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Beating Anxiety and Phobias

By Jurriaan Plesman BA(Psych), Post Grad Dip Clin Nutr


The mystery of having these strange anxiety attacks coming from nowhere can be explained by a sudden secretion of adrenaline into the blood stream.
Adrenaline is a hormone that converts glycogen (stored glucose (sugar)) back into glucose in order to feed the brain. When your body is suddenly deprived of glucose, causing brain starvation, adrenaline kicks in to bring these levels up again as soon as possible. (See image) This often happens to people who suffer from unstable blood sugar levels, called hypoglycemia. See Gary Null.

For example, public speaking would raise adrenaline levels in most people, but  people with an exaggerated fear of public speaking, these stress hormones rise up well above the norm due to possibly a pre-diabetic insulin resistance.

This condition can be tested by a special medical test for hypoglycemia as explained here. You can also test yourself with a paper-and-pencil test called The Nutrition-Behavior Inventory Questionnaire (NBI) or The Hypoglycemia Questionnaire.
Thus the question is why these unstable blood sugar levels?

Insulin resistance may arise following a long period of excess sugar consumption.  We live in a high sugar consuming society and children are especially vulnerable to the toxic effects of too much sugar in the diet.  Sugar can be toxic because it can create free radicals, damaging cells and attacking organs in the body as in aging, cancer, arthritis and various other degenerative diseases. The body sets up a defence mechanism in the form of insulin resistance. It aims at stopping the absorption of glucose.  See also for statistics for Hypoglycemia in community.

When we suffer from insulin resistance it means that the body’s cells do not respond properly to insulin that functions to control blood sugar levels. Insulin transports nutrients (including glucose) across cell membranes. With insulin resistance blood sugar level rises with the result more insulin is pumped into the system. This is called hyperinsulinism. With so much insulin we now have a crash in blood sugar levels to low levels, that the brain interprets as brain starvation.
Now the brain sends a message (hormone) to the adrenal gland to pour adrenaline into the system to raise blood sugar level quickly. This results in unstable blood sugar levels. See results of a GTT. Insulin resistance can also be responsible for weight gain or obesity.

It is excess adrenaline that is responsible for the sudden anxiety attacks coming from within the body. Thus anxiety is a fear response without an external object of fear also known as ‘floating anxiety’.

This is not to say that an anxiety response is never in response to a real stress situation, but it will certainly exaggerate the biological response to that situation.

Very often the mind invents an object by a process that psychologists call ‘reverse conditioning’, whereby any random object in the environment is paired to a powerful emotional response as in a phobia of lifts or spiders. The environmental cue becomes the stimulus (the cause of) for the fear response. This can also be demonstrated if we inject a rat with adrenaline and it will develop a fear at any innocuous object in its cage. It might even bite you. See also: Psychological Projection and Hypoglycemia.

Thus if you have an anxiety attack and you happen to be in a lift, then the lift may become a trigger for anxiety at a subsequent event. This Reverse conditioning or the pairing of an external stimulus with a fear response may be seen as the mechanism by which a person develops a phobia. That stimulus then becomes the trigger for the fear response or a delusion. If you happen to have an anxiety attack in a crowded spaces or enclosed public place, then you may develop agoraphobia. See notes.

Since adrenaline forces you to focus on the “enemy”, it is also also responsible for excessive rumination, and compulsions, leading to Obsessive Compulsive Disorders (OCD).

When an anxiety reaction is paired with a recurrent idea which then functions as a stimulus to that response, this may become an obsessive idea. The idea that we may not have closed the doors properly may result in a compulsion to check the doors. Similarly, if the fear reaction is linked to a negative self-image, the latter may trigger stage fright (an anxiety response) as when we have to give a speech before a large audience.

One temporary remedy for an anxiety/panic (possibly delusions and hallucinations) attack is taking glycerine. This is converted slowly in the liver to biological energy via pyruvate and hence does not provoke excess insulin secretion causing a hypoglycemic dip. Take one tablespoon of glycerine and mix in a glass of water or other fluid, with a dash of lemonade to improve taste. Drink during or before an expected anxiety attack.
It prevents the production of excess stress hormones. It relaxes you when you have to give a public speech, face an exam or job interview. It is also an ideal remedy for insomnia.

Psychologists may help a patient to overcome this reaction by means of systematic desensitization whereby the patient first learns to relax by means of “relaxation therapy”, which is then paired by the gradual introduction of the object of a phobia. This is fully explained in Anxiety, Phobias and Gambling .

