Everything is One

Everything Is One

Joan-Marie Lartiin, PhD, RN

 

Have you heard this one?  What did the Buddhist master say to the hot dog vendor?  “Make me one with everything.”  That sums up the topic of this

column.  The connections between and among the nervous, immune, and endocrine (i.e. thyroid, adrenal, pancreas, ovaries) systems have been explored by Western medicine for over 40 years.  Chinese medicine has made these connections for centuries, if not millennia.

We now know that the body’s biochemical messengers are both produced and received by cells in the nervous, immune, and endocrine systems.  This means that these systems talk with one another all the time and are intricately interwoven.  In practical terms, what this means is that when imbalance is in one system there is almost certainly going to be imbalance in the others.  In this sense, it is almost too simplistic to think about any of them as separate systems, rather the whole (nervous, immune, and endocrine) together is more logically thought of as a super-system.

The implications, and the clinical applications of these discoveries are enormous.  A relatively new field says this fast 5 times psychoneuroimmunology has arisen to delve into these interdependent functions.  (This term was coined a few decades ago and many in the field now wish they had found a way to include the endocrine system.) http://www.immunecliniclondon.com/5/PSYCHONEUROIMMUNOLOGY.html.  The validation that the mind-body connection is powerful is extensive. There is now abundant, factual support for the impact of acute and sustained stress on health.  In other words, it is not all in your head, and hopefully the days of take a pill and call me in the morning, are receding into the past.

The purpose of these columns is to empower traumatized women by providing relevant information about advances in health care.  If your health care provider is unaware of other options, as an educated consumer you can find substantive solutions for your health problems and enjoy strong, robust health.  So if you are aware that problems such as arthritis, asthma, irritable bowel, chronic headaches, hypertension, frequent infections, allergies, weight gain, irregular or heavy periods, thyroid issues, fatigue, etc., have a mind/body component, you will look for providers who share this perspective.  This not only validates your experience of emotional trauma—no small matter—it opens up options for health care at a more deep level than previously possible.

Here is a clinical example from my practice that I think illustrates these ideas effectively.  A woman coming out of 22 years of marriage to a psychopathic individual suffered from:

  •  Severe menstrual bleeding and severe secondary anemia
  • Low thyroid (weight gain, brain fuzz, cold intolerance, hair loss)
  • Adrenal fatigue (no energy, extreme startle reflex)
  • Frequent bouts of sinusitis and sinus infections

Five traditionally oriented physicians strongly suggested a hysterectomy, and prescription drugs for the thyroid and sinus conditions.  None of them diagnosed the adrenal failure.  A naturopathic physician tested her for adrenal fatigue, provided recommendations for natural remedies and supplements, and subsequently evaluated her immune functioning.  Her neurotransmitters were also found to be seriously out of balance (a serotonin level of 57 vs. 140).  She started a course of targeted amino acid therapy.  Subsequently, she was also diagnosed with:

  •  Intestinal problems related to a yeast overgrowth, and therefore
  • Numerous food sensitivities, which presumably fueled sinus problems and signs of early arthritis, both indications of an over-active immune system.

Today, as she says, she is still the proud possessor of a uterus, avoids certain foods, is energetic and upbeat, and well on her way to a new life.  Her thyroid and adrenal functioning are completely normal and she has lost her middle-aged spread.  She accomplished all this without recourse to surgery or prescription medications.  Psychotherapy and neurofeedback training played a big part of her overall healing as well.  Needless to say, many postponed vacations and sacrifices were made to pay for aspects of her health care that were not covered by insurance.  She is clear that the sacrifices she made for her health have been worth it.

I look forward to the day when her story, as inspiring and hopeful as it is, is the norm and not the exception.

Everything Is One

 

Joan-Marie Lartiin, PhD, RN

Have you heard this one?  What did the Buddhist master say to the hot dog vendor?  “Make me one with everything.”

 

That sums up the topic of this column.  The connections between and among the nervous, immune, and endocrine (i.e. thyroid, adrenal, pancreas, ovaries) systems have been explored by Western medicine for over 40 years.  Chinese medicine has made these connections for centuries, if not millennia.

 

We now know that the body’s biochemical messengers are both produced and received by cells in the nervous, immune, and endocrine systems.  This means that these systems talk with one another all the time and are very intricately interwoven.

