There is much that can be done nutritionally in support of psychological stress and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) during and after a natural disaster. I’ve written this blog for you if you’ve been impacted by the recent storm and flooding due to Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area (the pictures of people returning home are so sad), and for everyone impacted by Irma and about to be impacted by Irma. This is for you if
- you had to be rescued and had to evacuate your home, are displaced and/or saw neighbors in trouble, have lost your belongings and home – and anything else that may have happened during this natural disaster
- you have been involved in on-the-ground rescue efforts or working online helping with rescue efforts and you have working long hours, not getting enough sleep and likely not eating well
- you had a loved one in trouble and feared for their lives
- and if you’re on observer feeling distressed by what you have witnessed
You may be feeling on edge and anxious about the future, fearful about losing your job, worried about expenses and the chemical soup of flood waters you were exposed to, exhausted and yet not able to sleep, feeling overly emotional and weepy, having nightmares and flashbacks and feeling frazzled.
I wasn’t even in Texas and my contribution was a very small one, helping online rescue efforts from Australia via a volunteer rescue group created by McCall McPherson, but I felt really burned out after just a few days and quite distressed by some of the rescues we were trying to facilitate. I have had to really walk my talk and implement some of what I’m sharing here even though I would consider myself resilient because my nutrient balance is good.
B-Complex for everyone
My first recommendation is a B complex and if this is all that can be managed it would be my first choice for everyone. In fact, if you live in an area prone to hurricanes, flood, fires etc. I’d recommend being on a B complex all the time.
My colleagues Bonnie Kaplin and Julia Rucklidge published this paper in 2015: A randomised trial of nutrient supplements to minimise psychological stress after a natural disaster. They share that:
After devastating flooding in southern Alberta in June 2013, we attempted to replicate a New Zealand randomised trial that showed that micronutrient (minerals, vitamins) consumption after the earthquakes of 2010-11 resulted in improved mental health. Residents of southern Alberta were invited to participate in a study on the potential benefit of nutrient supplements following a natural disaster.
Fifty-six adults aged 23-66 were randomised to receive one of the following for 6 weeks:
- vitamin D as a single nutrient
- a B-Complex formula or a
- broad-spectrum mineral/vitamin formula
The study participants monitored changes in depression, anxiety and stress via self-reporting. All of the above 3 groups showed substantial decreases on all measures. However, those consuming the B-Complex and the broad-spectrum mineral/vitamin formula showed significantly greater improvement in stress and anxiety compared with those consuming the vitamin D alone, with the results being similar for the group using the B-Complex and the broad-spectrum mineral/vitamin formula.
The authors report that:
The use of nutrient formulas with multiple minerals and/or vitamins to minimise stress associated with natural disasters is now supported by three studies.
Further research should be carried out to evaluate the potential population benefit that might accrue if such formulas were distributed as a post-disaster public health measure.
I would love to see either a B-Complex or broad-spectrum mineral/vitamin formula be given out to everyone as part of relief efforts for all natural disasters.
The B-Complex used in the study was made by Douglas labs but other similar B-Complex products would be fine too. I happen to use Designs for Health B Supreme with my clients.
The broad-spectrum mineral/vitamin formula in the study was EmpowerPlus made by TrueHope.
Vitamin D based on levels
In the above study, some participants in the vitamin D group did see benefits and it’s likely to have been those who were low in vitamin D at the time of the flooding since other research supports a connection between low vitamin D and anxiety and depression. I like to see vitamin D results before recommending supplementation.
Serotonin, GABA and endorphin support based on symptoms and a trial
As well as a B-complex and/or vitamin D, I’d also consider the following neurotransmitter support on a case by case basis, and after doing the amino acid questionnaire and a trial of each amino acid:
- Serotonin support with Lidtke tryptophan or Lidtke Tryptophan Complete or Lidtke Combat Stress (a tryptophan product formulated for stress support) – especially if you’re feeling sad, worried, resolving to try and feel positive, imagining the worst, feeling fearful and having problem sleeping. I blogged about tryptophan products last week.
- GABA support for physical tension and an increased need to self-medicate with alcohol in order to stay calm. New research shows that reduced plasma levels of GABA observed in PTSD could be considered as a possible biomarker for PTSD severity. This is not something I typically look at but it’s something I will be considering going forward. I blogged about some specific GABA products earlier this week.
- Endorphin support with Lidtke DPA if you’re feeling especially emotional and weepy.
Serotonin and GABA play a role in stress resilience and when we have enhanced stress resilience mechanisms we have the ability to adapt more successfully to stressful situations like natural disasters.
Additional adrenal support if needed
The adrenals are part of the hypothalamic-pituitary axis (HPA) and also need nutritional support after stress and trauma. I recommend a good adrenal support product with rhodiola, Vitamin C, pantothenic acid, eleuthero and ashwagandha. Designs for Health Adrenotone is a good product.
If it’s known that cortisol levels are high then the addition of Seriphos and/or a lactium product (such as Biotics Research De-Stress) helps to lower high cortisol, reduce anxiety and help with insomnia.
Additional pyroluria support if needed
It is well known that pyroluria symptoms are made worse in times of heightened stress. If you are on protocol for pyroluria, additional zinc and vitamin B6/P5P is likely going to be needed short-term too.
Essential oils like lavender and citrus are wonderful for the stress, anxiety and sleepless nights. An animal study reports that passively inhaling orange essential oil could potentially reduce PTSD symptoms in humans
Some other considerations include the following once things start to get back to some kind of normal:
- trying to eat as well as you can and not skipping meals
- trying to get enough sleep (the GABA and tryptophan support mentioned above can help in this area)
- getting outside into nature as soon as it’s possible. If this is impossible right away, simply looking at images of nature can help you feel calmer, less irritable, and more empathetic. I hope you enjoy this flower photograph I took in Australia!
- meditating and doing yoga
- community support and helping others if you’re able to
- getting a cat or dog (veterans who were given pet dogs showed significant improvement in their PTSD symptoms)
I would recommend a similar approach for any natural disaster or in fact for any other traumatic event, always working individually with each person.
If you have found some approach to be particularly useful for you please do share it.
And if you have any connections for getting this information into the hands of public health officials and non-profits offering aid please let me know. I feel that protocols similar to this one need to be made available to everyone subjected to a natural disaster.
I wish you and your families much healing and a speedy recovery.
I added these additional resources from colleagues after September 20, 2017:
- How to Stay Safe in a Disaster: Emergency Preparedness List by Katie Wells on the Wellness Mama blog. She says this: “The point of putting together an emergency preparedness plan is not to create any undue anxiety, but to help alleviate some of the stress of a disaster in case it hits.”
- What to Do After a Hurricane: The Dangers Lurking Beyond the Storm by Dr. Jill Carnahan. This blog addresses both mold and bacteria in flood waters, and practical steps on how to deal with these issues. Mold needs to be taken seriously – I interviewed Dr. Carnahan on the topic of mold toxicity and anxiety during one the Anxiety Summits – Is Toxic Mold the Hidden Cause of Your Anxiety?
- My Flood Story and What to Do About Mold by Dave Asprey. This blog offers practical solutions on how best to do clean-up after a flood and the dangers of mold. He is also very kindly making his documentary, Moldy available for viewing at no charge.
- Beyond Meditation: Making Mindfulness Accessible for Everyone by Mira Dessy and Kerry McClure. Mira is a dear friend whose home was flooded by Harvey and went I spoke to her last week she shared how much her meditation practice has been helping her. I love that she has a book on the topic so that it can be shared far and wide to help those affected.
If you have links to additional useful resources please let me know and I’ll add them.