Case Study – Panic Attack / Heart Attack
Imagine this scenario…you come home from work looking forward to relaxing after a long day. You grab a sweet treat to snack on and head into the living room to watch some tube and kick back. But this night…your body fails you. The normal process of breathing becomes near impossible as your chest tightens and you gasp for air while your heart begins to pound and race. The world starts spinning and then goes dark in front of your eyes, and you fight to stay conscious because you are afraid (you believe) you are dying. You call your partner to take you to the emergency room…you are scared that life as you know it is OVER…and you haven’t hit your 30th birthday yet.
Arriving at the ER, you are somewhat comforted, because these people save lives. Surely they will fix whatever went wrong with you. They rush you in, take vials of blood, hook you up to machines…and finally the doctor comes in to give you the news….
“There is nothing wrong with you. You are free to go.” (But wait…I am not fine. I am dying.) “You had a panic attack…we don’t know what causes them, but we can give you Valium (a sedative) to help reduce the symptoms.” (OMG, you are going to send me home like this!)
Scary…disappointing…frustrating…”am I crazy?”
This is a true story of a patient, but a story experienced by nearly 1 in 4 people. He went home and continued to have waves of “panic” with blackouts, dizziness, and chest pain. And since he was “fine” he was left to figure it out himself. He noticed a correlation to the foods he ate…both sugary and fatty foods brought on the waves of panic. When it happened, he would sit and breathe, simply WILLING his way through it. He discovered that if he only ate lean protein (ie. chicken breast) and vegetables, it was better.
By the time he came in, he was walking a razors edge trying to keep the attacks at bay. If he ate too much chicken, the waves would hit. If he didn’t eat frequently enough, the world would darken. On the plus side…his diet had drastically improved in the past 2 weeks! (Since the first attack)
When we discussed his situation, it was clear that he had missed a few warning signs. His left shoulder, chest and neck started hurting about a year and a half ago. What organ refers to the left shoulder?? (Heart) Then he started having trouble sleeping…taking an hour to fall asleep and waking as much as 4 times per night. What organ serves as the “nightshift?” (the Adrenal glands slowly increase cortisol through the night to accommodate for the lack of food). I also noticed that he frequently felt dizzy when he stood up quickly. What organ increases blood pressure to accommodate for the effects of gravity on blood flow to the head? (Adrenals again).
Now, let’s pretend we are not helpless in using common sense. Sure, the AMA and Mayo clinic say we don’t know what causes panic attacks. But what does common sense say? We have all experienced fear, and the symptoms of rapid heart rate, shortening of breath…and we ALL know what causes that, right? (Adrenaline).
So we DO know why he had a “panic” attack…he had a huge spike in adrenaline…but we are going to ask one-more-why. Why did his adrenaline spike? He was just hanging out watching TV! No boogie men or saber toothed tigers… So…WHY?
Just like every part of your body, your adrenal glands are designed to cope with nature. In nature, there are seasons…seasons of harvest and rain (water)…and seasons of drought and famine. The adrenal glands produce two hormones, aldosterone and cortisol, that preserve water and release stored energy, respectively. These glands are intended to serve the stresses of nature.
But…we have invented NEW stressors…such as chocolate cake, which was the sweet treat of the “relaxation” night in question. Since the adrenals need to WORK when your blood sugar is LOW…this quick spike and subsequent CRASH in blood sugar WHACKS the adrenal glands (applies pressure/stress).
We have invented NEW stressors…such as overwhelm…too much to do to take care of ME. On the “relaxation” night in question, this patient skipped both breakfast AND lunch prior to the sweet treat. When you extend fasting into the day, you are asking the “nightshift” to stay on for a double shift. (Adrenals) That is fine on an occasional basis, but if it becomes a habit, you will injure your night employees!
If you injure your night employees, they will not be able to do their job. In the case of your adrenal glands, they will not be able to keep your blood sugar up in safe and healthy ranges. This is a survival CRISIS! The adrenal glands have 2 layers…the outside layer producing cortisol and aldosterone as needed for energy and water…and the inside layer ready to FREAK OUT in times of CRISIS. This is source of 90% of your body’s adrenaline production. If your adrenal glands are tired, and can’t produce enough cortisol to keep up with energy needs, the inside layer ignites the FIGHT OR FLEE hormones to deal with the crisis.
