Pharmaceutical antidepressants aren't the best way to conquer our society's depression and anxiety epidemic, and they often have disastrous side effects, sometimes even increasing the risk for suicide. Taking the population as a whole, we're 100 times more depressed today than we were 100 years ago. Furthermore, panic attacks are the number one reason heart disease is going up in women. Julia Ross, a pioneer in nutritional psychology and best-selling author of The Diet Cure and The Mood Cure, explained these dire statistics at the 2005 Complementary and Alternative Medicine Conference (CAMCON).
Four brain chemicals -- serotonin, catecholamine, GABA and endorphin -- are essential for proper mental health, each affecting a different area of the brain. Some of us, unfortunately, have a genetic predisposition to lack these chemicals. Additionally, the modern mainstream diet is deficient in the amino acids that our brains need to make these neurotransmitters. As a result of these factors, incidence of depression and anxiety has reached epidemic proportions.
As a society, we just don't have the coping ability we should have. "Even if things aren't going well, we can still feel good anyway, but we're not," says Ross. Fortunately, these amino acids are widely available at local health food stores, and within five to 10 minutes of taking the supplement, you can feel its effects on your brain.
Five to 10 minutes sounds too good to be true, right? Ross' audience seemed skeptical, too, until they saw and felt the effects themselves. Before explaining the four essential neurotransmitters and their effects, Ross had her audience fill out a questionnaire regarding their mental and physical states. Since she offered permission to copy the questionnaire with acknowledgment, you can try out it out for yourself. Rank each symptom from one to 10, with 10 being the most severe:
Type One False Mood and Appetite
Repetitious, obsessive thoughts or behaviors
Difficulty falling asleep
Seasonal Affective Disorder, or "winter blues"
Fibromyalgia or Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) issues
Afternoon or evening cravings for carbs, alcohol or drugs
Dislike of hot weather
Type Two False Mood and Appetite
Depressed, bored or apathetic
Lack of energy or motivation
Inability to concentrate or focus; ADD
Cravings for chocolate, caffeine or other stimulants
Type Three False Mood and Appetite
Feel overstressed, burned out or overwhelmed
Unable to relax
Feel stiff or tense
Cravings for food, alcohol or drugs when stressed
Type Four False Mood and Appetite
Sensitive to emotional pain or have had chronic physical pain
Cry easily, often sad
Crave comforting or numbing behaviors or substances -- certain foods, drugs or alcohol
If you score relatively high in any category, you probably are deficient in the corresponding neurotransmitter. Let's take a look at the neurotransmitters, what they do and what you can do to supplement them if necessary.
Type One False Mood and Appetite: Low in serotonin, our natural antidepressant
If you have many of the symptoms associated with the type one false mood and appetite, you are probably deficient in serotonin, which is the most common neurotransmitter deficiency affecting Americans. Serotonin is important as a natural antidepressant; however, it is additionally important because the brain uses serotonin to make melatonin, which is an important chemical for sleeping. In fact, the serotonin-melatonin connection is one of the primary reasons that depressed people often have sleep disorders.
If your brain lacks proper serotonin, pharmaceutical antidepressants like Prozac won't fix the underlying deficiency, according to Ross. Rather than boosting your actual serotonin levels, antidepressants just make the serotonin already existing in your brain more active. Ross believes that the real solution to serotonin deficiency is tryptophan, which the brain can use to make serotonin within 10 minutes.
She advises people who score high on the type 1 portion of the false mood questionnaire to take 50 milligrams of a specific form of tryptophan called 5-HTP or 500 milligrams of l-tryptophan mid-afternoon and evening. Compared to l-tryptophan, less 5-HTP is required to get the same effects because, unlike regular tryptophan, the body only uses 5-HTP to make serotonin; it is not metabolized in the stomach.
If you're worried about the safety of tryptophan, you have nothing to fear, according to Ross. The FDA pulled tryptophan in 1989 because of a bad batch that caused horrible long-term side effects. Ross believes that this bad batch made by a disreputable company was really just the excuse the FDA had been waiting for, and that the real reason it pulled the supplement completely off the market was to increase the sales of Prozac, which had been released in 1988 but was not making any money. Either way, now every batch of tryptophan is approved by the FDA before it is made available to the public, so the l-tryptophan and 5-HTP you'll find in your local health food store is safe.
