Anxiety in children on the Autism spectrum runs about 80% in my clinic. It may actually be about the same in parents who have children on the spectrum! Well, that may be an over exaggeration, but many parents suffer from chronic anxiety. As I mentioned in my last blog, next to alcohol related diseases, anxiety is the top “mental” diagnosis in America.
Now my discussion on Anxiety treatment will not include treatments such as meditation, “removing yourself from stress”, cognitive behavioral therapies (CBT) and even yoga. Not because these are invaluable tools for improving anxiety, but just too difficult or impossible for many of my patients to perform. Parents have a very hard time “separating” themselves from their special needs children.
Before I even think about managing anxiety, I first check labs: complete blood counts, inflammatory markers, thyroid panel, and adrenal function with respect to cortisol production. I can be much more successful in decreasing anxiety if these labs are all brought back into the normal range. But many of my patients or families do not have the “luxury” of having these labs performed by a knowledgeable physician. So, let’s just march ahead and see what I do!
I cannot tell you how much exercise plays in lowering anxiety! Most of us have experienced either in ourselves or our children, how much better they do after a day of lots of physical exertion. There are many reasons for this, well beyond the scope of a “blog” but just suffice it to say, the more we all can get out and “play,” the better we all do.
I really try to avoid pharmaceuticals to manage anxiety. But later in my blog, I will discuss the pharmaceuticals I use, when all else fails! But for now, let’s talk about the herbs I have found most helpful.
Valerian has been used as a medicinal herb since the time of ancient Greece and Rome and its uses were described by Hippocrates. It was used to treat nervousness, trembling, headaches, and in England, during WW II it was used to relieve the stress of air raids.
Selecting the right valerian root can be quite tricky in our market place. At our clinic, we specifically use only products made in the US, and that come in capsules and tinctures. They are very pure and manufactured to the highest standards. They have to be, as anything less will just not be as effective in our children.
An alcohol tincture has the advantage of maximum potency, versatility, and shelf life. Unlike pills and capsules, these concentrated plant extracts enter the blood stream quickly through the mucus membranes of the mouth without having to be broken down by the digestive system. The plant’s active constituents are extracted in organic alcohol and distilled water. This process should not be hurried. Our tinctures are extracted for an average of 2 months. These liquid drops can be taken under the tongue for the fastest absorption or added to water, tea or juice. For some, if we want to remove the alcohol by evaporation, we can add a dose of water. (The amount of alcohol in an average daily dose is equivalent to the amount found in a ripe banana). Of course, the dosing is dependent on age and weight of the child or adult.
The advantage to capsules is that they do not have the “earthy herbal” taste the valerian tincture has. They are usually very effective in controlling anxiety, and easily dosed throughout the day. For those children NOT swallowing capsules, they can be opened and stirred into food such as applesauce or sweet potatoes. Again, dosing is dependent on weight and can be increased to desired effect.
Our next discussion will be on Ashwagandha and Medical Marijuana!