Natural Treatment for PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
The National Institute of Medicine is calling Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) “a growing epidemic.” The United States Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that PTSD affects:
Almost 31 percent of Vietnam veterans. As many as 10 percent of Gulf War (Desert Storm) veterans. 11 percent of veterans of the war in Afghanistan.” It is highly likely that these numbers are under represented as many veterans do not actually seek treatment for their mental health concerns. PTSD is not unique to military personnel, however. It is also found among victims of crime, survivors of natural disasters, terrorist victims, those who witnessed or endured a near death experience, among many others (1).
You do not have to be physically hurt in order to develop PTSD, and the effects, if untreated tend to be chronic and devastating.
What is Trauma?
Trauma is defined as any negative occurrence that supersedes a person’s ability to cope.
What are the different types of trauma?
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Postpartum Trauma
- Sanctuary Trauma
- Vicarious Traumatization
- Attachment Trauma
Effects of trauma:
- Autonomic nervous system imbalance
- Dysregulated circadian rhythm
- Hormonal imbalances
- Poor detoxification
- Systemic inflammation
- Poor lifestyle behaviors
- Poor eating habits
- Feelings of isolation and loneliness
- Chronic injuries
- Emotional lability
Facts on PTSD from the National Institute of Medicine:
- PTSD affects about 7.7 million American adults (1)
- PTSD can occur at any age. (1)
- Women are more likely to develop PTSD than men (1)
- PTSD is often accompanied by depression, substance abuse, or other anxiety disorders (1)
- Members of the military exposed to war/combat and other groups at high risk for trauma exposure are at risk for developing PTSD (1)
- The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that PTSD afflicts 20 percent of Iraqi war veterans (1)
The standard of care for treatment of PTSD includes:
- Exposure Therapy: Which is a type of therapy where a traumatized person has to confront their traumatic memories through talking, or direct exposure. (1)
- Drug therapy:- D-cycloserine is an antibiotic that is postulated to modulate how traumatized individuals “experience fear.” (1)
- Antidepressants: To control symptoms of depression and anxiety (2)
- Axiolytics or Anti-Anxiety Medications: To control symptoms of anxiety (2)
- Prazosin: This is a beta-blocker that is used for blood pressure. Some doctors postulate that this may also help with insomnia and recurrent nightmares though this drug is not FDA approved for PTSD. (2)
- Trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy (2)
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR): EMDR is accomplished by a certified clinician who uses a combination of bilateral stimulation and direct targeting of traumatic memories in order to help evoke brain changes for a curative healing response. (2)
Healing Trauma: Naturopathic and Integrative Approaches in the Management of Trauma and PTSD
This photograph is of Veteran Perry Hopman who as a medic serving in Iraq. He suffered Blast Force Injuries.
He relies on 22 medications daily to keep the nightmares and pain at bay.
Photograph taken by Lynn Johnson of National Geographic. To learn more read the article:
There are effective, natural alternatives to treat PTSD:
Identify the root cause of your symptoms and address them:
With trauma we have to consider both the cause, and the effects. So while the cause of the trauma may be in the past, the effects of trauma may continue. In fact, many people report that the effects of their trauma continue to feed into the symptoms of trauma making it worse, and worse. With respect to this, treatment should emphasize both healing of the past and the present.
Healing Past Trauma
- Mindfulness: Mindfulness is associated with fewer PTSD symptoms, depression, anxiety and other symptoms commonly experienced in those who have endured trauma. There is a substantial amount of evidence supporting this, example studies may be found to the right
- EMDR: Is recognized by the VA as the number one most powerful form of therapy for symptoms of trauma and PTSD.
- Hypnosis: Clinical hypnotherapy is effective at mitigating the effects of trauma both emotional and physical.
- Group therapies: Support from people who understand what you are going through can be a powerful tool in helping you move towards recovery.