The best part about boosting your serotonin with tryptophan is that eventually your levels will normalize and you won't need to take the supplements anymore, according to Ross. If you eat protein three times per day and take the tryptophan supplements, in a few weeks (for children) to one year (for people genetically predispositioned to low serotonin production), your serotonin will be restored enough for you to stop taking the supplements.
How do you know when you don't need the supplements anymore? Every time you finish a bottle, stop taking the supplements and, if the symptoms don't come back, you don't need them anymore. Incidentally, this is true for all the brain chemical-boosting supplements: If you eat meals containing 20 to 30 grams of protein at least three times per day and take the appropriate supplements, eventually the brain chemicals you are targeting will be high enough for you to stop taking the supplements altogether. You'll have normalized your brain! So, with this in mind, let's take a look at the other three brain chemicals you may lack and need to supplement.
Type Two False Mood and Appetite: Low in catecholamine, our natural stimulant
If you have the symptoms associated with the second type of false mood and appetite tested on the questionnaire, you probably lack catecholamine, as a lot of Americans do. In fact, this deficiency accounts for the popularity of coffee and other stimulants, says Ross. A lot of us are unable to naturally produce caffeine because we eat too many high-glycemic carbohydrates. As a result, we turn to coffee and chocolate for caffeine, but what we should really be turning to is L-Tyrosine. If you follow a high-protein diet and take 500 milligrams of L-Tyrosine when you wake up, mid-morning and, if you don't have insomnia, again mid-afternoon, eventually your brain will contain enough catecholamine for you to function without supplements or a coffee or chocolate caffeine fix.
Type Three False Mood and Appetite: Low in GABA, our natural tranquilizer
If the symptoms listed under the third type of false mood apply to you, you're probably deficient in GABA, the brain's natural tranquilizer. If this is the case, Ross advises you to take 100 to 500 milligrams of GABA as needed, or GABA combined with L-Taurine and/or Glysine. You don't have to worry about the supplement making you overly sleepy during the day, as GABA supplements have a small amount of tyrosine in them to counteract daytime sleepiness.
Type Four False Mood and Appetite: Low in endorphin, our natural painkiller
Men are born with two times the amount of endorphins as women, which partly explains why men are from Mars and women are from Venus. Whatever your gender, if you experience the symptoms associated with the fourth type of false mood and appetite, you're probably deficient in endorphins. Since the brain requires 19 different amino acids to build them, a high-protein diet is essential for proper endorphin levels. Luckily, the amino acid Dl-Phenylalanine (DLPA) slows down the brain's destruction of endorphins, so Ross believes that 500 milligrams of DLPA taken when first waking up, mid-morning and mid-afternoon, along with 700 milligrams of free-form amino blend taken before meals, is enough to keep a proper amount of endorphins in the brain.
For all types of false mood and appetite
In addition to taking supplements to relieve your particular type of false mood and appetite, you must follow a healthy, high-protein diet, according to Ross. This includes eating at least three meals per day, each including 20 to 30 grams of protein, low-carb vegetables (totaling at least four cups per day) and healthy fats. You should avoid foods made with refined white flour and white sugar, as well as allergens and caffeine.
According to Ross and many other experts, certain nutrients support good mental health, including:
Omega-3 fatty acids -- found in flax seed, fish, Salba and chia
L-glutamine -- maintains proper blood sugar in the brain, so it prevents carb cravings and moodiness
Proof by example ...
If you follow the dietary and supplemental regimens detailed above, you're on your way to a depression- and anxiety-free life, according to Ross. The best way to know something works is to experience it yourself, so give these supplements and dietary changes a chance before resorting to dangerous antidepressant pharmaceuticals.
There is so much more to learn about how dietary and supplementary changes can act as a natural alternative to pharmaceutical drugs. For more information, visit Julia Ross' web sites, www.moodcure.com and www.dietcure.com, which contain links to buy her books of the same names. You may be surprised by how much your life can change for the better.