 

In practical terms, what this means is that when there is an imbalance in one system there is almost certainly going to be an imbalance in the others.  In this sense, it is almost too simplistic to think about any of them as separate systems, rather the whole (nervous, immune, and endocrine) together is more logically thought of as a super-system.

 

The implications, and the clinical applications of these discoveries are enormous.  A relatively new field says this fast 5 times psychoneuroimmunology has arisen to delve into these interdependent functions.  (This term was coined a few decades ago and many in the field now wish they had found a way to include the endocrine system.) http://www.immunecliniclondon.com/5/PSYCHONEUROIMMUNOLOGY.html.

 

The validation that the mind-body connection is powerful is extensive.  There is now abundant, factual support for the impact of acute and sustained stress on health.  In other words, it is not all in your head, and hopefully the days of take a pill and call me in the morning, are receding into the past.

 

The purpose of these columns is to empower traumatized women by providing relevant information about advances in health care.  If your health care provider is unaware of other options, as an educated consumer you can find substantive solutions for your health problems and enjoy strong, robust health.

 

So if you are aware that problems such as arthritis, asthma, irritable bowel, chronic headaches, hypertension, frequent infections, allergies, weight gain, irregular or heavy periods, thyroid issues, fatigue, etc., have a mind/body component, you will look for providers who share this perspective.

This not only validates your experience of emotional trauma—no small matter—it opens up options for health care at a more deep level than previously possible.

 

Here is a clinical example from my practice that I think illustrates these ideas effectively.  A woman coming out of 22 years of marriage to a psychopathic individual suffered from:

 

  • Severe menstrual bleeding and severe secondary anemia
  • Low thyroid (weight gain, brain fuzz, cold intolerance, hair loss)
  • Adrenal fatigue (no energy, extreme startle reflex)
  • Frequent bouts of sinusitis and sinus infections

 

Five traditionally oriented physicians strongly suggested a hysterectomy, and prescription drugs for the thyroid and sinus conditions.  None of them diagnosed the adrenal failure.  A naturopathic physician tested her for adrenal fatigue, provided recommendations for natural remedies and supplements, and subsequently evaluated her immune functioning.  Her neurotransmitters were also found to be seriously out of balance (a serotonin level of 57 vs. 140).  She started a course of targeted amino acid therapy.  Subsequently, she was also diagnosed with:

 

  • Intestinal problems related to a yeast overgrowth, and therefore
  • Numerous food sensitivities, which presumably fueled sinus problems and signs of early arthritis, both indications of an over-active immune system.

 

Today, as she says, she is still the proud possessor of a uterus, avoids certain foods, is energetic and upbeat, and well on her way to a new life.  Her thyroid and adrenal functioning are completely normal and she has lost her middle-aged spread.  She accomplished all this without recourse to surgery or prescription medications.  Psychotherapy and neurofeedback training played a big part of her overall healing as well.

Needless to say, there were many postponed vacations and sacrifices made to pay for aspects of her health care that were not covered by insurance.  She is clear that the sacrifices she made for her health have been worth it.

 

I look forward to the day when her story, as inspiring and hopeful as it is, is the norm and not the exception.

Health Care – Beyond the Quick Fix

Health care professionals and researchers report that traumatized women have more than their share of a variety of chronic diseases and health problems.  Sadly, it is all too common that many of these health issues are either not addressed and/or focused on symptom relief. I think that there are at least two reasons for this.

For starters, there is a woefully limited perception and understanding in this country about the extent and impact of people with personality disorders. In the UK and Canada, there seems to be more awareness, perhaps due to the work of Robert Hare, who is based in British Columbia and has done a great deal of training in Canada and the UK. Therefore, most primary health care providers in the US do not have a clue about a) the existence and prevalence of successful psychopaths and therefore b) the impact of these relationships on a woman’s health. Understandably, these providers attribute stress and or genetics as causes for the women’s physical symptoms.

The second problem, IMO, is that the current paradigm of health care is symptom focused. Diagnostic tests, medications and other treatments are primarily “targeted” at symptom relief. All you have to do is watch TV for a few minutes and there it is: Advertisements for medications-prescriptions and over the counter drugs for colds and the flu, hypertension, allergies, headaches, insomnia, fatigue and low energy, acne, constipation, muscle aches and pains, it is endless.