- Endocrine support: Significant amounts of research show that stress impacts the body. In fact, acute trauma will cause endocrine changes that differ from chronic stress. Looking at your endocrine system can give clues to how the body is physiologically out of balance and treating this can help promote healing. A specific example are the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands are involved in the “fight/ flight” response. Patients who endure chronic have higher output of a stress hormone from the adrenal glands called cortisol. Cortisol is involved in many other metabolic processes, and after chronic stress the adrenal glands production of cortisol shifts or decreases causing symptoms. Examples of symptoms of low cortisol: Blood sugar regulation issues, fatigue, insomnia, dizziness upon standing up, blood pressure regulation issues, anger, anxiety and more.
- Mindfulness and PTSD: Mindfulness is an effective tool in the treatment of PTSD.
- Gut Health: It is widely accepted that dopamine, adrenaline, noradrenaline, and serotonin are key neurotransmitters, and are incredibly important when it comes to managing your mood, motivation, focus, and emotional state. Interestingly, dopamine, adrenaline, noradrenaline, and serotonin are produced not just in the brain, but they are produced in the peripheral nervous system as well.
- Homeopathy: Homeopathy as prescribed by a classically trained homeopathic physician can produce incredibly powerful healing for all types of trauma. See Sarah’s story, below.
- Herbal Supplementation: There are often natural, safe, and effective herbal alternatives to most conventional medications. The benefit of herbal medicine is that not only do they help the patient become healthier but they are also quick-acting and often equally, if not more effective.
- Amino Acids and other micronutrients: Chronic stress, trauma and environmental exposures can wreak havoc on the brain and body. Specifically prescribed nutrients can help repair your tissues.
- Acupuncture: This has been shown to help with pain, anxiety, anger/rage, nightmares, depression, fear and more.
Sarah is an army veteran. During her time in the military she was deployed to Iraq and served active duty for several years. During her time in the military she endured the pain and fear upon seeing her comrades blown up, killed, and wounded. She lived in suboptimal conditions where amenities were scarce, and disease ran rampant. She was exposed to toxic metals including lead, mercury and more (as elucidated on urine toxic mental testing). She also endured significant sexual harassment which further exacerbated her already fragile state.
As time passed her emotional health deteriorated and the only options given to her were short term and palliative at best.
After returning to the United States, re-assimilation into civilian society was almost impossible. Sarah struggled to find community, she suffered from extreme brain fog, migraine headaches, digestive upset, as well as anxiety, anger, despair concomitant to the typical PTSD symptoms: flashbacks, nightmares, exaggerated startle reflex, and more. She was given a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and qualified for a handful of sessions of psychotherapy and psychiatric management.
She presented to my office in the fall of 2011 looking for an alternative to the bottle of pills that she was taking. She was looking for hope.
Within the first month of treatment, she reported the following:
- Anger with violence, screaming: “This is a lot better. I’m not explosive as I used to be.” The annoying people in my chemistry are still annoying, but I do not feel like bashing their heads in anymore. I am less vengeful driving, too. Regarding screaming matches with my fiancé, he and he both feel that this is better.”
- Gastrointestinal symptoms of sharp, cramping abdominal pain, may radiate to groin: “This is so much better. For the first time in years, I do not have any pain where my ulcer was/is. I have even been eating really poorly and my digestion is better. I really think my ulcer in my colon is actually healing.”)Migraines: “I have only had 2 since we started treatment. This is a big improvement from what I had before, which was migraine headaches daily that put me out for most of the day.”
- No other changes as of yet.
Another month later, she reported the following:
- Anger with violence, screaming: “Better. If I take my homeopathic remedy right away in the morning I am good all day. I have no anger problems. If I take it later in the day I get cranky around lunch. As soon as I dose it again it will help me quickly, I know relief is in the works.”
- Irritability at trifles: “That has gotten a lot better. I am learning to cope better, I’m learning to not nag my fiance as much. Instead of yelling at him about things at home he doesn’t do, I will just take 10 minutes to breathe.”
- Flashbacks: “These are happening a lot less frequently.”
- Menstrual cramps (endometriosis): “So much better. I have not had a period this good in years.”