Remember the concept of the “tipping point.” Sometimes the concrete crushes your tibia with one BIG stressful impact…but most often, tiny little things…subtle habits and rituals…add up…finally hitting that tipping point…exceeding your stress threshold…and you break. Most doctors look for the crushed tibia, damaged heart or heart valve. We look for the “little things” that add up to big problems.
In this case…his liver was fatigued (low cholesterol), his immune system was fatigued (low white cell count and toxicity), and his adrenals were fatigued (dehydration and low blood sugar). All his little habits had reached a crisis limit, and his body screamed at him.
And it was too late to “play nice.” He was eating and nourishing with foods, but with exhausted organs, he couldn’t do ENOUGH to keep everyone happy. So he was wavering on the brink of crisis, which meant black out dizziness, shortness of breath, racing heart and chest tightness (heart muscle cramps).
If you are jogging, and your hamstrings cramp up…and you go to the ER…what does the doctor say? “There is nothing physically wrong with you.” The point…notice what that means…it doesn’t mean you are healthy…s/he is saying you don’t have a medical condition. You still have dehydration…and you just got a warning that you are exceeding your stress threshold.
So, how do you expand your stress threshold?? More common sense. Nourish your body with healthy foods…habitually. (Indulge occasionally) And since we saw evidence of organ exhaustion on his labs, we use nature’s medicinal extensions of food… plant medicines.
His first prescription was a blend of several adaptogens, including American Ginseng and Ashwagandha. Ginseng is historically known as a rejuvenator of exhaustion…of nerves, muscles and adrenal glands. Ashwagandha works in the pituitary gland to nourish…to deepen sleep…and heighten awake-ness.
In the first few weeks, he was already noticing that it was easier to control the “waves.” We prescribed the basic needs of the liver…B vitamins and sulfur, in the form of NAC (N-Acetyl-Cysteine). NAC is what you get in the ER if you swallow a bottle of Tylenol. The sulfur in this amino acid binds the drug to inactivate it, and saves your liver and your life.
In the next few weeks, we added the medicinal mushroom, Reishi. It is one of my favorites. It will lift an exhausted immune system and exhausted adrenal glands. It will give you the stamina to climb a mountain! With this addition, he was able to survive a full 4 hours without food!
About a month later, he hit his stress threshold again and had a severe flare up. Even though he found no help at the ER, he was distressed enough to try it again, with the same result! This time, he was feeding his body, but as he felt better, he allowed himself to experience the stress of work and broken promises. This flare almost ALWAYS happens with patients…they start to feel better and go back into old habits. Sometimes it is dietary habits, but in his case, it was worry and personalizing experiences at work.
It’s ALL GOOD, though! This is how life is supposed to work! You experience a stress or strain…and you identify a strategy to resolve it, and a nourishment to balance the stress hormones rushing through your body. That’s how I see and handle stress, anyway. And it’s helped me achieve some pretty amazing results in my own health and many others!
We found this new stress chemistry responded well to another adaptogen plant called Rehmannia. This plant nourishes the outer adrenal layer (adrenal cortex) to enable normal production of the hormones aldosterone and cortisol. It also an amazing relief for inflammation, which is seen in life as anger and frustration. What a natural wonder to deal with modern stressors!
A couple weeks later, he shows up excited. He is really experiencing the resilience and healing of nature’s medicines. His experience is, “a helluva lot better!” He is excited to share that there are NO WAVES of stress at all, and his chronic shoulder pain is 80% better! He can use the heck out of it, and it might talk to him about it…but he takes his nourishing plants, especially this amazing anti-inflammatory plant called Rehmannia…and it quiets down quickly!
His organs and glands are coming alive again!!…and perhaps more importantly…he is tuned in to his heart and inspiration…just a bit more. Yup…that organ that was cramping up on him was his heart desire…the organs that were gasping are his inspiration. It all works together…you gotta know that!
He is seeing and feeling more clearly…he mentioned a change in work situation…toward a more heart centered vision that ONLY could have happened from this exact experience! By following and listening to his body, he will BE more of who he wants to BE.
I love it when a plan comes together! (The A-Team!)