Yes, we all want a quick fix. But all too often the fix itself is either ineffective and or laden with serious side effects. The alternative health industry sometimes falls into this category, and many of these options are heaven-sent. We now know about the use of Arnica for bruises, Valerian for sleep, and echinacea and high does of Vitamin D for building up the immune system. These alternatives are frequently more effective and less toxic than artificial chemicals, but the focus can remain on treating the symptom, not the underlying causes.

Why is there such an emphasis on symptom reduction? Perhaps because, coming from inside the current medical paradigm, there are very few answers to questions like “Why is my blood pressure so high?” or “Why do I have such bad heart disease?” While there are obviously genetic components, most genetic predispositions require the presence of certain environmental factors before a disease process is triggered.

Readers of this column know the real answer to these questions-because the woman with the symptoms is or has been in a relationship with a disordered person. And that her neurotransmitters, immune and endocrine systems are probably way out of balance. We know that when one or more of these systems is out of balance-(due to stress, diet, environmental factors such as metal allergies, and or genetics) that there is a very high likelihood that one, the other or both are also out of balance. These imbalances are now being considered the primary causes of everything from insomnia to autoimmune disease. Look for further discussion of this topic in my next column.

Most practitioners think inside, and there are exceptions-the current educational, diagnostic and treatment systems which are locked into the old paradigm. It is very, very difficult to find a way out or around that from the inside out. One cannot see what one does not see.

Additionally, to make matters worse, often one treatment leads to another so that the side effects of a surgery, radiation treatment, or a pharmacological intervention snowball. The cycle perpetuates itself. Rarely do you hear the question-what is driving this arthritis? The hypertension?

I think that we are experiencing the beginning of the end of the power of traditional medicine to improve our health. For women who are healing from disordered relationships the need for answers and solutions to health care problems, some of which are very serious-

  • self-doubt about the reasons for health problems
  • feelings of unworthiness rated to seeking care, and/or
  • child-like dependency on health care providers

no longer serve your best interests.

What then? Knowledge is power. Read. Ask questions. The incredible rise in the last decade of alternative healthcare-integrative medicine, holistic care, demonstrates both the waning utility of the old paradigm and willingness to take responsibility for one’s own health care. I can think of no greater empowerment for women formally in disordered relationships than their taking charge of their emotional and physical health.

Body Armor In PTSD

Anyone who has sustained contact with a disordered person over time can relate to the concept of body armor-that involuntary tightening of the muscles that is part of the healthy flight/fight response to threat.

This response is especially prominent in those who have lived with a disordered person-dealing with mood swings, intensity, blaming, drama, invalidation, constant bids for attention, emotional and sometimes physical abuse.

Over time, the normal person who is the prime target of the disordered one’s malfeasance can not help but develop chronic tension in his or her muscles. Unless one exercises a great deal, this tension can create ongoing difficulties. Sadly, these difficulties can remain long after the “relationship” is over or contact is diminished or broken off.

What kind of problems result? I like to use the term body armor because it validates the person’s need to protect self on an ongoing basis. The level of tension that can accumulate from living with a disordered person creates aches, pains, muscles and tendons that are easily sprained or torn , and back problems of many kinds.

Frequently there are subsequent problems, such as headaches, PMS,  and muscle weakness. Some medical practitioners believe that fibromyalgia and other chronic muscle diseases are related to living with intense emotional stress. and research by the in the scientific mind-body field is needed to understand if this is so.

In my practice, I have seen and heard stories from women who have lived or are living with disordered men. They describe problems such as constant back issues, sore necks, ongoing injuries to arms and legs related to muscles asked to do work while they re already stretched in the flight/fight mode.

If you see yourself reflected in any of these descriptions, fortunately, there are many options. Unfortunately, women especially, who have lived with a disordered partner, are often reluctant to allocate tie and money on self-care-it seems indulgent. Or, their finances my have suffered as a result of the association with the disordered one.

Here are a few ideas to get you thinking about whether or not it is in your best interest to address body armor physical issues:

1.     Body armor problems are treatable, and relief is highly likely. Most modalities mentioned below have excellent track records.

2.     Treatment of these problems now will most likely mean the avoidance of more serious or chronic problems in the future.

3.     Your physical, emotional health will benefit, as will your ability to be productive at work and home.

4.     You may regain the energy and, stamina and overall health to exercise regularly.

5.     It feels REALLY good to have a therapeutic massage, acupuncture, etc. even if there are intermittent periods of discomfort.

