Anxiety disorders its causes, symptoms and treatment in Ayurveda, is subject of this article. Anxiety disorders are a group of mental health conditions characterized by persistent feelings of worry, fear, and nervousness.
Some common types of anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Here’s a look at causes, symptoms according to modern medical science researches and treatment of anxiety in Ayurveda.
Anxiety disorders its causes :
The causes of anxiety disorders are not well understood, but they are believed to be related to a combination of genetic, environmental, and neurological factors.
Research on Genetic Factors :
Anxiety disorders are complex conditions that can be influenced by a variety of genetic and environmental factors. While there is no one specific gene that has been identified as the cause of anxiety disorders, several studies have suggested that genetic factors play a role in their development.
One study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that a gene called RGS2, which is involved in the regulation of the neurotransmitter serotonin, was associated with anxiety disorders. Another study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience found that a gene called SLC6A4, which regulates the serotonin transporter, was also associated with anxiety disorders.
In addition, a study published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry found that a variant of the gene FKBP5, which is involved in regulating the stress response, was associated with an increased risk of developing anxiety disorders.
Overall, these studies suggest that there are likely multiple genetic factors that contribute to the development of anxiety disorders. However, it’s important to note that genetics is only one part of the picture, and environmental factors such as stress and trauma can also play a significant role in the development of anxiety disorders.
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Here are some research references on genetic causes of anxiety:
Smoller, J. W., Gardner-Schuster, E., Covino, J. (2008). The genetic basis of anxiety disorders. The Psychiatric clinics of North America, 31(1), 77-93. doi: 10.1016/j.psc.2007.11.003
Hettema, J. M. (2008). The genetics of anxiety disorders. Current Psychiatry Reports, 10(2), 117-121. doi: 10.1007/s11920-008-0019-8
Hariri, A. R., Drabant, E. M., Munoz, K. E. (2005). A susceptibility gene for affective disorders and the response of the human amygdala. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62(2), 146-152. doi: 10.1001/archpsyc.62.2.146
Research on Neurological Factors :
There are several neurological factors that have been linked to anxiety disorders. Here are a few of the most significant ones, along with some research references and links:
The amygdala is a part of the brain that is involved in processing emotions, particularly fear and anxiety.
Several studies have found that people with anxiety disorders have increased activity in the amygdala in response to stressful or threatening stimuli.
This hyperactivity may contribute to the exaggerated fear and anxiety responses seen in anxiety disorders.
Reference: Etkin, A., & Wager, T. D. (2007). Functional neuroimaging of anxiety: a meta-analysis of emotional processing in PTSD, social anxiety disorder, and specific phobia.
American Journal of Psychiatry, 164(10), 1476-1488. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2007.07030504
Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that helps to regulate anxiety and other emotional responses.
Some studies have suggested that people with anxiety disorders may have a deficiency of GABA or its receptors, which may contribute to their symptoms.
Reference: Goddard, A. W., Mason, G. F., Appel, M., et al. (2001). Impaired GABA neuronal response to acute benzodiazepine administration in panic disorder. American Journal of Psychiatry, 158(5), 720-722. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.158.5.720
HPA axis dysfunction:
The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is a key regulator of the body’s stress response. Chronic stress and anxiety can dysregulate the HPA axis, leading to increased cortisol production and other physiological changes that may contribute to anxiety disorders.
Reference: McEwen, B. S. (2007). Physiology and neurobiology of stress and adaptation: central role of the brain. Physiological Reviews, 87(3), 873-904. doi: 10.1152/physrev.00041.2006
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays a role in regulating mood and anxiety. Some studies have suggested that people with anxiety disorders may have alterations in serotonin neurotransmission, such as decreased availability of serotonin receptors.
Reference: Paulus, M. P., & Stein, M. B. (2010). Interoception in anxiety and depression. Brain Structure and Function, 214(5-6), 451-463. doi: 10.1007/s00429-010-0258-9
Research on Neurological Factors :
These neurological factors are just a few of the many that may contribute to the development of anxiety disorders. While research in this area is ongoing, these findings suggest that anxiety disorders may have a complex neurobiological basis that involves multiple brain regions and neurotransmitter systems.
Prefrontal cortex dysfunction:
The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is a part of the brain that is involved in higher-order cognitive processes, including decision-making, impulse control, and emotion regulation. Some studies have suggested that people with anxiety related symptoms may have reduced PFC activity, which may impair their ability to regulate their emotional responses.
Reference: Etkin, A., Egner, T., & Kalisch, R. (2011). Emotional processing in anterior cingulate and medial prefrontal cortex. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 15(2), 85-93. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2010.11.004
Hippocampal volume reduction:
The hippocampus is a brain region that is involved in learning, memory, and emotion regulation. Some studies have found that people with anxiety disorders may have reduced hippocampal volume, which may impair their ability to regulate their emotional responses to stress.
