Narcolepsy

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The following article is an excerpt from Total Health & Weight Loss, The Truestar Way.

Narcolepsy is a disorder characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness and periods of muscle weakness called cataplexy. Cataplexy, the most specific symptom of narcolepsy, is a sudden loss of all muscle tone without loss of consciousness, usually provoked by emotional excitement, such as laughter, anger or grief. Sleep attacks are short, uncontrollable episodes of sleep during the day.

In the general population, the prevalence of narcolepsy is one in 2,000. Onset is most common between 15 and 25 years, and men are more commonly affected than women. Narcolepsy can be disabling and as severe as other chronic neurological illnesses. It is the second leading cause of daytime drowsiness, surpassed only by sleep apnea. Early diagnosis is important since symptomatic treatment has been proven helpful in this disease. Narcolepsy can result in lack of muscle control, serious problems in one’s professional and personal life, low sex drive or impotence, emotional difficulties and accidents and injuries from falling asleep while driving or doing other dangerous tasks.

Causes
The underlying cause of narcolepsy is abnormal REM sleep. A number of researchers believe that a genetic component may be partially responsible for narcolepsy. Studies have shown a 30% concordance rate of narcolepsy in identical twins. First-degree relatives of patients with narcolepsy are 20 to 40 times more likely than the general population to get the disease, yet their overall risk is only 1% to 2%. Autoimmune factors are also believed to play a role in the cause of narcolepsy.

Narcolespy Treatments
Current treatments of narcolepsy offer symptomatic relief only and do not address the underlying cause of this disease. Cataplexy is treated with antidepressants or other medications to increase serotonin, a hormone important for healthy sleep patterns. Excessive daytime sleepiness is treated with medications to raise the brain chemical dopamine, essential to motivation, alertness and drive. Insomnia is treated with medications to increase sedation or induce sleep like those acting on the naturally calming brain chemical GABA.

Supplements
Although there is not yet a natural supplement that single-handedly treats narcolepsy, a group of supplements may be used in order to support sleep and the nervous system. A good, well-absorbed multivitamin is necessary for general health and well-being. Essential fatty acids (EFA) are necessary for cell membrane protection and for proper functioning of the nervous system. B-complex vitamins are essential for proper brain and nervous system function. Calcium and magnesium are involved in multiple enzymatic and other reactions in the body. Magnesium is a relaxing mineral, which may aid in sleep disorders.

Antioxidants, such as vitamin C, vitamin E and beta-carotene, prevent free radical damage to cells in the body, including cells in the nervous system. Melatonin has been used in the treatment of narcolepsy and other sleep disorders. Natural supplements of GABA are available in health-food stores or through naturopathic doctors, while supplements of the amino acids tyrosine and 5 HTP can increase the body’s natural production of dopamine and serotonin, respectively.

Lifestyle
A regular sleep schedule should be maintained as much as possible. Short daytime naps may be refreshing and help alleviate the sleep attacks. Whenever possible, avoid anything that may over-stimulate the emotions and bring on an attack of cataplexy. Reduce stress.

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