6.     “Treating” yourself to any kind of bodywork under the circumstances is good for your soul-it is a way of saying to yourself, “well, I have suffered but now I am taking really good care of myself.”

7.     The muscle pain and discomfort may be reduced and or go away!

There are too many kinds of bodywork to mention here. Different practitioners are available in different communities. If you can not afford the services of a trained professional, there are still options. One is to find a school of massage or acupuncture where well-supervised students can provide low cost or even free services.

Another option is to work out a buddy system with a trusted friend, with whom you can trade massages. Almost anyone can afford a hot bath; adding oils such as Arnica Montana, a common homeopathic remedy, often used with oral tablets of the same name. Epsom salts baths are also a tried and true option.

There are a variety of options with regard to moist heat on affected areas- microwaved barley products such as Bed Buddy, or even hot, wet towels applied to affected areas. There are a numerous products that provide temporary localized heat that soothe and heal.

In addition to homeopathic resources, the emerging science of the down-regulation of inflammatory processes has given us pancreatic enzymes that reduce inflammation naturally:

http://www.bioticsresearch.com/node/1628

Some of my personal favorites include: Trigger Point Therapy, Cranio-sacral Therapy, and Acupuncture, moist heat, and Arnica used as described above.

Neurofeedback Training and PTSD – Part II

In January’s column, we looked at neurofeedback training as a method to calm the brain and reduce a wide-ranging variety of symptoms associated with PTSD.

A person with PTSD has the unfortunate challenge of living with constant hormonal and neurotransmitter disruption. Why is this the case, even when the trauma is in the past? We know from Sandra’s work and that of others in the field of personality disorders, that the trauma does not necessarily stop once the “relationship” is over.

There are many legitimate source s of ongoing re-traumatization for the person formally involved with a disordered individual. For example, legal matters, shared custody of children, the process of rebuilding a life, all contain unique triggers.

But how can we understand the extent to which the person’s body continues to be in overdrive, even when these triggers are reduced? One answer lies in an understanding of what happens physically to a person under constant stress and or trauma:

Because the cell membranes in various parts of the nervous system become literally worn over time and unresponsive, which means the normal shut off process in those experiencing constant stress is not working. Thus , we have a biochemical and nervous system on overload, spinning down into further and further dis-regulation in the absence of effective interventions.

This is one reason why we see neurotransmitter and cortisol imbalances, and imbalances in brain functioning in PTSD. The brainwaves of persons with PTSD are often characterized by a great deal of activity in the zones related to anxiety, intense emotions, overthinking (obsessing)  and hypervigilance. There is usually reduced activity, and therefore reduced functioning, in areas associated with memory, focus, analytic capability, and the ability to relax.

The regions associated with sleep are usually disrupted, as is the ability to “be in the body.” The implications for ongoing emotional, physical and interpersonal problems are clear.

Neurofeedback training, which takes about 30-40 minutes a session, can help the nervous system to get back into balance. Most clients find some relief  after 2-3 sessions, and may do as many as 30 or 40 sessions over the course of a year. Many find that about 20 sessions makes a big difference in their ability to get on with their lives.

The cost varies from region to region, as does the availability of insurance coverage. The site below will help you find a practitioner using  geographic locations.

http://www.adnf.org/neurofeedback_directory.htm

Neurofeedback Training and PTSD – Part I

So far this column has taken a look at the biochemical impact of PTSD and sustained stress. We’ve considered neurotransmitters and cortisol, two interrelated responses to the threat of (or actual) physical and or emotional harm.

As we’ve seen, when a person lives under constant stress, his or her biochemical’s almost always become unbalanced, leading to a host of emotional and physical symptoms. This stress response often takes on a life of its own and in doing so creates further problems such as cortisol and or serotonin depletion.

Neurologically, the same kind of thing happens in the nervous system-the brain’s frequencies get stuck in the “red alert mode.“

The nervous system, composed of bundles of brain cells, is an amazing communication system, more complex than just about any system known. Brain cells communicate with lightning speed using neurotransmitters and electrical signals. Particular grouping of signals or frequencies are more active under certain conditions such as sleep, relaxation, or being on red alert.

Neurofeedback training, based on the early success of fingertip based biofeedback, uses a number of aspects about the brain’s ability to self-correct,or retrain,  under specific circumstances: The person/client doing the training has sensors placed on the head and ears, to pick up information from the scalp-brainwaves. A computer program is designed to both read and interpret these signals, and to determine to what degree things are out of balance.