Reference: McEwen, B. S., & Magarinos, A. M. (2001). Stress and hippocampal plasticity: implications for the pathophysiology of affective disorders. Human Psychopharmacology, 16(S1), S7-S19. doi: 10.1002/hup.233
Glutamate is a neurotransmitter that is involved in many brain functions, including learning, memory, and emotion regulation.
Some studies have suggested that people with anxiety related issues may have alterations in glutamate neurotransmission, such as increased glutamate release.
Reference: Pittenger, C., & Duman, R. S. (2008). Stress, depression, and neuroplasticity: a convergence of mechanisms. Neuropsychopharmacology, 33(1), 88-109. doi: 10.1038/sj.npp.1301574
Overall, these neurological factors are just a few of the many that have been linked to anxiety disorders. While more research is needed to fully understand the neurobiological underpinnings of anxiety.
These findings suggest that a complex interplay of brain regions and neurotransmitter systems may contribute to the development and maintenance of anxiety related disorders.
Research on Environmental Factors :
Environmental factors can also play a role in the development of anxiety related issues. Here are a few examples with scientific research and references:
Anxiety Disorders due to Stressful life events:
Experiencing stressful life events, such as trauma, abuse, or major life changes, can increase the risk of developing anxiety disorders.
A study found that traumatic life events were associated with an increased likelihood of developing anxiety symptoms.
Reference: Kessler, R. C., Davis, C. G., & Kendler, K. S. (1997). Childhood adversity and adult psychiatric disorder in the US National Comorbidity Survey. Psychological Medicine, 27(5), 1101-1119. doi: 10.1017/s0033291797005588
Anxiety Disorders due to Parental factors:
Parental factors, such as parenting style, can also contribute to the development of anxiety disorders in children.
A study found that children with overprotective or critical parents were more likely to develop anxiety related problems.
Reference: McLeod, B. D., Wood, J. J., & Weisz, J. R. (2007). Examining the association between parenting and childhood anxiety: A meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology Review, 27(2), 155-172. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2006.09.002
Anxiety Disorders due to Social factors:
Social factors, such as social support and social isolation, can also impact anxiety levels. A study found that social support was associated with lower levels of anxiety.
Reference: Storch, E. A., Roberti, J. W., & Roth, D. A. (2004). Factor structure, concurrent validity, and internal consistency of the Social Support Questionnaire in adolescent psychiatric inpatients. Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, 26(2), 109-115. doi: 10.1023/b:joba.0000015255.42920.e9
Anxiety Disorders due to Environmental toxins:
Exposure to environmental toxins, such as lead and mercury, has been linked to anxiety related problems.
A study found that exposure to lead was associated with increased risk of anxiety disorders.
Reference: Weitzman, M., & Bellinger, D. (1992). A dose-response analysis of the effects of environmental lead exposure on IQ scores. Pediatrics, 90(5), 678-685.
These are just a few examples of environmental factors. More research is needed to fully understand the relationship between these factors and anxiety, but these findings suggest that both biological and environmental factors play a role in the development of anxiety disorders.
Anxiety Disorders and Ayurved :
Ayurveda considers anxiety to be a result of an imbalance of the Vata dosha, which is responsible for movement and communication in the body. A Vata imbalance can lead to feelings of fear, anxiety, and nervousness.
Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders:
The symptoms of anxiety can vary depending on the type of disorder, but common symptoms include excessive worry, depression, restlessness, irritability, difficulty sleeping, difficulty concentrating, and physical symptoms such as muscle tension, sweating, and rapid heartbeat.
Anxiety & its Ayurvedic Treatment:
Ayurvedic treatment for anxiety disorders typically involves a combination of herbal remedies, dietary changes, lifestyle modifications, and stress management techniques.
Some commonly used herbs for anxiety include Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri), Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), Shankhapushpi (Convolvulus pluricaulis), and Jatamansi (Nardostachys jatamansi).
These herbs have been shown to have anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) effects in scientific research.
For example, a study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology found that Brahmi had significant anxiolytic effects in rats.
A double-blind, placebo-controlled study published in the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine found that Ashwagandha was effective in reducing anxiety symptoms in patients with generalized anxiety disorder.
Another study published in the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine found that Jatamansi had significant anti-anxiety effects in patients with anxiety issues.
In addition to herbal remedies, Ayurveda emphasizes the importance of diet and lifestyle modifications in managing anxiety symptoms.
Eating a balanced diet, getting regular exercise, and practicing stress-reducing techniques such as meditation, yoga, and pranayama (breathing exercises) can all be helpful in reducing anxiety symptoms.
Bhattacharya SK, et al. Anxiolytic activity of a standardized extract of Bacopa monniera: an experimental study. J Ethnopharmacol. 1995 Dec 15; 44(3): 149-155.
Chandrasekhar K, et al. A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Indian J Psychol Med. 2012 Jul; 34(3): 255-262.
Sharma R, et al. Efficacy and safety of Nardostachys jatamansi in the management of generalized anxiety disorder: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial. J Ayurveda Integr Med. 2017 Jul-Sep; 8(3): 143-150.