A Natural Approach

As many of you know and have read about in previous blog posts I have been working with a Naturopathic Practitioner to treat my PTSD symptoms. I have found tremendous healing and understanding through this therapeutic modality. I feel like I've finally found a doctor who took the time to educate me about what was going on inside my body instead of just pushing pills in my direction. Dr. Kris Wallace, NMD, wrote the post below to educate those of you who may be suffering symptoms from PTSD without understanding why.  Knowledge is powerful and I hope that you discover, as I have, that you can successfully treat yourself naturally.

Science’s progress in its understanding of PTSD is illustrated by the evolution of its name in the relatively short time since it was first recognized. The disorder was first given proper recognition following WWI, when it was known as shell shock. As it became clear that the disorder could result from trauma other than an explosion and that the effect was not necessarily so temporary, it became known as “battle fatigue”. Following Vietnam the term “operational exhaustion” was adopted and there was a re-framing of the issue as less of a problem of cowardice and more of a medical condition. Eventually, PTSD was established in light of the growing understanding of how traumatic events can negatively affect the body to the point of it being in serious “disorder.”. Trauma is not only capable of causing shock that wears off with time. It can physically alter the body, throwing delicate systems out of balance in such a way that requires serious readjustment.

As PTSD has gained respect in the scientific community, more energy has been invested in determining the physical affects of the disorder. This research has found that PTSD has a profound effect on certain bodily systems that contribute to our ability to respond to threats. These systems are all related and in a healthy person work in harmony to manage the functions of the body. When any component of this system is compromised, it will throw the entire thing out of balance, which is why a comprehensive approach to treating PTSD is vital. Primarily, PTSD impacts neurotransmitter levels, thyroid function, and the HPA axis.

Neurotransmitter imbalance is very common amongst those that suffer from PTSD. This causes a host of negative effects and it is very important to address in a way that is sustainable and minimizes side effects. PTSD commonly causes a deficiency of serotonin, which is associated with depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. Often times this is treated with SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) that have serious and unpleasant side effects. A natural alternative to SSRIs is 5HTP. Unlike SSRIs, 5HTP is naturally occurring and does not have serious side effects. 5HTP provides the brain with the raw materials it needs to naturally build up a greater supply of serotonin.

In addition to serotonin deficiency; PTSD causes harmfully high levels of excitatory neurotransmitters such as glutamate, norepinephrine, and epinephrine. These neurotransmitters are responsible for exciting the body in times of stress. When there are chronically elevated levels of these neurotransmitters, the body is stuck in a kind of overdrive mode. Blood pressure and heart rate are constantly elevated and it is difficult to sleep or relax. GABA is the neurotransmitter counterpart to glutamate. It is possible to calm the system that is overdosed with glutamate by taking GABA supplements. When GABA levels rise, glutamate levels fall and the system moves into a more balanced and relaxed state.

The HPA (Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis is a complex system that controls reactions to stress and regulates many bodily systems. It involves many hormones and involves glands in the brain as well as the adrenal cortex located in the abdomen. PTSD can cause an overworking of the HPA axis and result in adrenal fatigue, which causes depression, lack of energy, weight gain, and brain fog. The HPA axis can be healed naturally through herbal supplementation, improved diet, and a more relaxed lifestyle. PTSD can overwork the thyroid in a similar way. Studies have found that many PTSD patients suffer from hyperthyroidism, which causes anxiety, insomnia, and irritability.

There is a growing appreciation of the widespread physical effects that PTSD can have on the body. It is no longer understood purely as an illness of the mind, but a disorder of the body. It affects bodily systems that rely on a delicate balance for proper functioning. In order to properly treat PTSD, it is necessary that this is understood and proper testing is in place to identify those imbalances.  Each component of the complex system that is affected must be addressed for true balance and peace to be restored to the body and mind.

The information above was provided by Dr. Kris Wallace, NMD.  Dr. Wallace practices naturopathic medicine at Keystone Family Medicine in Arizona.