Meanwhile, the computer’s music file is opened and a recorded piece of music or a CD is played. The music is stopped by the computer program when it detects a pattern that is essentially out of balance. This interruption is perceived by the brain as a signal to interrupt what is was doing-in the case of PTSD, being on red alert.

When the brain is given this information many times for many weeks, it gradually stops the pattern of overreacting to things that are not particularly threatening.  For example, many partners of disordered persons have an overly sensitive startle reflex. A relatively  harmless situation can trigger an extreme reaction, especially if the person is used to walking on eggshells with a disordered partner.

Neurofeedback training, a non-invasive, proven method,

  • helps  the client regain the ability to relax, which can
  • reduce hypertension, promote healthy sleep patterns and
  • reduce dependency on chemical (medications, drugs)and behavioral (overeating, overspending) self-soothing patterns, and
  • can promote constructive problem solving as the brain is less controlled by anxiety and fear.

There are many, many benefits to neurofeedback training. Next month’s column will provide a more thorough description of the process and the results.

In the meantime, here are a couple of links to sites that will provide further information:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZ-wX7kLBr4

http://aboutneurofeedback.com/ptsd.htm

For more information about Joan-Marie, visit her website:

http://joanmarielartin.com/?page_id=21

Cortisol-What You Need to Know – Part II

Part one of this article described three phases of adrenal disruption that occur in chronic stress. We are hard-wired to respond to acute crisis with an “adrenalin rush” which describes how the adrenal glands respond to stress-they produce cortisol which gives the body a sugar boost in order to fight or flee.

If there is chronic stress and not much flight or ineffective fighting-ie, issues are not resolved, the stress response, (i.e., cortisol production) continues. Small wonder that women living with disordered men have more than their share of problems, such as thyroid imbalances, anxiety, sleep disturbances, irritability, weight gain, sex hormone imbalances, and auto-immune diseases.

If you are experiencing any of the above problems, how can you determine if in fact your adrenal functioning is out of balance?

Here are a few steps you can take:

1. These web sites have a number of helpful articles on adrenal disruption and also offer self-administered questionnaires:

http://www.womentowomen.com/adrenalfatigue/effectsofhighcortisol.aspx?id=1&campaignno=adrenalfatigue&adgroup=ag1adrenalfatigue&keywords=adrenal+fatigue

http://www.diagnostechs.com/TestPanels/AdrenalStressIndex/StressTestEvaluation.aspx

2. Make an appointment with your health care provider to discuss your concerns. Print out a copy of any material or on-line test results you may have.

There are many traditionally trained healthcare providers that do not agree with these theories and dismiss research that has been conducted to explore these connections. Perhaps they are right or perhaps they are using an outdated paradigm. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/adrenal-fatigue/AN01583

Eventually, each person has to choose his or her providers on their own. One of the goals of this column is to provide enough information to readers so that you can ask providers questions, read further for yourself or consult with practitioners who have or are adopting these new approaches.

If you wish to pursue naturopathic avenues to address these problems, consult an established practitioner in your area, one who has earned an ND degree and is licensed to practice.

He or she will

  • evaluate your symptoms,
  • usually have a sympathetic ear and acknowledge the sources of stress in your relationships, and
  • proceed to have some tests done in order to get some objective information on which to base suggested treatment.

3.

  • Make sure you eat as well as possible, exercise, no matter what it takes, a small bit each day,
  • Take a good multivitamin
  • GET EIGHT HOURS OF SLEEP if humanly possible.
  • Bow out of any unnecessary commitments that you have taken on for at least 6 months.Do something restorative-a brief nap, a short walk, a hot bath, a chat with a friend, every single day.
  • If you do not already have an excellent support system and an excellent therapist, run, do not walk in the direction of making these happen.

Again, there is some controversy in the medical community about this approach, and insurance companies in the US may not reimburse you for these services. In my personal and professional experience, I find the concepts about adrenal fatigue to be valid, and the treatments to be very effective.

Chronic stress makes demands upon body and soul. We have learned to identify the signs and symptoms of serious, ongoing stress and there are many effective and not so effective ways to deal with these problems. As readers of this column may have figured out, I am no fan of treating symptoms and ignoring underlying problems.

