Anxiety: Homeopathy, Herbs, & Hydrotherapy
Vis Medicatrix Naturae
Deborah Frances, RN, ND
Chris Chlebowski, DC, ND
The following cases illustrate the amazing power of Vis Medicatrix Naturae operating through the medicine of nature and the innate vitality of each patient; however, they do not necessarily, in this short discussion, address underlying causes contributing to the epidemic increase of mental health problems in all ages. Those causes are multi-faceted, but the unprecedented sea of toxins in our present-day environment is definitely playing a significant role. It behooves us as naturopathic doctors to address issues of toxicity, not only in our patient care, but also in our personal lives and – as much as we are able – in the greater community as well. Our philosophy, Tolle Totum, Tolle Causam, and Docere, demand nothing less.
A Case of Intrusive Thoughts
A mild-mannered 42-year-old white male complained of chronic insomnia with dark, disturbing thoughts that arose uninvited as he tried to fall asleep at night. These thoughts included seeing his children dead in a river or seeing himself doing terrible things to them, though he loved them dearly. The patient was abused as a child and could remember having to choke himself to fall asleep. He was one of the most lovely people I have ever met in practice, and did not seem to have the temperament to hurt a flea.
He suffered from ongoing anxiety that he described as debilitating. He was taking buspirone and quetiapine, but these medications were not effective for either the insomnia or the anxiety.
He was given a flower essence of White Chestnut, which is specific for intrusive, unwelcome thoughts that seem impossible to control. A few drops taken 3 to 4 times daily for a few weeks completely resolved the intrusive thoughts, and they had not returned. The patient was overjoyed at the removal of this disturbing symptom, and he was subsequently able to discontinue both of his medications.
Some months later, the patient returned to clinic with fears for his health and safety. Thoughts centered around doomsday concerns about the illuminati implementing plans for the destruction of mankind. Using the Cycles and Segments methodology developed by Paul Herscu and Amy Rothenberg, his case was repertorized and he was given a dose of Arsenicum album 200C. One dose completely resolved the problem. He remains a patient to this day and has not seen a return of either symptom.
A Case of Impulsivity
An 18-year-old white female with Asperger’s syndrome reported difficulty with intrusive thoughts since the age of 4. Entering her mind uninvited were thoughts of stabbing people; racist thoughts; violent, sexual thoughts; sexual thoughts involving her and her family; and pictures of mutilated bodies.
From early on she would have the impulse to do violent or disruptive actions, such as jump from a second-story window or commit suicide whenever she was angry or overwhelmed. She sought out her mother to hold her down at these times, even though she claimed to hate her mother.
She also struggled with a fear of knives and an understandable fear of losing control of her impulses. She also loved sweets.
The patient was given Argentum nitricum 200C in 2 doses a few months apart, after which the intrusive impulses left and she became confident enough to move out on her own. She was also able to decrease and eventually discontinue sertraline. The Argentum nitricum was prescribed based on the totality of symptoms, and was arrived at by using the Cycles and Segments methodology.
Impulsivity and lack of control are key symptoms of Argentum nitricum. These patients are also highly anxious, sympathetic, and impressionable. The remedy has a strong affinity for the central nervous system (CNS) and has been used in neurological conditions including vertigo, sciatica, multiple sclerosis, ataxia and epilepsy.1 The typical Argentum nitricum patient is usually very fast-paced, silly, and quite funny, as well as very warm-blooded.
A Case of Impending Mania
A 34-year-old woman reported to clinic with a medical history of hospitalization at age 20 for an acute manic episode. She was on no meds and had been symptom-free without medication since this one isolated episode.
Now, with the acute stress of ending a relationship had that become abusive, she felt her nervous system revving and was fearful of going into another manic episode. She was intensely restless and anxious, and all of her symptoms were worse at night, at which time she felt as if she had suddenly acquired super-powers and could take on the world. She was coherent enough to realize these ideas were symptoms of an impending mania, and was frightened at the prospect of ending up back in the hospital.
Though she did manage to get 1 or 2 hours of sleep, she felt like she was flying out of her body most of the night. Rage at her boyfriend was amplified at night, and she would argue with him vehemently in her head. She described feeling frighteningly isolated, even though she had friends nearby. This sense of intense isolation led to a longing to be with her family several hundred miles away.
This patient was health-minded, with good lifestyle and nutritional habits. She had recently stopped all stimulants, consisting of small amounts of occasional sugar and a cup of coffee 2 to 3 times per week.
I began by prescribing a formula of nervine herbs (see Table 1) with instructions to take 1 tsp every hour. The degree of agitation in her sensitive, overwrought nervous system and the impending psychosis demanded high, frequent dosing of the appropriate herbs. By combining several herbs in each formula, I am able to dose these patients aggressively without fear of toxicity from any 1 herb. A 6X potency of the cell salt Kali phosphoricum, specific for the nervous system, and the Bach flower essence formula Rescue Remedy, were added into the tincture bottle to enhance the action of the herbs.
Table 1. Herbal Formula for Anxiety
|Cimicifuga (Actaea) racemosa||0.5|
|Oplopanax horridus||30 gtts|
|Kali phosphoricum 6X (cell salt)||1 pellet|
|Rescue Remedy Flower Essence||2 gtts|
|Several tsp of the formula can be placed into a mason jar and covered with boiling water to evaporate the alcohol and create a tea, which should then be sipped all day. Some patients, already overwhelmed by nervous anxiety, will find this too much and should do the tincture. (8 drams per 1 oz)|
While the rationale for prescribing calming nervines will be obvious to the naturopathic practitioner, some brief notes on a few of the herbs is warranted:
- Crataegus spp, was chosen for its ability to calm the Heart Shen, which then helps to calm the CNS. Crataegus is also helpful for negotiating grief.
