Anxiety is a regular a part of life for any average person. We may worry or have generally anxious feelings toward situations that arise in our everyday lives, such as an important presentation at work, new social interactions, or wondering if we can fit all of our errands into one afternoon. This is typically a natural response that keeps us aware of the importance of our actions in these kinds of scenarios.
Most people are able to take a deep breath and push through the nerves, and the worst outcome is typically our nervousness shows a little to those around us. But for some, the worst outcome can be much more severe, and it takes much more than a deep breath to push through.
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Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and panic disorder are conditions that affect close to 13 million adults in the US. (1) Individuals with these disorders experience “persistent and excessive” feelings of anxiety towards everyday situations and concerns. These feelings are difficult or impossible to control and can escalate in severity until they become feelings of overwhelming dread and terror in the case of panic disorder. This level of anxiety interferes with these individuals’ ability to function naturally and navigate basic daily encounters with people or tasks. At their most severe, these disorders are characterized with the onset of sudden, unpredictable events such as panic attack or hyperventilation attacks.
A panic attack is a sudden period of intense fear which causes the individual incredible physical and mental distress. Attacks most often consist of racing or pounding heart rate, trembling, shaking, and difficulty breathing. This can result in fast or deep gasping to intake air, and cause hyperventilation. (2) At times, these attacks can be serious enough to require emergency attention.
Both of these kinds of attacks can sometimes be linked to specific triggers like a person, place, or object, but most commonly occur unpredictably and without warning. The National Institute of Mental Health describes how “worry about panic attacks, and the effort spent trying to avoid attacks, cause significant problems in various areas of the person’s life.” For those who suffer from these kinds of attacks, it can be difficult to see a way out.
A study conducted in 2013 by Okayama University Medical School may have made a invaluable discovery that could help anticipate, or even prevent, the onset of panic and hyperventilation attacks in at risk individuals.
A known common cause for attacks is low levels of serotonin in the body. This neurotransmitter plays a major role in regulating feelings of happiness and well-being, so a deficiency can easily result in increased anxiety and depression. Serotonin itself is synthesized from the amino acid tryptophan, a process that is known to rely heavily on the added components of vitamin B6 and iron. Researchers at Okayama University decided to delve deeper into the relationship between those key elements and occurrences of emergency level panic attacks.
In their study, researchers observed the levels of B6 and iron in patients who visited the emergency room due to severe panic attack or panic induced hyperventilation. They compared their measurements with a control group of individuals with healthy levels of both, and found that both vitamin B6 and iron levels were significantly lower in the group who suffered from the attacks than in the control group.
While they acknowledge that further research is necessary, no prior study analyzing the relationship of panic attacks and hyperventilation and the body levels of B6 and iron had been conducted or reported. These findings present a groundbreaking step in understanding potential triggers of panic attacks. With this new piece of information, the possibility of living life independent of sudden onset panic attacks becomes closer for individuals suffering from GAD and panic disorders.