TREATMENT: Go on the hypoglycemic diet and do Psychotherapy! The hypoglycemic diet will stabilize blood sugar levels and insulin levels. The brain should be supplied with a steady supply of glucose and should not need to send panic (stress) hormones to the adrenal gland to get more glucose.
The psychotherapy will help to break the link between between a negative self-image and fear response. It teaches the client to handle life stress situations in an more effective way.
Psychological stress causes stress hormones to interfere with the synthesis of serotonin, and hence a life with less stress allows the body to produce serotonin naturally.

If you are hypoglycemic, you are likely to deplete your magnesium levels, which in turn increases the lactate to pyruvate ratio, also found to be responsible for anxiety. Thus it may pay to increase your magnesium intake. Buist RA 1985 mentioned in Werbach 1991, 53  Besides magnesium depletion – upsetting the calcium/magnesium balance – can also be responsible for hypertension. See Source   See also: Gregory Walsh, Michael Lavery

If you are on medication for anxiety, you cannot withdraw from drugs except with the help of your doctor. Receptors for neurotransmitter may have been damaged and takes a while to rebuild. The hypoglycemic diet helps you to withdraw gradually and comfortably from medication. It also helps to avoid any stress situation that can trigger the roller-coaster of stress hormones. Hence it is important to do a course of PSYCHOTHERAPY. This will help you to deal with inevitable stresses in one’s personal relationships, bosses, work situations etc. There are many other activities that will reduce stress, such as regular exercises, walking your dog, listening to classical music, do yoga, meditation, in fact any enjoyable activity that does not produce stress hormones. Also look at Glycerine as a temporary relief from anxiety.

Please discuss with your doctor for a plan to withdraw gradually from your medications whilst you are on the hypoglycemic diet and doing the self-help PSYCHOTHERAPY course.

Please discuss this article with your health care worker, doctor or nutritional doctor or therapist.


86 JOM studies linking anxiety with hypoglycemia

Please read:

Treatment of Anxiety, Gambling and Phobia

“What is Hypoglycemia?”

The Serotonin Connection

Silent Diseases and Mood Disorders

Depression: a Disease of Energy Production

The Hypoglycemic Diet

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Hypoglycemia

The Biochemistry of Insomnia

Werbach, M.R.(1991), NUTRITIONAL INFLUENCES ON MENTAL ILLNESS, Third Line Press,Inc.,Tarzana,Cal.

Anxiety attacks explained by Gary Null, 2000 at page 18

More References for Mood Disorders and Hypoglycemia

Research Evidence for Hypoglycemia


Index to Specific Topics and Research

References to Mood Disorders and Nutrition

Anxiety by Professor Joel H. Levit

Glucose/ATP requirement by the brain


Insomnia and hypoglycemia and Melatonin 

NOTES on Delusions

When we are struck with excess stress hormones we experience a fear response without an external source of fear.

When we are struck by excess stress hormones – adrenaline and cortisol – as a result of some internal (endogenous) illness – such as hypoglycemia – we tend to “Psychologically Project” these feelings on to our immediate environment, present or past. We are not genetically programmed to recognize emotions that derive from internal biochemical abnormalities.

The mind will make up a story that will explain or rationalize the occurrence of this fear. In a state of fear and high stress it is not difficult for some unscrupulous therapists to induce a false memory. See references. In the olden days when people still believed in ghosts, demons and devils, an anxiety attack would be sign that ghosts were present, that would cause us to be fearful. Now-a-days, we would call this a hallucination or a delusion.

There was a time in the 1960’s when people were pre-occupied with electrical forces impinging on people’s minds and patients with anxiety attacks would interpret this as an extra-terrestrial forces causing their anxiety attacks.

During the 20th century with the rise of Freudian psycho-analysis it became a common belief that emotional disorders were caused by forgotten childhood experiences. Today, people who experience anxiety attacks or depression are convinced that their abnormal emotional experiences are due to “psycho-analytical” factors, that can be treated by “psychologists” and other psychoanalytically oriented therapists, who also believe in this “theory”. When mood disorders are perceived as inner biochemical abnormalities it is simplistically accepted that single drugs will fix the problem.

People with emotional disorders are deluded (and often encouraged) into thinking that they are irrational. For instance, if you are bombarded with a constant stream of stress hormones, it is no wonder you won’t feel good about yourself. This will create a low self-esteem. A person so afflicted may be deluded into believing that his/her partner is having an affair with another person. The delusion may take the form of a psychological projection.

People will then try to convince you that you should improve your way of thinking about yourself. But if the problem is biological and not psychological you are inevitably going to fail, which will only aggravate and worsen your negative self-image. It won’t help if counsellors reinforce this misperception by gratuitous advising you how to think “properly”.

The reality is that most of these articles of faith remain delusional, so long as the biological causes of mood disorders and negative self-perception are not recognized and treated in the first place.

Delusions also discussed here.

