous studies worldwide have linked lack of omega-3 consumption – specifically DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) – with depression. One study found that depression symptoms were higher among infrequent fish consumers than among those who ate fish on a regular basis.”
Researchers found that low plasma concentrations of DHA were good predictors of low concentrations of brain serotonin. Low serotonin can be associated with depression and suicide in some individuals.
4. Socialize With Cheerful People
Depressed people often avoid social interaction, but forcing face-to-face connections with upbeat people can boost mood, research indicates.
Forbes.com reported on a 20-year study that found social networks can have a deep impact on an individual’s happiness. Scientists tracked over 4,700 people and found that social interactions with both cheerful friends and strangers considerably influenced the subject’s chances of happiness.
5. Pet a Pet to Boost Mood
Petting Rover can be plus for mental and physical health. “The benefit is especially pronounced when people are strongly attached to their pets,” says researcher Judith Siegel, PhD for a WebMD article.
Blair Justice, PhD, a psychology professor and author of Who Gets Sick: How Beliefs, Moods, and Thoughts Affect Your Health [Peak Press, 2000] tells WebMD that like any enjoyable activity, playing with a pet increases serotonin and dopamine. “People take drugs like heroin and cocaine to raise serotonin and dopamine, but the healthy way to do it is to pet your dog, or hug your spouse, watch sunsets, or get around something beautiful in nature, “says Justice.
While the pharmaceutical industry continues to promote a long list of medications for anxiety and depression, several natural alternatives are available that are safe, often very effective, and without risky side effects.
People suffering with acute or chronic mood changes who are interested in natural treatments should seek a holistic practitioner. Holistic physicians often measure neurotransmitter and hormone levels and then develop a comprehensive treatment plan that may include a combination of diet changes, exercise, hormone replacement and supplements. Treatment may be combined with conventional approaches to mood management or as an alternative.
Lacasse JR, Leo J, “Serotonin and depression: a disconnect between the advertisements and the scientific literature,” Florida State University College of Social Work, Tallahassee, Fl., 2005 Dec;2(12):e392.
Lerche Davis, Jeanie, “5 Ways Pets Can Improve Your Health,” WebMD. November 16, 2009.
Mercola, Joseph, Ph.D., “More Omega-3 Studies Find Links to Depression,”November 24 2004.
Rebecca, Ruiz, How To Beat The Winter Blues. Forbes.com. December 15, 2008.
Streeter, CC, Jensen JE, Perlmutter RM, Cabral HJ, Tian H, Terhune DB, Ciraulo DA, Renshaw, PF, “Yoga Asana sessions increase brain GABA levels: a pilot study.” Journal of Complementary Medicine, 2007 May 13.