anxiety functional medicineAccording to a study published four months ago in The Journal of Neuroscience, researchers discovered a mechanism for how anxiety may impact decision making. They noted that anxiety disengages a region of the brain called the prefrontal cortex (PFC), which is critical for flexible decision making. Think of the PFC as the CEO of our brain. This is the area that helps us get tasks done.

In this study researchers monitored the activity of neurons in the PFC in an animal model. As a result, the scientists made two observations. First, anxiety leads to bad decisions when there were distractors present. Second, bad decisions from anxiety involve numbing of PFC neurons.

The evidence indicates that anxiety has a selective effect on neuronal activity that supports decision making. Anxiety can be very overwhelming not only from how the person feels, but how it interferes with virtually all aspects of daily life including decision making.

The current approach to studying and treating anxiety is simplistic. It is associated with fear and it has been mostly assumed that it over-engages entire brain circuits. However, this study demonstrates that anxiety disengages brain cells in a specific manner.

Many people experience anxiety in their daily lives. For some individuals it is just a bad, passing feeling, but for many, anxiety controls their daily life to the point of affecting the decisions they make.

Patients with anxiety are commonly treated with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Some individuals try to avoid these because they don’t want to take a medication. In addition, long term SSRI use can upregulate phosphodiesterase-4 (PDE4), which can reduce the sensitivity of SSRIs in response to long term treatment.

An alternative botanical to consider is Sceletium tortuosum. This is a South African plant that has been used for hundreds of years for stress and relaxation. It does act as natural SSRI and PDE4 inhibitor and therefore, has a synergistic effect on the central nervous system and broader therapeutic effect than an SSRI alone. Another advantage is this botanical is not contraindicated with other nutrients like St. John’s wort, 5-HTP, and SAMe.

Sceletium tortuosum reduces anxiety related amygdala reactivity. This is the area of the brain responsible for arousal, the regulation of emotion, and plays an important role in mediating anxiety and depression. This botanical dampens the response from the amygdala, which decreases the feeling of fear.

Saffron flower is another botanical that has been shown to decrease anxiety. There have been several research reviews comparing saffron head to head with SSRIs demonstrating the same efficacy.

Source: Park J., Wood J., Bondi C., Del Arco A., Moghaddam B. Anxiety Evokes Hypofrontality and Disrupts Rule-Relevant Encoding by Dorsomedial Prefrontal Cortex Neurons. The Journal of Neuroscience, 16 March 2016, 36(11): 3322-3335; doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4250- 15.2016

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