Scientists have developed medications, chemical compounds, to assist the body under stress. These compounds are often called “psychotropic drugs” or drugs that help the stressed nervous system function more normally. They affect the chemistry of the nervous system, thought patterns, attitudes and moods. The drug formulas are based on scientific discoveries related to the conduction of “impulses” through the nervous system. Many of the older, traditional medications for blood pressure, heart disease, thyroid problems, breathing problems, and certain other problems also affect our nervous systems, thought patterns, attitudes and moods.
These medications alter physical and mental processes and can either help or hinder the person taking them. Sometimes both help and hindrance occurs at the same time. The value of the help must be greater than the hindrance to justify the use of the medication. These hindrances are called “adverse side-effects” or “adverse interactions” when it also involves other medications.
Vitamins as Medication
Vitamin B12 is particularly important to older persons to help prevent damage to the nervous system. A deficiency can cause what appears to be Alzheimers Disease, but may begin in the lower limbs by making it difficult to stand up straight due to the contraction of the leg muscles and bending of the knees.
Vitamin B6 is important in helping prevent or moderate carpal-tunnel syndrome, the pain in the hands of typists. Persons taking birth control pills need more B6 than other people.
Less common vitamin deficiencies will be included in later articles on nutrition.
Minerals as Medications
Lithium is a naturally occurring, highly reactive soft metallic element or mineral that appears to affect the irritability levels and the blood sugar responses of the body. It has been specific for treatment of bipolar Illness (a better name for manic-depressive illness) for many years.
More common minerals are also used to help prevent or moderate disease states.
Magnesium is one of the essential minerals but is also used as an aid in lowering blood pressure.
A mix of calcium, magnesium, and boron is used to help treat osteoporois, the softening of the bones that causes changes in posture and makes one vulnerable to bone fractures.
Chromium, vanadium and selenium play a part in blood sugar control.
Selenium also is involved in proper regulation of the thyroid hormones.
A number of minerals are basic to the body’s nutritional needs and will be addressed later.
Hormones as Medications
Some medical preparations are substitutes for naturally occurring body compounds called hormones that help regulate body and mental functioning. Thyroid, cortisone, insulin, and growth hormones prescribed by internal medicine or endocrinology specialists in the medical field. Estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone are prescribed by obstetric-gynecology specialists for women. Estrogen and testosterone are prescribed by genito-urinary specialists for men. These medicines and the need for them are usually determined by doctors who are specialists and may be followed up by your family physician after the appropriate dosage has been determined.
Insulin regulates blood sugar levels. Blood sugar or blood glucose affects all functions because it is the “fuel” that provides the energy for the whole body. Too much or too little of it affects the brain functions including emotions, thoughts, and behavior. In extremes of too much or too little, such as we see in diabetic coma or ketosis, a person may die. The effect of blood sugar levels on the individual demonstrates the connection of body, mind, emotions, behavior, and life itself.
Synthetic thyroid and thyroid extracts stimulate the thyroid when it is under-active and counteract sluggish mental and physical responses. This mental and physical sluggishness also may appear to be depression. Too much thyroid medication will appear as “hyper-activity” or “hypomania.” Medication, surgery or radiation is needed to slow down an overactive thyroid gland and the hyperactivity that results.
Other chemical compounds regulate the cortisol or adrenaline-like substances and their effects on the person. Too much of these substances usually causes hyperactivity and increased irritability. Too little may cause depression.
Estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone levels affect mood and the sense of well being in women. Testosterone and estrogen levels do the same for men.
Even when the body is functioning well–in hormone balance with the needed nutrients, exercise, and rest– overwhelming stress may disturb the body and mind’s coping mechanisms. We may have symptoms that send us to a friendly psychiatrist for assistance.
Herbals and other Suplements as Medications
Debates pro and con surround the use of herbals in medications. Personally I have used some. Some did not hold up to the initial scientific expectations, others I have continued to use. I recommend that you use the NIH website for information on any drugs, herbs and supplements you are interested in. Go to http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginformation.html
Most of the medications used by psychiatrists are the kind that alter, by various means, the way the brain uses the neurotransmitters, chemicals used in the nervous system. The medications can aid us to function more smoothly than we could without them. When the body functions better it is easier for us to learn additional ways to help control the stress in our lives and learn different ways of responding to stress that do not increase or “spiral” our difficulties.
In many instances, a great deal of patience on the part of the “Patient” and family is required while the physician selects the medication and the dosage that proves most helpful. A person has body and mental responses to medication which may vary from the usual responses. Our responses are individualistic. Sometimes more than one medication is needed or a different one.
Doctors Need You to Help Monitor Medication Levels
I urge patients, family, and friends to be very open with the doctor and nursing staff about changes that occur. The changes in feelings and behavior experienced, such as becoming unable to sit down or sit still, feeling “jittery,” or having a blank expression, may result from the medication and not a result of the illness. Ask the doctor, nurse, or pharmacist to explain the possible “side effects” of the medication being taken. This will help keep you from thinking the patient has become “worse” or is trying to be difficult when actually the medication needs to be adjusted or supplemented.
Medication adjustments need to take into consideration the patient’s individual responses in mood and attitudes, ability to concentrate, memory capabilities and physical responses, such as inability to sit still and blood pressure changes. Additional considerations are other prescribed medications, over-the-counter medications and supplements being used, food habits, frequency and degree of exercise, working and driving conditions, age, and weight.
Age and Medications
Medications from children are often based on body weight rather than age. Specialists in pediatric diseases and behavioral conditions will depend heavily on the parents observations in adjusting the level of medication given to a child.
Many people over sixty need only the amounts that would be given children. Sensitivity to medication tends to increase, that is medications become more effective and smaller amounts are needed, in our senior years. Mental symptoms in older people frequently are due to the use of several interacting medications given for different purposes and over varying lengths of time. In older people, it is of utmost importance to review all the medications being taken and their possible additive effects on the central nervous system before prescribing a medication. Reducing the current medications may cure the patient’s mental condition, and the psychotropic medication may not be needed.
Estimating Amount of Medication for the Nervous System
The amount of pain medication one needs in comparison to the average dose may give a rough estimate as to whether you yourself will need less or more than the average dose of other medications for the nervous system. For example, if you only need one aspirin for headache relief or dental cavity filling, you may need less than a person who needs three aspirin for a headache and a local anesthetic for routine dental work. When changes are made in medications, whether by yourself or by orders of the physician, it is helpful to write down the change made and the differences in how you feel and act afterward for one to three weeks.
Stopping a Medication May be Dangerous
“Quitting” a psychotropic medication can be very dangerous and most often needs to be accomplished through a “tapering off” process. If you know that you are very sensitive to medications, tell the doctor that you probably need to taper off. That means to slowly decrease the dose over weeks of time. When a similar medication is replacing the same physical and mental function of the first one, you may not need to taper off.
Please, do not stop taking a medication without talking to the person who prescribed it for his/her recommendations. And be sure your health care provider knows what you are doing in regard to your medication. For instance, if you forget a dose and find that you feel better, let the provider know, rather than skipping it without telling her. Some medications “accumulate” in the body and need to be reduced in dosage after a time to maintain the best level for you.
Balance in Daily Life
No medication, however, can substitute for the physical necessities of food, exercise, and rest. As pointed out earlier, physical exhaustion can contribute heavily to an emotional breakdown. And none of the above can substitute for peace with oneself, others, and God.