- Frequent, small doses of Oplopanax horridus help alleviate anxiety by strengthening psychic boundaries and imparting a sense of empowerment to the patient
- Cimicifuga (Actaea) racemosa is indicated whenever emotional symptoms arise from physical or emotional abuse. There can be a wild feeling in the brain with agitation and mania, or conversely, deep, dark depression. Small, frequent doses work well to avoid the dull frontal headache that can occur with larger doses.
The patient returned to the office a few days later, to allow me to get the symptoms of her original episode, in the hopes that these details would create a clearer picture for prescribing a remedy. I had remained in daily phone contact in the meantime, to be sure her symptoms were not progressing; fortunately, they were not. The herbs were buying me the time I needed to research the case.
“I’m still too hyper” with the herbs, she reported in the office on follow-up. “But, I’m sleeping 3 to 4 hours per night, instead of only 1 or 2, and I feel less agitated overall.”
Amy Kelcher, then a student at NCNM (now NUNM), happened to be preceptoring with me that day. As the patient reiterated her symptoms, Amy was struck by the degree of isolation and loneliness the patient felt. She suggested homeopathic Camphora, which she had just seen prescribed in the student clinic for another patient expressing a similar intensity of isolation.
Vermeulen describes the isolation of Camphora as a sense of “being left out in the cold,” so isolated it is “as if the external world no longer exists.”2 There is a feeling of omnipotence and at night a sense of being “drawn into the air in spite of himself.”3 Morrison says Camphora patients can be quarrelsome with rage and “a mania to dispute,” and there is sleeplessness from intense anxiety.4 Camphora has an affinity for the CNS and is a remedy to consider for manic states or vacillation between mania and depression.2
One dose of Camphora 200C completely cleared the impending mania, bringing her emotional symptoms of rage and isolation into a more manageable state, consistent with her process. The herbal formula was continued every 4 hours at doses of ½ to 1 teaspoon every 4 to 6 hours.
A Case of Anxiety and Toxins
An otherwise healthy 26-year-old college student living on an organic farm developed sudden unexplainable panic and anxiety. One dose of Arsenicum album 200C quickly brought relief. A week later she discovered the land across the road had been heavily sprayed in preparation for planting grapes. The time of spraying correlated precisely with the timing of the onset of her symptoms.
How many of our patients complaining of mental/emotional symptoms are actually feeling the effects of an environment overrun with toxins? While the etiology in this last case was obvious, it is not always so easy to make the connection.
When addressing etiologic issues of toxicity, bitter liver-stimulating herbs, such as Chelidonium majus, Chionanthus virginicus, and even Taraxacum officinalis, should be avoided or used with caution in cases where the nervous system is overwrought, as these herbs may exacerbate symptoms of anxiety, insomnia, and agitation.
Hepatoprotective nervines and adaptogens, such as Hypericum perforatum, Schisandra chinensis, Uncaria tomentosa, Ocinum sanctum, and Glycyrrhiza glabra, may be the best place to start. Cynara scolymus, Curcuma longa, and Silybum marianum seem to act more gently in supporting the liver. Taraxacum officinalis is also often well tolerated as a tea.
A Case Utilizing Hydrotherapy
A female patient in an outpatient psychiatric ward was being held in restraints due to the severity of her agitation and rage. Because she was pregnant, she could not be sedated with the usual array of pharmaceuticals. When the patient finally vomited all over herself in her agitation and fight to be free, the nurse who had been demanding her release all along put her foot down.
“That’s it,” she exclaimed. “Get her out of those restraints and turn her over to me. I’ll take full responsibility.”
Once in the bathtub, the patient chose to make the water temperature totally neutral, and her state of agitation cleared quickly. Neither the nurse nor the patient had ever heard of what naturopathic physicians know as the “neutral bath,” used for its ability to calm the nervous system.
Naturopathic medicine has so much to offer the many patients struggling with mental/emotional symptoms. How often we wish we had a naturopathic sanitarium, set in the healing environment of nature to help those patients needing inpatient care for their mental health conditions. Perhaps someday…
- Morrison R. Desktop Guide: To Keynotes and Confirmatory Symptoms. Grass Valley, CA: Hahnemann Clinic Publishing; 1993: 33.
- Vermeulen F. Synoptic Reference 1: Ultimate Prisma Collection. 2nd Glasgow, Scotland: Saltire Books; 2015: 422.
- Vermeulen F. Synoptic Reference 1: Ultimate Prisma Collection. 2nd Glasgow, Scotland: Saltire Books; 2015: 421.
- Morrison R. Desktop Guide: To Keynotes and Confirmatory Symptoms. Grass Valley, CA: Hahnemann Clinic Publishing; 1993: 93.
Deborah Frances, RN, ND, practiced homeopathy and nutrition as a registered nurse before graduating from NCNM (now NUNM) in 1993. She practiced in rural Oregon for several years before returning to Portland to teach at NCNM. Dr Frances has been a popular lecturer at conferences around the country and has taught as adjunct faculty at both NCNM and Bastyr. She has taught classes on herbal medicine, acute prescribing for NDs, dream work, and shamanic healing. She is strongly influenced by the traditional teachings of her Lakota ancestry. Dr Frances is the author of Practical Wisdom in Natural Healing, available at drdeborahfrances.wordpress.com.
Chris Chlebowski, DC, ND, is a homeopath, chiropractor, and naturopathic physician. Dr Chlebowski graduated from Western States Chiropractic College in 2007 and from NCNM in 2011. He and his family live and work in Ashland, OR, where he owns and operates an integrative clinic focused on the treatment of difficult, chronic disease. Although his work is always built on a firm foundation of homeopathy, botanical medicine, and nutrition, he also utilizes hyperbaric oxygen, IV therapies, and many other modalities.