I strongly urge any of you who has had an ongoing relationship with a disordered individual to consider checking out the self-administered tests available on the sites referenced above. If your adrenal functioning is disrupted, it may take 6-12 months to get back into balance, so don’t hesitate to get started!

Joan-Marie Lartin, PhD, RN

http://www.joanmarielartin.com

Cortisol-What You Need to Know – Part I

What Is Cortisol?

Cortisol is a chemical messenger produced when the brain tells the adrenal glands “Hey, we need some energy, now!” Cortisol triggers a release of insulin into the blood stream, mobilizing the body’s flight or fight response. After the initial alarm, cortisol production winds down. However, when there is chronic, sustained stress, the body may begin a descent “down the rabbit hole” into adrenal imbalance, creating many different types of problems.

Early, Mid, and Late Stage Stress Response

Early Stage Stress Response

Ongoing stress initially creates a great deal of cortisol production. If the person does not fight, flee, or otherwise use up the excess energy, he or she may experience some or all of these symptoms:

  • weight gain
  • anxiety
  • restlessness
  • insomnia
  • poor concentration

A stressed-out person may take substances, legal and illegal, to calm down, think straight and focus. In my clinical experience, a very high percentage of kids and adults who believe they have symptoms of ADD or ADHD are in fact experiencing chronic stress. Most likely, their cortisol levels are very high.

Sometimes, constant stress damages the cortisol receptors.  As this happens, the body shuts down the override or feedback mechanisms, and the blood levels of cortisol remain high.

At that point, the body’s natural feedback process isn’t working well. If the stress continues, the adrenal glands, which produce cortisol, start to become depleted.

Mid Stage Stress Response

When the adrenal gland continues to secrete cortisol over a sustained period, the person enters an early stage of adrenal depletion. Cortisol levels start to decrease as the brain’s receptor cells become damaged. The person begins to show these signs:

  • low energy
  • fatigue
  • easily overwhelmed
  • mild depression
  • a degree of mental fog

…among other symptoms.

Cortisol imbalances are frequently associated with disruptions in other key areas such as the endocrine hormones, such as estrogen and thyroid hormones, the immune system, as well as neurotransmitter levels.

At this point, if

  • the stressors are not resolved
  • the person keeps up a hectic pace
  • there is little nutritional, nutraceutical, or other support

the next, fairly drastic stage is adrenal fatigue.

Late Stage Stress Response

This depleted stage, also known as late chronic stress, is often termed adrenal fatigue. Cortisol levels, once very high, are now very low. The person may suffer these symptoms:

  • very low levels of energy
  • brain fog
  • reliance on carbohyrates and caffeine
  • chronic infections
  • gastro-intestinal issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome
  • salt cravings

Small wonder that women living with disordered men have more than their share of problems.  These problems include:

  • thyroid imbalances
  • anxiety
  • sleep disturbances
  • irritability
  • weight gain
  • sex hormone imbalances
  • auto-immune diseases

Because the adrenal glands play such an important role in the development of many of the body’s biochemical’s, some clinicians question whether extreme, ongoing stress plays a role in women developing estrogen-sensitive tumors.

Next month I will provide more information on cortisol imbalances, including further reading and treatment options. One website I recommend is the

http://www.womentowomen.com/adrenalfatigue/effectsofhighcortisol.aspx?id=1&campaignno=adrenalfatigue&adgroup=ag1adrenalfatigue&keywords=adrenal+fatigue

Joan-Marie Lartin, PhD, RN

www.lartin-drake.com

A Light at the End of the Tunnel – Neurotransmitters and PTSD

Many aspects of PTSD are evident in invisible but serious physical disruptions due to the traumatic event(s). These disruptions contribute to serious problems such as depression, insomnia, and OCD; but recent advances have made it possible not only to identify these changes but to treat them in safe and effective ways. Ongoing stress, as well as a poor diet, genetics and environmental influences, can disrupt the inherent balance of the two main types of neurotransmitters (NTs). Excitatory neurotransmitters are the gas pedal that moves things along throughout our entire body. Inhibitory neurotransmitters calm us down, and function like brakes when it is normally time for the excitatory NTs to wind down.

