May 6, 2009
By Dr. Hyla Cass and Kathleen Barnes
8 Weeks to Vibrant Health: A Take Charge Plan for Women
(Take Charge Books, 2008)
Depression, anxiety, panic, obsessions, addiction and memory loss are problems faced by an increasing number of people.
Friends, family and sadly, even doctors, often tell you that self-discipline, “getting over it,” or long-term psychotherapy are the ways to kick these mind-states. They will also likely urge you to join the millions who are taking prescription drugs to “fix” things.
As a psychiatrist, Dr. Cass has treated hundreds of patients with these disorders, and has found that you can change your life, by yourself (or with the help of a good health practitioner), by learning and acting on this information:
• The underlying case is almost always a deficiency in certain nutrients that nourish the brain and promote proper function.
• You can often correct these imbalances naturally.
Just reading these two facts may have relieved some of your anxiety. You’re not crazy, neurotic or hopelessly psychologically damaged.
Rather, you may simply be deficient in some of the major
neurotransmitters we all need for balanced brain function.
The major chemical messengers in the brain
There are hundreds of neurotransmitters, but here are some of the main players:
• Serotonin is the “happy” and calming brain chemical that can improve your mood and help you to sleep well.
• Dopamine and noradrenaline are the “feel-good” neurotransmitters, helping you feel energized, focused, motivated, and in control.
• GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is the “cool” neurotransmitter, calming you down during periods of stress.
• Adrenaline, made in the adrenal glands, is the “motivator,” stimulating you and helping you respond to stress.
• Endorphins promote that blissful feeling, a sense of euphoria often found in runners’ high, or even, paradoxically, in emergencies and after an injury.
• Acetylcholine enhances memory, cognition, alertness, and concentration.
• Melatonin (actually, a hormone) affects your ability to sleep soundly and to dream. It helps you to keep in tune with the cycles of nature by responding to seasonal shifts and regulating your inner clock for day and night, known as your circadian rhythm.
When your neurotransmitters are out of balance, you may feel depressed, anxious, stressed, and unmotivated. You may be unable to fall asleep or stay asleep.
Here are the basics for balancing your brain chemicals:
1. Eliminate processed foods and simple sugars.
2. Eat high quality complex carbohydrates (whole grains and fruits and vegetables) to keep your blood sugar balanced; a source of good protein like fish, fowl, or meat, to provide amino acids to make neurotransmitters; and essential fats, like the ones in cold water fish (salmon, mackerel), called “brain food” for good reason (both fat and protein)
3. Have a regular exercise program.
Address Depression Naturally
People who are depressed are usually deficient in mood-stabilizing serotonin, noradrenaline or dopamine, brain chemicals derived from the amino acids tryptophan and tyrosine.
To make serotonin, your brain needs the essential amino acid, tryptophan, which is found in protein-rich foods like turkey, chicken, cottage cheese, avocados, bananas and wheat germ. Eating more of these foods can certainly help, especially with a small amount of carbohydrate that helps transport this amino acid into the brain. This is one reason why you might crave sugary foods in the evening, when you’re low in serotonin. Taking a 5-hydroxyryptopan (5-HTP) or tryptophan supplement can help your brain manufacture more serotonin.
Tyrosine and phenylalanine will help produce dopamine and noradrenaline, the focusing and motivating brain chemicals, and are found in Dr. Cass’ FOCUS formula.
To help your brain make more of the anxiety-relieving neurotransmitter, GABA, take glutamine, theanine, or taurine. Dr. Cass’ CALM Natural Mind product contains these amino acids, along with necessary co-factors. For sleep, added valerian helps (as in Dr. Cass’ Nightly CALM), or maybe some 5- HTP or melatonin.
Other supplements that may help relieve depression and anxiety include St. John’s wort, SAM-e (s-adenylmethionine), and the adaptogen, rhodiola.
Depression and anxiety can also be caused by a wide variety of disease conditions and imbalances, including anemia, blood sugar imbalance, adrenal fatigue, sex hormone imbalances, and hypothyroidism.
Keeping memory sharp and focused naturally
Fuzzy thinking, difficulty concentrating, a slow mind or faulty recollection of recent events tend to occur with age. Such mental decline can be due to diseases of the blood vessels (vascular disease or hypertension), sex hormone imbalances, or excessive exposure to toxins, such as pesticides or heavy metals. These issues need to be addressed on an individual basis, and includes specific lab testing.
It is important to manage your stress since prolonged exposure to the stress hormone, cortisol, can actually cause brain cells in the memory center, or hippocampus, to shrivel and die.
Supplements can address memory loss and lack of mental clarity by providing the natural materials needed to enhance neurotransmitter production and activity, as well as blood flow to brain cells.
These include acetyl-L-carnitine, phosphatidyl serine, phosphatidyl choline, ginkgo biloba, DMAE (dimethylaminoethanol), omega 3 fatty acids, and vinpocetine. The first four of these can be found in Dr. Cass’ Brain Balance formula.
For all-round neurotransmitter support, as well as antioxidants to help fight toxic free radicals, Dr. Cass developed Brain Recovery AM & PM packets.
All the supplements can be found on her website: http://www.cassmd.com.
For specifics on dosage and use of all supplements mentioned, please see our book, 8 Weeks to Vibrant Health: A Take Charge Plan for Women