With all of the research and discussion that has surrounded the subject of panic attacks and panic disorder in the past couple of decades, one basic question remains. Doctors and patients continue to ask what causes panic attacks.
It’s common knowledge that stressful situations may lead to extreme anxiety and a panic episode. Even the fear of a possible panic attack may actually contribute to the attack itself. But is there a fundamental chemical change in the human body that is the one real cause of such attacks?
Medical research and tests of prescription drugs shows that some of these medicines are effective in treating the symptoms of panic and anxiety. However, if we go back another step, can we prevent panic attacks by eating the right kinds of food and taking certain vitamin and mineral supplements? Can an individual who lacks particular vitamins in their diet be more prone to panic attacks and episodes of anxiety?
There are obvious and common physical symptoms in a panic attack. In addition to the feelings of helplessness and thoughts of doom and death, people do sweat, tremble, feel chilled and have trouble breathing. People report a tightness of muscles and a feeling of choking. Many individuals become restless, can’t sleep and feel unusual fatigue. Do these physical symptoms point to some deficiency in nutrition that might be remedied by vitamins and/or natural supplements such as herbs?
Research in the area of body chemistry during panic attacks does show increased levels of lactate. This is a type of lactic acid that the body produces during exercise. Most of the production of lactate occurs in muscle cells but the compound does move into the blood later in the process. Medical experts also know that low levels of blood sugar can also be a trigger for panic attacks.
People who suffer anxiety episodes and true panic attacks may be stimulating their nervous systems beyond a normal state by taking in too much caffeine or by taking diet supplements that stimulate the nerves. The B vitamins must be present in sufficient amounts to combat this because the body uses these vitamins in significant amounts when stressed. Of the B vitamins, research shows that B6 may be the most crucial.
Many medical books and university reports show at least five vitamins that seem to have effect on physical symptoms of panic attacks. These include the general category of B vitamins already mentioned – specifically Riboflavin, Thiamine, Pantothenic acid, Biotin and Niacin.
In addition to the B vitamins, some natural herbs may have an effect on panic attacks and extreme anxiety. The list includes valerian root, St. John’s wort and certain types of tea (sometimes with lemon). Users report a general relaxation of the body and the ability to rest and sleep that wasn’t there before using B vitamins or one of these specific herbs. Calcium and magnesium are two other important nutrients that seem to be crucial in the panic-attack discussion.
It is wise to consult with your family physician before starting to use herbal supplements, vitamins or prescription medications.