Q. Cynthia. I have suffered from periodic anxiety attacks for well over a decade. For years these attacks would come out of no where, with no rhyme nor reason.
My doctor has tried over the years to convince me to take antidepressants and or anti-anxiety medications to which I am highly opposed. For me the choice between taking a low dose Ativan once or twice per month seemed a better choice than the daily anti-depressants.
I discovered about three years ago that caffeine will trigger an attack yet have had some success with the half-caff options sold in my local supermarket. There are days that I can have a cup with no adverse effects whereas other days a few sips will send me into an attack within 5-10 minutes of drinking.
Over the past year I have also discovered that there a number of vitamins and over the counter drugs that will cause similar reactions. It usually starts with tingling lips and numbing of the tongue followed by a rapid heartbeat, dizziness, electric shocks in my hands and feet and difficulty breathing/constricted airway. This in turn will lead to a full blown anxiety attack if I do not take my Ativan.
Is there a test that I can request to pinpoint what all of my sensitivities to be and also a course of action that I can take to stop falling victim to this? It’s frustrating!
I am 39 years old, could stand to lose about 20lbs, have suffered insomnia for as long as I can remember yet am always on the go. Between work and the kid’s sports activities there is never a down moment. Any advice?
Thank you! Tracy
A. Hi Tracy,
Yes, absolutely, all the substances you mention can be a trigger for anxiety attacks.
Anxiety attacks, anxiety disorders, generalized anxiety, etc. occur because of a disruption in the neurotransmitters in the brain. Typically there is too much norepinephrine and sometimes not enough GABA. Norepinephrine is released when the sympathetic nervous system is stimulated and if it is overstimulated, then norepinephrine is in excess.
Caffeine is one of the worse offenders to the sympathetic nervous system and it inhibits GABA. The reason that some days it sets you off and some days it does not, depends on how many other straws are on the camel’s back that day. Meaning how many other factors are triggering your sympathetic nervous system simultaneously. However, the longer you drink it, the more damage that is done to the autonomic nervous system. It must be removed completely.
In regard to the vitamins and the over the counter drugs, there is something in them that is setting off your sympathetic nervous system. It could be an additive, dye, preservative or the substance it’s made of itself.
There are many other factors that overstimulate the sympathetic nervous system and result in high levels of norepinephrine in the brain and deplete or disrupt other neurotransmitters like, sugar, white flour, refined foods, whole grains, starchy carbohydrates and chocolate. Any food can be a trigger if you have an unidentified sensitivity to that food.
Environmental toxins found in your dish soap, laundry soap, air fresheners, perfume, hair spray, disinfectants, cleaning supplies, nail polish, cosmetics, shampoo, body soap, weed and pesticide control and many more are major offenders to the sympathetic nervous system and also disrupt neurotransmitters.
Other common factors may include, but are not limited to, Candida overgrowth, hormone imbalances, parasites, heavy metal toxicity, nutritional deficiencies, methylation issues, hypothyroidism, mold, nicotine, alcohol, electrosmog, blood sugar, adrenal insufficiency, neurotransmitter deficiencies and chronic stress.
I was addicted to Ativan for more than ten years because of anxiety attacks and had to go to rehab to overcome the addiction. The withdrawal was horrendous and I didn’t think I would survive. So don’t be fooled into believing that Ativan is not harmful. The anxiety was 50 times worse when I came off of it. Ativan is a highly addictive and harmful drug.
I overcame anxiety attacks by removing sugar, caffeine, and nicotine from my life, reducing carbs and cleaning up environmental toxins. It was that simple.
Yes, there are a variety of tests that can help identify what is triggering your high levels of norepinephrine and resulting in anxiety. The ALCAT test is one of the most helpful. The Platinum test can screen for 200 foods, 20 additives and dyes, the most common molds, environmental chemicals, pharmaceutical agents, antibiotics/anti-inflammatories and functional herbs. You can learn more about the ALCAT on the following pages.
Is ALCAT Testing Really Effective?
Food Allergies & Sensitivities
Other important tests would be an Organic Acids test, a saliva Adrenal Stress test, an RBC Mineral, a hair analysis, a Plasma Amino Acid panel and an Essential Fatty Acid test. You can learn more about all these tests on my functional medicine testing page.
There are usually many contributing factors within one individual that is the root of their anxiety. It takes time and a comprehensive approach to address them all. I have a new book you should take a look at called, What Your Psychologist Hasn’t Told You About Anxiety and Depression, that covers all the bases.
You can also find a lot of info on these pages of my site and blog that pertain to your situation:
Autonomic Nervous System Dysfunction
Physiological Causes of Anxiety Attacks
The extra weight and the insomnia are also largely the result of an overstimulated sympathetic nervous system. When the sympathetic nervous system is activated continuously, it results in the liver dumping its reserves of sugar into the blood stream on a continuous basis. High levels of sugar in the body get stored as fat. The high levels of norepinephrine associated with the overstimulation of the sympathetic nervous system keep one alert and wired on an ongoing basis and therefore sleep cannot be achieved. Other neurotransmitters like serotonin and GABA may be depleted as well, which compounds the problem further.
Best of luck in your journey.