by Gabriel Ariciu, DC
So there I was ready to teach a family about the Gospel of Jesus Christ and my hands started to shake. My mind was racing and when I spoke my words stumbled out of my mouth. The missionary that was with me looked at me with alarm. He quickly took over and finished teaching. We walked out of the house quietly not knowing what was happening. It was a frightening experience. I didn’t know what was going on. I was plagued with insomnia. I couldn’t sleep but a few minutes each day. I constantly worried. As missionaries you are supposed to be out each day talking to people but it was a tough area. Many were not interested, so we had a lot of time on our hands, time for me to worry and feel guilty about not doing better. Thoughts swirled around that drowning me. I was a wreck. Soon thereafter I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
Until that point I didn’t think I had an issue. In hindsight there were definite signs of it creeping up. Days where my mind would race and I couldn’t sleep, even panic attacks. I remember one panic attack when I was so worried about a girl that I started hyperventilating and freaking out. I didn’t know what was going on. They say some think it is a heart attacking and I understood why, it is a terrifying experience. I always knew in those instances if I could get to sleep, I would wake up better. Easier said then done. Well now the disorder came out with full force and I was put on medication. The doctor took a quick history and from that he determined I must have low amounts of serotonin in my brain. He put me on Paxil and Xanax. Paxil was to be taken daily. It is a SSRI or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. It essentially keeps serotonin in synapses longer. Xanax was meant to be taken periodically especially due to its addictive nature. Xanax is a benzodiazepine. It works by depressing the central nervous system calming you down.
The medication certainly did help. I was sleeping more and the anxiety was abated, but not without nasty side effects. I felt dead emotionally as if my emotions were stunted. I hated how it felt. I didn’t want to be on the drugs for life, but for the time being they helped. I was still able to enjoy many great days as a missionary. In fact some of the best moments happened after this. I also remember speaking at a missionary meeting. Sometimes you are asked to speak about a certain topic or testify about what you know to be true. I jokingly quoted a scripture that said to be “anxiously engaged.” The missionary that was with me shook his head in laughter. I was definitely anxiously engaged.
I was only supposed to be in South Africa for about 6 more months after being diagnosed. I thought maybe once I got home I would be able to taper off of the meds and I did. I slowly tapered, as the doctor instructed me. At the same time I found good coping mechanisms, mechanisms that I didn’t have as a missionary halfway around the world such as movies and video games. Not the best coping mechanisms in hindsight but they worked. Soon enough I rarely saw even a hint of anxiety even going through some horrific personal struggles in the following years. But I could still feel its ugly head.
Fast forward a few years and now I am sitting in a functional medicine seminar listening to the lecturer talk about low neurotransmitter symptoms. He detailed out serotonin and dopamine among others. A light bulb went off. All this time I thought it was a serotonin issue and in reality it was dopamine. Looking back it all makes sense, as hindsight often does.
Dopamine deficiency is characterized by the following symptoms:
- Inability to focus and concentrate
- Lack of motivation
- Mood swings
- Low libido
- Sugar cravings
- Lack of pleasure
- Hard time getting going in the morning
- Caffeine cravings
- Inability to lose weight
- Inability to handle stress
I had most of these symptoms. Also I couldn’t help but think of Michael J. Fox and other Parkinson’s patients who suffer from loss of their substantia nigra where dopamine is made. I correlated their tremors to my hands shaking while trying to teach those many years ago. It has never gotten that bad since then but I couldn’t help but think of the tremors I once had. Now I had a huge piece of the puzzle, but still much left to discover.
The last giant piece came in my first year in practice. By this time I was suffering from chronic fatigue. Sometime during my doctoral program I stopped exercising because I was so tired. I felt better and after graduation I decided to go back to the gym. It felt so good. I was lifting and swinging weights and having fun! But after a few months the fatigue crept back in. I started only going twice per week, then once, and then I stopped. Of course during this whole period I was taking a lot of caffeine. I took pre-workouts for the gym, often doubling the dose. Then I took them just for the needed energy. I was hopelessly addicted to caffeine. Caffeine increases the production of dopamine. I felt normal when I took it.
I stopped working out and things improved once again. But this time something was going to change. Dr. Quinn and I like to test ourselves on new products and diagnostic procedures. In the process of us investigating my issues, I decided to take the DUTCH test. It is a dried urine test that measures different hormones and neurotransmitters. I was wondering if I had low testosterone. The results came back with some hormones being off, but the big things was I was very deficient in dopamine. Neurotransmitters are hard to measure and most doctors rely on symptom surveys with a trial and error treatment that follows. So now I new for sure my dopamine issue was real and still very present.
You could blame my years of a bad diet. It certainly was a major contributor. My diet at this time was far from perfect, but it was leaps and bounds better than a few years ago. But diet was not the only culprit. The final piece of the puzzle finally fell into place.
We use a diagnostic procedure called Applied Kinesiology. One of the techniques we use was developed by Dr. Michael Lebowitz. We owe him a lot for his clinical expertise. AK is not meant to be neither does it purport to be an 100% fool proof diagnostic procedure but it is meant to be used in correlation with blood work, physical exam, history, etc. It’s a guiding tool. We used Dr. Lebowitz’ protocol in conjunction to a symptom survey for Lyme Disease. The symptom survey showed I had a high probability of tick borne illness. The protocol confirmed our suspicions. I most likely had Lyme.
Now if you read my other post on Lyme you know that the blood tests are terribly inaccurate and often have false negatives. So we didn’t run them, but proceeded forth a herbal treatment regimen. Within weeks, my motivation increased, apathy waned, and I could focus again! My caffeine dependence was no more.
Lyme has been shown to decrease dopamine levels as well as testosterone levels. There is a feedback loop between dopamine and testosterone as well. Again, your body is all connected.
The point of this article was to talk in depth about my own health issues and to introduce a segment on mental health. I will follow this article up with an in depth look at anxiety and what is happening in the body. I do hope by sharing my story it motivates others and provides the needed hope that things can get better.