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Researchers claim a new anxiety treatment could be a 'game changer'

Kenzie Jennings-Gruar
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The University of Canterbury   Mckenzie Jennings-Gruar

Scientists from The University of Canterbury are researching a new treatment for people with anxiety.

The High Anxiety Pyrroluria Intervention (HAPI) Trial will be taking place at the University of Canterbury, to see if micronutrients zinc and vitamin B6 could be used as a treatment for symptoms of generalized anxiety.

Scientists will also be exploring a urinary metabolite to see if it is correlated with anxiety. 

The randomised, controlled trial includes two groups of around 120 women over 18, who will either take the treatment or a placebo for six weeks.

Blood and urine samples will be collected to investigate participant levels of zinc and vitamin B6.

Scientist Angela Sherwin from the University of Canterbury is working on the trial. She says anecdotally, zinc and B6 have been reported as a helpful treatment for some patients, however it hasn't been shown clinically. 

The aim of the study is to show if there is a difference in reported symptoms of generalized anxiety between the treatment and placebo groups, which may indicate if the treatment works. 

If the trial works, Sherwin claims it could be a 'game changer' for those with anxiety.

"It could mean that there is a relatively cheap treatment option to help alleviate their symptoms.

"It could have an impact on society, as the cost to the economy of anxiety, depression and comorbid disorders is estimated to be in the millions."

Health Navigator New Zealand's website says approximately one in four New Zealanders are affected by an anxiety disorder at some stage in their lives. It also says at any one time 15 percent of the population will be affected.

Dame Sue Bagshaw, who specialises in the health needs of young people, says statistically, anxiety is more common in women all over the world. It comes down to factors such as the roles they play in society, and the stress they often take on from having children. 

Bagshaw adds anxiety definitely affects males too, and there's a stereotype that men aren’t allowed to share their feelings, while women are, and go for help more often.

She is worried about the statistics, fearing people may ask the wrong questions and therefore collect the wrong data. 

Bagshaw supports the treatment and said it would definitely help those suffering from anxiety, as lifestyle changes can be very beneficial.

However, she stresses that it's important to recognise the difference between people who are worriers, and people with anxiety as an illness 'that’s so debilitating they can’t leave the house'.

Bagshaw also wants us to keep in mind that treatments don’t always work for everyone, not wanting people to think they can just have a pill and carry on as they are. She cautions that although this treatment may be helpful to some, for many others, their mental state can be changed just by the environment they're in. 

“I don’t want people to have a 'fix it' mentality of 'I'll take a pill and then I'll be fine' because that’s not true.”

Angela Sherwin feels if they find a clear difference in concentration of urinary metabolite between the two groups, that too could be a game changer. She claims it might suggest evidence of a biological response to a psychological event, which could also be a target for treatment. 

More study would be needed to tease out other differences, however she hopes that doing the trial will open up new doors for people who suffer from anxiety.