Frequently, among people with PTSD, the levels of these NTs are out of balance. This can lead to:

Excitatory Neurotransmitters
High Levels Low Levels
* restlessness * fatigue
* insomnia * irritability
* poor concentration * clouded thinking
* emotional lability * poor focus
* racing thoughts
* anxiety, OCD or panic attacks
Inhibiting or Calming Neurotransmitters
High Levels Low Levels
* insomnia * headaches
* anxiety * headaches
* hyperactivity * carbohydrate cravings
* depression
* headaches
* insomnia
* carbohydrate cravings
* anxiety
* irritability

Notice the overlap of symptoms, as many imbalanced patterns reinforce and compound one another.

It is not surprising that many people with PTSD are diagnosed with bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, and/or clinical depression. Psychiatric medications are usually prescribed. However many people are looking for effective and safe alternatives.

There are alternatives-exercise, meditation, yoga, and other behavioral “stress busters.” The only problem is getting motivated to do these things, no easy task when you are riddled with anxiety or paralyzed by depression.

One viable alternative is amino acid therapy. Usually, a urine sample is sent to a lab and based on the results an individualized program of amino acids is suggested. NeuroScience is one company providing this service to health care providers:

https://www.neurorelief.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=section&id=9&Itemid=51

Most insurance companies pay for these tests but not for supplements. A three-month supply typically costs $150-250. Results begin within a week to three weeks. Most people with PTSD take these supplements for at least 6 months.

Because PTSD is associated with many other physical problems, such as hypothyroid conditions, hypertension, headaches, I encourage these clients to

  1. have a thorough physical exam if they haven’t done so recently, and
  2. have their cortisol levels checked.

Cortisol (AKA adrenaline) and other chemical messengers are produced by the adrenal glands in response to stress. The symptoms of cortisol imbalances, as well as treatment options, will be discussed next month.

In my experience, clients who are struggling with PTSD find the combination of amino acid supplementation, adrenal support for cortisol imbalances, and neurofeedback training, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZ-wX7kLBr4 to provide resolution of symptoms such as insomnia, anxiety, depression and irritability.

Providing naturally occurring supplements for NT and cortisol imbalances corrects these imbalances at a fundamental level. This creates an opportunity to return to better health. Supplement use is generally time limited unlike their chemical counterparts, which are often taken for years.

The decrease and resolution of PTSD related symptoms such as panic attacks, flashbacks, depression, OCD, cognitive deficiencies, behavioral problems, etc., makes it easier to do the hard work of psychotherapy. Effective therapy helps recovery and healing, and should, whenever possible, help the client change the situation that created the PTSD in the first place. Identifying and treating the physiological effects of PTSD is a fundamental first step in this process.

Gentle Healing From Trauma– the Care and Feeding of the Nervous System

Imbalances in neurotransmitters are related to many symptoms of PTSD: anxiety, obsessions, irritability and rage responses, cravings for carbohydrates, alcohol, and other compulsions (shopping, gambling, and sex for example); insomnia, panic attacks and depression. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or as it sometimes feels, Ongoing Stress Disorder, effects us spiritually, emotionally, cognitively, physically and behaviorally. Of course, since we are whole persons, these aspects overlap to so some degree.

Fortunately, recent advances in brain science have created options for helping to heal trauma that are safe, non-invasive, natural and very effective. This column will provide readers of this site with information about two of these advances-amino acid therapy and neurofeedback training. As a therapist with over 35 years experience in general and with over 20 years experience helping traumatized people of all ages, I have found these two alternatives to be powerful tools in healing from trauma.

I have had my own experiences with trauma-the suicide of a family member, marital infidelity and a number of relationships with disordered men. PTSD is not an academic subject for me, and my experiences have shaped my approach to clients who come to me for help with problems related to emotional trauma.

One of the most useful ways I have found of thinking about emotional trauma is that it is a serious threat or ongoing threat to well-being that overwhelms a person’s ability to cope. Coping mechanisms just can’t do the trick, and so the person’s behavior, emotional, cognitive, and physical state show evidence of being overwhelmed.

The symptoms of PTSD, and even though they are serious and even debilitating, are just that, symptoms that something is very wrong. It is of course crucial to provide relief for the symptoms-such as insomnia, overeating, panic attacks, depression. It is also crucial to place these symptoms in a larger context so the cause(s) of the problem-being overwhelmed by a pathological relationship, for example–can also be addressed and changed.

One of the most far reaching inventions for PTSD I have seen is supplementation with amino acids and related substances. Since PTSD disrupts these fundamental physiological processes, it makes sense to provide a person with PTSD with building blocks so her body can recover, and in doing so, reduce or eliminate some of the symptoms that are directly or indirectly related to neurotransmitter imbalances created by being chronically overwhelmed.