- Gastrointestinal symptoms of sharp, cramping abdominal pain, may radiate to groin: “This is not occurring at all. My stools have regulated. I think the probiotics are also helping with that.”
- Brain fog: “Better! I haven’t forgotten where I put my keys in 3 weeks!”)Migraines: “I had a little bit of a headache last Saturday but my neck was also out. I have not had a full-blown migraine in over a month.”
During this time we also did urine toxic metal testing because high levels of certain metals could contribute to some of Sara’s symptoms.
Her baseline test to the right revealed the following: Her Lead was extremely high, she also had some elevations of mercury. Sarah did not want to do chelation, and instead we started her on a program including: Homeopathy, detox, nutrition, exercise, and more.
She stuck to her protocol, all the while continuing to take her chronic homeopathic remedy. Her symptoms progressively improved, and six months later we retested her urine toxic metals.
This is depicted in the second picture to the right. You will notice that her lead went from 18 down to 10. Her mercury was unchanged, however, Sarah did report having an amalgam removed one week before this test was done, and that may account for the elevation.
We continued treatment and Sarah’s levels continued to drop. Once they were in normal range, Sarah and her now fiancé made preparations to start a family.
It has been three years of treatment and now Sarah reports:
- She has a happy, healthy six-month-old.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms of anger, flashbacks, exaggerated startle/ fear response are all significantly better. She feels that she no longer has “PTSD” but rather some sad, and painful memories of the past. While they still exist in her memory, they no longer control her life.
- Her relationship with her now husband is not perfect but they are both more healthy, happy, and balanced.
- Migraines: She almost never gets migraines, if they do happen it is “because I did not do my self-care, relax, or see my chiropractor.”
- Menstrual cramps (endometriosis): She no longer has a thickened endometrial lining, and her diagnosis of endometriosis has been removed. Her periods normalized.
- Gastrointestinal symptoms: She had been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in college and all remnants of that disorder are gone. She no longer has digestive pain, reflux, or other symptoms. That is- unless she eats too much ice cream- her favorite indulgence.
- Brain fog: She is sharp as a tack, got her certification as a doula and is now a key advocate in her “Mommy’s Group” helping other women who struggle with postpartum concerns.
Naturopathic doctors treat the whole person. As you see in Sarah’s case, we looked at her physical body as well as her psychological wellness. Treating the mind and not addressing the body is about as logical as teaching someone to play piano and then giving them a broken instrument.
As you search for a doctor, make sure that the one you choose is willing to look at the entire biopsychosocial model of care.
Mindfulness & PTSD
Mindfulness is an effective approach for treating symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Just a few articles supporting this, are listed below.
- Owens, GP., Walter, KH., Chard, KM., & Davis, PA. Changes in mindfulness skills and treatment response among veterans in residential PTSD treatment. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, Vol 4(2), Mar 2012, 221-228. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0024251
- Thompson, B., Waltz, J. Mindfulness and experiential avoidance as predictors of posttraumatic stress disorder avoidance symptom severity. Journal of Anxiety Disorders. Volume 24, Issue 4, May 2010, Pages 409–415.
- Smith, B. Ortiz, A, Steffen, L. et al. Mindfulness is associated with fewer PTSD symptoms, depressive symptoms, physical symptoms, and alcohol problems in urban firefighters. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol 79(5), Oct 2011, 613-617. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0025189
- Kearney, D;, McDermott, K. Et al. Association of participation in a mindfulness program with measures of PTSD, depression and quality of life in a veteran sample The Journal of Clinical Psychology.Volume 68, Issue 1, pages 101–116, January 2012
- Vujanovic, A. NIles, B. et al. Mindfulness in the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder among military veterans. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, Vol 42(1), Feb 2011, 24-31. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0022272
- Boden, MT., Bernstein, A, et al. Changes in facets of mindfulness and posttraumatic stress disorder treatment outcome. Psychiatry Research. Volume 200, Issues 2–3, 30 December 2012, Pages 609–613.
Lab Charts Toxic Metals
[click image for larger view]