For those of you who have seen me speak, teach, or who know me personally, you are well aware that social anxiety is a genetic predisposition that I have learned to manage in my own life. I have learned and teach clients scientifically-proven tools to manage anger and anxiety, such as mindfulness, self-compassion, forgiveness, if-then thinking statements, and more.
Social anxiety is a topic that is very near and dear to my heart because I have suffered the emotional distress that comes with it.
So I was quite excited to see this study which came out today that shows that higher levels of salt in the diet, while having other negative effects on the body, actually has a positive impact on those of us with social anxiety.
This study demonstrated that higher levels of sodium are associated with increased production of oxytocin (which leads to increased trust, rapport, caring, and connection) and decreased levels of pro-stress hormone angiotensin II. So higher levels of sodium actually decrease the painful feelings of social anxiety!
From an evolutionary perspective this makes tremendous sense. Imagine you are on the plains of Africa, millions of years ago, and you and your tribe are suffering from thirst and dehydration (and sodium levels are rising in the body). In this scenario, an increased level of cooperation and trust is necessary so that everyone in the tribe can get to water and share the water so everyone’s chances of survival increase.
Dying of thirst? Perhaps it’s a thirst for social connection as well as water?
Higher Levels of Sodium Reduce Your Response to Stress, Study Shows
ScienceDaily (Apr. 5, 2011) — All those salty snacks available at the local tavern might be doing more than increasing your thirst: They could also play a role in suppressing social anxiety.
New research from the University of Cincinnati (UC) shows that elevated levels of sodium blunt the body’s natural responses to stress by inhibiting stress hormones that would otherwise be activated in stressful situations. These hormones are located along the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which controls reactions to stress.
The research is reported in the April 6, 2011, issue of The Journal of Neuroscience, the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience.
“We’re calling this the Watering Hole Effect,” says Eric Krause, PhD, a research assistant professor in the basic science division of UC’s department of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience and first author of the study. “When you’re thirsty, you have to overcome some amount of fear and anxiety to approach a communal water source. And you want to facilitate those interactions — that way everyone can get to the water source.”
Krause and his team dehydrated laboratory rats by giving them sodium chloride, then exposed them to stress. Compared with a control group, the rats that received the sodium chloride secreted fewer stress hormones and also displayed a reduced cardiovascular response to stress.
“Their blood pressure and heart rate did not go up as much in response to stress as the control group’s, and they returned to resting levels more quickly,” says Krause.
“Also, in a social interaction paradigm with two rats interacting, we found them to be more interactive and less socially anxious.”
Further research, through examination of brain and blood samples from the rats, showed that the same hormones that act on kidneys to compensate for dehydration also act on the brain to regulate responsiveness to stressors and social anxiety.
The elevated sodium level, known as hypernatremia, limited stress responses by suppressing the release of the pro-stress hormone angiotensin II. Conversely, it increased the activity of oxytocin, an anti-stress hormone.
Further research, Krause says, will examine these hormones and neurocircuits to investigate their role in social anxiety disorders and autism, a neurological disorder whose characteristics include social impairment.
“Oxytocin deficiency has been implicated in autism in previous studies,” says Krause. “We’d like to investigate the possibility that dysregulation in fluid balance during pregnancy could result in autistic disorders.”
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To life, love and laughter!
John Schinnerer, Ph.D.
Award-winning author and blogger
Founder Guide to Self, Inc.
Anger Management Coach
San Francisco Bay Area
http://WebAngerManagement.com (Cutting-edge Online Anger Management Blog)
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1. E. G. Krause, A. D. de Kloet, J. N. Flak, M. D. Smeltzer, M. B. Solomon, N. K. Evanson, S. C. Woods, R. R. Sakai, J. P. Herman. Hydration State Controls Stress Responsiveness and Social Behavior. Journal of Neuroscience, 2011; 31 (14): 5470 DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.6078-10.2011