Anxiety: Overview

Anxiety can be an appropriate or inappropriate response to threats of many types.  An appropriate response would be to become anxious regarding threatening circumstances (physical, emotional, financial threats).  In this case, taking immediate action to reduce the threat would be appropriate.  If the threat is going to be prolonged and can not be changed, then how the threat is viewed must be changed to reduce the likely mental and health consequences.

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Mental health professionals speak of "anxiety disorders", of which there are multiple types – Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Obsessive-compulsive Disorder, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder – to mention but a few.  In addition to anxiety, other psychological or physical symptoms can be experienced.

Causes and Development

Anxiety commonly results from chronic stress.  At times, fear and anxiety can get out of hand, inexplicably reaching overwhelming levels.  In these cases, anxiety can result in a dramatic reduction of productivity and can significantly intrude on one's quality of life.  Often, there is no obvious or reasonable cause for the anxiety.

Signs and Symptoms

Psychological symptoms associated with anxiety may include overwhelming worry, apprehension, nervousness and a nagging uneasiness about the future.  Physical symptoms can include rapid heartbeat and palpitations, sweating, dizziness, headaches, insomnia and relentless fatigue.  The set of symptoms that an individual experiences helps physicians diagnose their specific disorder.  Anxiety disorders, like depression, may run in families and be linked to an imbalance in neurotransmitters.  Anxiety symptoms are often relieved when the depression is successfully treated.

Some common symptoms of anxiety include the following:

  • A tense, uptight feeling
  • Inability to relax
  • Feeling restless, keyed up, or on edge
  • Muscle tension, aches, or soreness
  • Trouble falling or staying asleep
  • Difficulties concentrating
  • Irritability or impatience
  • Physical symptoms such as sweaty palms, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, nausea or diarrhea, and trouble swallowing.

Diagnosis and Tests

If anxiety is disproportional to life's circumstances and there are no obvious underlying reasons for it, psychological and biochemical disturbances should be investigated.  Alternative medicine has a lot to offer in this respect, common recommendations including avoiding caffeine, sugar and alcohol.  Hidden food allergies may be a contributing factor or cause.

Treatment and Prevention

Nutrients such as calcium and magnesium, B-vitamins, niacinamide, B12 injections (especially if stomach acid production is insufficient), tryptophan with inositol and chromium, valerian root, and GABA can have a calming effect.

Certain foods can worsen anxiety.  Dairy products, chocolate, sugar, alcohol, wheat, salt, commercial salad dressings, ketchup (catsup), mustard, coffee, black tea, and red meat may worsen anxiety symptoms.  High-nutrient foods such as vegetables, brown rice, whole grains, seeds and nuts, fruits, poultry, fish, olive oil, and flax seeds/oil can help relieve stress and prevent anxiety.  If you feel anxious, jittery, depressed or fatigued after eating a particular food, don't eat it.

In people with chronic anxiety unrelated to life events, an injection of sodium lactate will trigger a panic attack.  Eating a lot of foods high in refined sugar increases blood lactate levels and can induce panic in susceptible persons.  Eliminating caffeine and alcohol and refined sugars from the diet is essential for anyone suffering from anxiety.

Signs, symptoms & indicators of Anxiety:

Symptoms - General


Symptoms - Metabolic

Symptoms - Mind - Emotional

Symptoms - Mind - General

Recent serious attitude to/being serious about life

A person with Social Anxiety Disorder is afraid of making mistakes, looking bad, or being embarrassed or humiliated in front of others.

Symptoms - Nails

Minor/moderate/severe nail biting

Nail biting can be a sign of persistent anxiety.

Symptoms - Nervous

(Mild/severe) facial burning/tingling

Anxiety conditions can cause adrenaline surges which result in tingling of the face, as well as other parts of the body.

Symptoms - Respiratory

Deep chest pain

Around 60% of people referred to cardiologists with chest pain do not have a heart problem but are simply suffering from anxiety.

Symptoms - Sleep

Regular/frequent bizarre dreams

Those who suffer from anxiety will often have prolonged, vivid, detailed dreams rather than the usual short bursts of dream activity.  There is increased activity in the brain of an anxious person.

