Nondrug approaches can help without dangerous side effects…
Most people think of tremors—rhythmic trembling in your hands, voice, head or other parts of your body—as a red flag for neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis (MS).
That can be true. But this constant shakiness can also accompany a wide range of other conditions, including so-called essential tremor (ET), a chronic but harmless disorder that often is inherited and affects an estimated seven million Americans—a greater number than those affected by MS and Parkinson’s disease. In some people, tremors also can occur as a side effect of common prescription drugs such as certain antidepressants, asthma inhalers, seizure medicines and immune-suppressing drugs. Even pain and anxiety can cause mild shaking or worsen tremors that are due to disease or medication.
If you suffer from tremors, there’s no question how disruptive the problem can be to everyday life. Simple movements most of us take for granted—such as shaving, eating or simply writing a check—can turn into a shaky endurance test.
But quieting tremors is no small feat. Medications such as antiseizure drugs and mild tranquilizers are effective only about half of the time and can have troubling side effects, including drowsiness and confusion. Injections of botulinum toxin (Botox) can help head and voice tremors but are less effective for hand tremors because weakness can result as a side effect. An invasive procedure called deep brain stimulation (DBS) is reserved for the worst cases. This treatment, which can be quite effective, involves surgically implanting electrodes in the brain that are connected to a pacemaker placed under the skin near the collarbone. Electrical pulses are continuously delivered to block the impulses that cause tremors.
Good news: If drugs or surgery aren’t for you or leave you with lingering symptoms, several natural therapies can help calm tremors by easing the stress and altering the brain chemicals and emotional responses that exacerbate the condition. Important: Before trying natural remedies, be sure to avoid caffeine, smoking and/or excess alcohol—all of which can worsen tremors. Also, make regular exercise (especially strength training) a priority—tremors are more common when muscles become fatigued. Natural treatments to tame any type of tremor…*
Breathing in the aroma of certain flowers and herbs can reduce tremors by enhancing brain levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a widely circulated neurotransmitter with proven stress-fighting effects. Raising GABA levels helps calm the overexcited neurons that can worsen tremors. What to try for tremors…
• Lavender. This fragrant blue-violet flower has been shown in a number of small studies to produce calming, soothing and sedative effects when its scent is inhaled. Lavender essential oil is widely available and can be inhaled in the bath (add five to eight drops to bathwater for a long soak) or by dabbing a drop on your neck or temples.
Certain supplements can ease tremors by enhancing muscle relaxation and/or reducing the body’s overall stress levels or load of inflammatory chemicals, which can play a role in tremors caused by neurodegenerative diseases. Check with your doctor to make sure these supplements don’t interact with any medication you may be taking and won’t affect any chronic condition you may have…**
• Magnesium. This mineral helps to regulate nerve impulses and muscle contraction. Magnesium-rich foods include sesame seeds, beans, nuts, avocados and leafy greens. To ensure that you’re getting enough magnesium, consider taking a supplement. Typical dose to ease tremors: 200 mg to 400 mg daily.
• Fish oil. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil offer proven anti-inflammatory effects—systemic inflammation is implicated in neurodegenerative diseases such as MS and Parkinson’s disease. Fish oil is abundant in fatty fish such as salmon, albacore tuna, mackerel and herring. Aim for two servings per week. If you don’t like fish, consider trying a supplement. Typical dose to ease tremors: 1,000 mg to 1,500 mg daily.
• Valerian, skullcap and passionflower. These calming herbs have been successfully used as part of a regimen to ease tremors. The supplements can be found in combination products, including capsules, teas and tinctures. Follow instructions on the label.
BEAT TREMORS WITH YOUR MIND
If you suffer from tremors, it’s common to think—Oh no…my arm (or other body part) is shaking again…this is so embarrassing! I hate this! While such thoughts are perfectly natural when tremors emerge, they are potentially destructive when trying to calm your condition.
What helps: Mindfulness can reset this negative thought pattern so that you stop viewing tremors as a problem, which only leads to distress that often worsens the condition.
Mindfulness is more than just relaxation. Often done in conjunction with deep-breathing exercises, mindfulness helps you simply observe your thoughts, feelings and sensations and lets them pass without judging them, labeling them or trying to control them. By reducing the distress you feel about the tremors, you are no longer fueling the condition.
You can learn mindfulness from CDs or books. My recommendations: Consult your local hospital to see if it offers mindfulness-based stress-reduction classes. Also consider trying other mind-body therapies that may help, such as hypnosis, biofeedback and breath work.
*Consult your doctor before trying these therapies to determine the cause of your tremors and for advice on the approaches best suited to your situation.
**Because supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA for purity, I advise looking for products that bear the “USP-verified” stamp on the label—this means they have met rigorous testing standards to ensure quality by the scientific nonprofit US Pharmacopeial Convention.