In PTSD, the person’s physiologically, especially the nervous system is overwhelmed, and often moves into overdrive and then sometimes exhaustion. The stress response–fight/flight/freeze–can also go into overdrive and become a permanent rather than a temporary situation. This makes it particularly difficult to calm the nervous system down–it is as though the stress response has taken on a life of it’s own and is on overdrive.

It’s no wonder traumatized people self medicate with food, drugs (prescription and street), alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, shopping, and the like. The anxiety level seems to be set on “high” all the time, whether there is an external threat or not. For partners or former partners of disordered persons, of course the stress is often ongoing and severe, making it exceedingly difficult, and perhaps risky, for the person’s physiology to lower the threat response.

But the threat response, the fight/flight/freeze has its upsides as well as its downsides. From a positive perspective, this response insures that the person will react quickly to threats to safety and well-being. She or he may also overreact to situations that are not really threatening. But if this response is calmed down and essentially “reset” it will be there when needed. So being on red alert–hypervigilant–is not really healthy–we are not wired to be in overdrive all the time and when this occurs, the toll is high.

For example: Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that insure that the person responds to and recovers from all kinds of situations. There are fundamentally two kinds–excitatory, which help us get going, and inhibitory, which help us to calm down. Prolonged stress related to emotional trauma triggers the constant release of both kinds.

Over time, the body can not sustain this and becomes depleted and out of balance. Serotonin is one of the key inhibitory neurotransmitters, and it is almost always very low in traumatized individuals. Traditional antidepressants may recycle what little there is but do not help the person to produce any more.

Reduced serotonin levels can lead to insomnia, irritability, headaches, carbohydrate cravings and depression. High levels of excitatory neurotransmitters can lead to increased anxiety (as though there weren’t enough to begin with) and insomnia.

So we can see how it is that PTSD leads to physical overdrive, which leads to many problems, neurotransmitters imbalances being an important example.

The good news is that it is now possible to measure many of the key neurotransmitter levels (directly and indirectly). However, neurotransmitter testing is sufficiently far along to often be covered by many insurance companies, and the very specific amino acids that are suggested are usually easily available.

Just as a woman who is having heavy periods may take iron tablets for a time, hopefully until the cause of the excessive bleeding is determined, so can we take supplements that will help balance out neurotransmitters. Most of these supplements are amino acids-naturally occurring substances that the body uses as building blocks for most neurotransmitters.

While there is currently some controversy about this in the traditional medical community, it may well be related to the recent nature of these discoveries as well as the limitations and blind pots of the existing medical paradigms. Time will tell.

Another naturally occurring substance in our bodies is cortisol, which is produced by the adrenal glands in response to the fight/flight/freeze response. A discussion of cortisol imbalances will be presented in a forthcoming column; suffice it to say that if a cortisol imbalance exists and is not corrected, just as is true for neurotransmitter imbalances, recovery from emotional trauma will take that much longer to occur.

In my practice, I combine neurotransmitter testing with psychotherapy as well as neurofeedback training, which will be the subject of a future column. Using the amino acid supplements alone, which I am frequently asked to do outside of the client-therapist relationship, is not advisable for many reasons.

For starters, these supplements are not a magic bullet, and the use of them alone can reinforce the belief among Americans that if we just take the right pill, everything will be OK. As Sandra L. Brown, M.A.’s research and clinical work have demonstrated, there are many, many other aspects of healing from life with a disordered person and the predicable emotional trauma that is a part of the picture.

But the very good news is that amino acid supplements, after a specific test or tests to determine if and where imbalances lie, as well as neurofeedback training in conjunction with psychotherapy and other modalities such as yoga, massage, EMDR, offer a very gentle and extremely effective path for getting your life back on track-what a blessing.

In next month’s column I will discuss some of the functions of neurotransmitters, how they effect mood, behavior and other physicological processes, as well as some of the far reaching benefits of amino acid therapy I will also discuss the role of cortisol imbalances in PTSD and from there provide some clinical examples. Information about neurofeedback training and related topics will be in future columns.

While it will not be possible to answer individual or personal inquiries, I am interested in your questions as a way to provide clear information and opinions that meet the needs of the readers of this column, so please send me your comments and questions and I will incorporate as many as possible next month.