Conditions that suggest Anxiety:



Researchers conclude that chronically high levels of anxiety are a risk factor for the progression of atherosclerosis, especially in men. [Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol 2001; 21: pp.136-41]


Rapid Intestinal Transit

Stress and anxiety are common causes of rapid food transit through the intestines.


This connection is discussed in the link between constipation and stress.


Nervous System

Nervous Breakdown Tendency

Anxiety surrounding major life changes such as divorce, unemployment, pregnancy, labor, motherhood or menopause, can contribute to a nervous breakdown.

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Risk factors for Anxiety:

Environment / Toxicity


Low Adrenal Function / Adrenal Insufficiency

Adrenal insufficiency can lead to a host of problems, including a weakened immune response, anxiety and panic attacks.



Low Serotonin Level

Serotonin levels are often low among people with anxiety disorders.


Chronic Fatigue / Fibromyalgia Syndrome

Depression or anxiety may occur as a result of the chronic pain and fatigue, or the frustration felt with this condition.  It is also possible that the same chemical imbalances in the brain that cause fibromyalgia also cause depression and anxiety.  Some 24% of patients suffer from anxiety.





Pyroluria is a known biochemical marker for life long anxiety symptoms.  According to one alcoholism treatment center, one-third to one-half of alcoholics treated have this marker.  High levels of pyrroles systematically bind to B6 and zinc, preventing the use of these nutrients in the body and brain.  The result is a myriad of symptoms, including severe inner tension, ongoing anxiety, poor stress control, fearfulness, and sometimes episodic anger.


Magnesium Requirement

Magnesium deficiency causes increased levels of adrenaline, which can lead to a feeling of anxiety.

Supplements, Medications, Drugs

Symptoms - Reproductive - General

(Several) past abortions

An analysis of research over 14 years involving 877,0000 women found that those who had an abortion were 34% more likely to develop Anxiety Disorder. [British Journal of Psychiatry, Volume 199, Issue 3, September 2011, pp.180-6]

Anxiety can lead to:

Nervous System

Recommendations for Anxiety:

Amino Acid / Protein

GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid)

GABA has a powerful calming effect on the brain.  Tranquilizers like Valium and Librium work by stimulating the brain's receptors for GABA.

Tryptophan / 5HTP

Tryptophan (or 5-HTP), the precursor of the sleep-inducing neurotransmitter serotonin, also has relaxing and calming effects.  Serotonin levels are often low among people with anxiety disorders.  A recent study found that 44% of alcoholics suffer from anxiety.  You can be pretty sure that you are low on tryptophan if you have ever blacked out from drinking.  It has been established that low tryptophan stores trigger blackouts.

Botanical / Herbal


Kava appears to be as effective as the class of synthetic pharmaceuticals called benzodiazepines (such as Valium) for treating anxiety, but without their dangerous side-effects of sedation and addiction.

Only about 2% of patients taking kava reported minor side-effects, predominantly gastrointestinal complaints, skin reaction, headache and photosensitivity.  Other research has shown that kavapyrones act on receptors in the hippocampus and amygdala complexes in the brain to produce measurable changes in brain wave activity and reduce anxiety. [Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology 2000 Feb;20(1): pp.84-9]

Research has also suggested that anxiety may be related to an increased risk of myocardial infarction and fatal coronary disease.  This risk may be due to an impairment of the parasympathetic nervous system with lower vagal control being reported in persons with more severe anxiety.  Although preliminary, due to the small sample size, a trial suggests that kava extract (280mg standardized extract per day) may target the baroreceptor pathway and improve Baroreflex control of heart rate (BRC) in patients with generalized anxiety. [J Psychopharmacol 2001;15: pp.283-86]


Frankincense oil can help to fortify a mind burdened with mental anxiety, nervous tension or stress.  It reduces anxiety and helps revitalize the mind when a person is mentally exhausted.

