By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness
May 14, 2014
- The request I’m hearing more and more from my patients
- Natural ways to put your feel-good hormones to work
- One more natural way to “take the edge off”
Just a few days ago, one of my seasonal patients checked in one last time before heading north for the summer. As our visit winded down, she started hemming and hawing. I could tell something was on her mind.
She finally spit it out. “Doc, every time I get on a plane I get so nervous! I just don’t know how I’m going to get through the flight home. Can you please write me a prescription for Xanax?”
This isn’t the first time a patient has asked me for a magic pill to relieve his or her anxiety. And these requests seem to be happening with more and more frequency.
A lot of it has to do with the fact these pills aren’t hard to come by. Not only are they over-prescribed, but people who have prescriptions often hand them out to their friends, family members and co-workers who need a few moments to “chill out.”
Plus, they go to work within minutes. They aren’t like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) that take several weeks to kick in. (Although I have to admit, I have patients who’ve asked for those, too.)
So, once you’ve tried one, it’s easy to latch onto the idea that having a prescription for them could really come in handy on those days when you’ve been pushed over the edge.
But they come with several problems…
- This class of drugs, called benzodiazepines, creates tolerance. The more you take them, the more you need the next time to achieve the same effect.
- When you use drugs like these to avoid problems, they can become a crutch. In the long run, they’ll make you less able to deal with life’s problems on your own.
- They can also become addictive. And if you decide to stop taking them, you could experience some serious withdrawal symptoms.
However – and this is a very big however – you can naturally enhance your brain chemistry with natural “chill pills” – in much the same way these meds do!
Here’s what I suggest to my patients when they need to find a little peace from their anxiety…
Benzodiazepines work by enhancing the effect of a neurotransmitter that helps calm things down in your brain. It’s called gamma amino butyric acid – or GABA for short.
GABA acts as a natural relaxant to reduce excitability and keep things on an even keel. It works by muffling neuronal activity in the brain and soothing frazzled nerve cells.
But you don’t have to take a drug to increase its efficiency. There are several foods that can boost GABA performance very effectively. They aren’t pills… but they’re just as effective.
My favorite GABA enhancer is tea. I personally prefer green tea because of its high antioxidant power. But when it comes to GABA content, it doesn’t really matter if the tea is green, black or oolong. They will all enhance GABA activity.
And they come with a special bonus…
One of the key nutrients in tea, called theanine, adds an additional boost to GABA levels. It also has a profound effect on the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. These are “feel good” hormones that produce a sense of well-being. And that can go a long way when it comes to soothing your frayed nerves.
You can make the benefits of tea work for you by using it as a replacement for coffee and sodas throughout the day.
But if you’re not a tea drinker, you can always take a whole foods green tea supplement. Look for one that’s standardized to contain a minimum of 40 percent catechins and 60 percent polyphenols.
Fermented foods that use Lactobacillus hilgardii also increase natural GABA production. Chief on the list is a Korean dish known as kimchi. This is a spicy concoction made using fermented vegetables like cabbage, radishes and hot peppers.
If you’ve never tried it, you’re not only missing out on the anti-anxiety benefits… you’re also missing out on a treat for your taste buds.
Other GABA-rich foods include…
- Citrus fruit
But foods aren’t the only way to soothe your nerves…
Exercise is a great way to reduce anxiety and help you feel more relaxed. But you don’t have to run a marathon to experience the results.
I always recommend – at minimum – a 30-minute walk every day, interspersed with short bursts of high-intensity exercise like sprinting, jumping jacks, or jumping rope. But when it comes to calming your nerves, reducing anxiety levels and increasing GABA, there’s a special form of exercise that really shines…
This type of exercise can alleviate anxiety, reduce stress levels and even help with depression. Better yet, it’s an amazingly effective way to kick your GABA receptors into overdrive.
But it’s not something you can do on your own. To practice yoga effectively, it requires a trained instructor.
You can find some suggestions here. But your best bet is to get a reference from a friend, family member or doctor.
All of these tips will go a long way to help you cope with day-to-day anxieties without resorting to synthetic drugs to take the edge off.
Hossain SJ, et al. “Effects of tea components on the response of GABA(A) receptors expressed in Xenopus Oocytes.” J Agric Food Chem. 2002 Jul 3;50(14):3954-60.
Eva M Selhub, et al. “Fermented foods, microbiota, and mental health: ancient practice meets nutritional psychiatry.” J Physiol Anthropol. 2014; 33(1): 2.
Chris C. Streeter, MD, et al. “Effects of Yoga Versus Walking on Mood, Anxiety, and Brain GABA Levels: A Randomized Controlled MRS Study.” J Altern Complement Med. Nov 2010; 16(11): 1145–1152.