Further Research :

Index to Specific Topics and Research

References to Mood Disorders and Nutrition

10 Responses

  1. Jurriaan Plesman says:

    The argument that we cannot ignore the stresses of life in anxiety attacks is s valid one. 
    The problem with talking about the stresses of life, is to know whether these stress reactions to life’s situations are appropriate or exaggerated. Of course, stress situations interferes with the synthesis of serotonin. Just as well, because we don’t want to feel too happy and relaxed to deal with the stress situation. We need a boost in energy to help us deal with the situation. That is the function of stress hormones: convert energy sources in the body into glucose so our brain can deal with the problem.
    On the other hand, it may happen that the body tends to over-produce stress hormones, not because of environmental events, but because of an internal metabolic imbalance, due to a silent disease, like hypoglycemia, or other illness that interferes with glucose metabolism.
    People who tend to over-produce adrenaline, may tend to OVER-REACT to environmental situations and contribute to “stresses of life”.
    This may leave the impression that the”symptoms” of anxiety are the causes of mood disorders.
    Of course, environmental stresses and traumas can interfere with the production of feel good neurotransmitters. And that Is why it is so important to eliminate any nutritional/biological factors, before assuming it is “psychological”.

    The best strategy is to adopt the hypoglycemic diet, when experiencing a stressful life, whether rational or irrational. After all the hypoglycemic diet is an excellent “anti-stress diet”.

  2. Helene says:

    My daughter has type 1 diabetes and controls her blood sugars with an insulin pump and a continuous glucose monitor. Lately she has been experiences extreme panic and anxiety attacks. Could this be from too high blood sugar levels? When she has an anxiety attack the stress causes her sugar to rise therefore she gets more insulin. Seems a vicious cycle??? Please let me know what you think . Thanks

    • Jurriaan Plesman says:

      Diabetes I  is a different kettle of fish from diabetes II. But you are right that excess adrenaline production does tend to raise blood sugar levels. This may happen if too much insulin is injected, lowering BSLs and causing brain energy starvation. This triggers adrenaline production.  It seems to be a question of injecting the right amount of insulin. I suggest  you discuss this with the doctor in charge who is in s better position to handle this. 

  3. Thanks for your valuable site. I have an environmental allergy (certain moulds) and during certain seasons (autumn & spring) when mould levels are high, suffer from excess adrenalin. This makes my life a misery until I remember the hypoglycemia connection and get my diet and coffee consumption back on track. Your advice re taking glycerine is working – I keep a tablespoon of it in a little water by the bedside and take it when the adrenalin spike hits (usually 3am-ish) and go back to sleep instead of ruminating on the gloomy bits of life. A bit of adrenalin is fun, but too much is a pain in the bum – taking away confidence and the desire to go out there and live fully. I think many (most?) mental conditions have physiological bases or components – given our sugary diets, excess coffee and alcohol consumption, the excessive sensory stimulation we cope with day-to-day, adrenalin production is bound to be all over the place – even without chronic factors like allergies. Lately we have seen a lot of adverse publicity re sedative-type medicine and, having fallen into the trap of taking some of them myself when I first developed my allergy symptoms, I can say that diet, exercise, and meditation is hugely preferable – and more effective long-term.

  4. Larry says:

    I think too much glucose causes anxiety. When you drink caffeine it triggers your glycogen storage to send glucose into the blood stream So this “hypoglycemic” diet doesn’t make sense.

    • Jurriaan Plesman says:

      Caffeine can raise blood sugar levels because it will trigger adrenaline production. When sugar level rises too high insulin tries to lower it and this can cause hypoglycemia. We need to regularise our blood sugar levels by way of the hypoglycemic diet.

  5. Larry says:

    “When an anxiety reaction is paired with a recurrent idea which then functions as a stimulus to that response”

    Don’t quite understand that sentence

    • Jurriaan Plesman says:

      Try to understand it in this way: When we are anxious, we produce stress hormeosn – adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones are also focussing hormones. When you are threatened by a tiger, stress hormones keeps you focussed on the tiger and nothing else.

      But the same stress hormones, however produced by a metabolic disorder, also forces you you to focus on a single thing. Whatever the thing is, it is triggered by an internal drive not because of an external danger. Now when this happened whilst entering a lift, a lift is “paired” to a stress reaction, and you have a lift phobia. The objet of the stress reaction is now the lift.

      Does hat make any sense?

  6. Greg Weber says:

    A very clear description of how blood sugar levels interact with emotional states. The idea of panic being caused by a brain energy starvation alarm makes so much sense. Thanks for this interesting angle about panic attacks.

  7. Jurriaan Plesman says:

    If you want to join a facebook page where you can learn more about the connection between mood disorders and nutrition go to:

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