Passion Flower

Treatment with passionflower extract over a one month period compared favorably to oxazepam (Serax – an antianxiety benzodiazepine drug) in a randomized, double-blind study of 36 outpatients diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder.  Passionflower extract demonstrated a slower onset of action and less impairment of job performance than did oxazepam. [J Clin Pharm Ther 2001;26(5): pp.363-7]


Caffeine/Coffee Avoidance

Caffeine can cause adrenal insufficiency which in turn can lead to anxiety.


GHB (Gamma-Hydroxybutyrate)

GHB's efficacy for treating anxiety has been positively demonstrated in tests involving schizophrenic subjects [Laborit, 1964].  Its sedative properties have earned it a role as a psychotherapeutic adjunct [Vickers, 1969].  It has also been used to assist the process of "abreaction", or the release (usually through verbalization) of repressed emotion [Vickers, 1969].  Unlike other "anxiolytic" (or anti-anxiety) drugs, GHB's effect is non-toxic.  Furthermore, GHB's reduction of inhibitions, its tendency to encourage verbalization, and the typical lack of fear during the GHB experience would seem to provide an ideal context for the verbal exploration of difficult emotional territory during therapy.


Aerobic Exercise

Exercise is one of the most important coping mechanisms to combat anxiety and stress.  By discharging negative emotions and stress hormones through physical activity, you can enter a more relaxed state from which to deal with the issues and conflicts that are causing your anxiety.

The benefits of exercise can come from many directions: the decision to take up exercise, the symbolic meaning of the activity, the distraction from worries, mastering your inertia and the effects on self-image, and the biochemical and physiological changes that accompany the activity.

Exercise increases blood flow to the brain, releases hormones, stimulates the nervous system, and increases levels of morphine-like substances found in the body (such as beta-endorphin) that can have a positive effect on mood and pain.  Exercise may trigger a neurophysiological high that produces an antidepressant effect in some, an antianxiety effect in others, and a general sense of "feeling better" in most.

Laboratory Testing



Because of its nerve and muscle support, magnesium may also be helpful for nervousness and anxiety.  Magnesium is considered the "antistress" mineral.  It is a natural tranquilizer as it functions to relax skeletal muscles as well as the smooth muscles of blood vessels and the gastrointestinal tract.  Whereas calcium stimulates muscle contraction, magnesium relaxes them.

Physical Medicine


Medical students at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey who were massaged before an exam showed a significant decrease in anxiety and respiratory rates.




DMAE alleviates anxiety.  In one study, subjects administered 1,200mg of DMAE per day for 5 days exhibited better control of anxious reactivity.


Inositol works by regulating the action of serotonin, a calming neurotransmitter, within the nerve cells.


Vitamin B-Complex

Several of the B-vitamins are indicated in anxiety treatment.  When taking high doses of a particular B-vitamin, it is best to use a B-complex as well.

Vitamin Niacinamide

The textbook description of anxiety neurosis exactly matches the symptoms of vitamin B3 (niacin) deficiency: hyperactivity, depression, fatigue, apprehension, headache, and insomnia.  It has been shown in animals to work in the brain in ways similar to drugs such as benzodiazepines (Valium-type drugs) that are used to treat anxiety.  One study found that niacinamide (not niacin) could help people get through withdrawal from benzodiazepines, which is a common problem.  A reasonable amount of niacinamide to take for anxiety, according to some doctors, is up to 500mg four times per day.

Niacinamide locks onto the same receptor sites in the brain as do tranquilizers such as Valium, and is a natural tranquilizer.  The manufacturer of valium is also the worlds largest manufacturer of niacinamide. [Nature 278: pp.563-5,1979]

Vitamin B12 (Cobalamine)

Low B12 levels have been found to be related to self-reported overall distress level and specifically to depression, anxiety, confusion, and possibly nervousness as well as to clinically rated depressed and anxious mood. [J Psychosom Res 2000 Feb 1; 48(2): pp.177-85]

Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)

A deficiency of vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) causes extreme anxiety, nervousness, confusion, and melancholy.  Vitamin B6 is easily destroyed by heavy use of alcohol, drugs and refined sugars.

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