AMINO ACIDS: BRAIN & MOOD DISORDERS

Written By: David Burns

produceRecently more patients like you have been looking for alternatives to traditional antidepressant and anti-psychotic drugs.  These drugs have may annoying side effects such as: dizziness, fainting, dry mouth, constipation, sluggishness, nausea, tremors and inability to read or concentrate.  Maybe you want to eliminate these effects, reduce them or simply feel better while maintaining your drug therapy.  One of your goals might be to taper off and eventually stop your current antidepressant.  These ideas should be discussed with your clinicians and physician.  Our goal is to help inform you of options that are available so that you can make the best choice for yourself.

It has been known for many years that the brain requires certain nutrients, including the amino acids, to function at its optimum.  There are twenty two common amino acids that are the building blocks of proteins.  Eight of the twenty two are called “essential” amino acids because the body cannot make them.

Certain deficiencies of amino acids can worsen the condition of schizophrenic patients.  Often deficiencies in folic acid, ascorbic acid, manganese, zinc, niacin, magnesium and the omega-6 fatty acids can accompany the amino acid imbalance.  Also many bipolar depressive patients and schizophrenics have a tendency toward food sensitivities, especially to wheat and milk.

Tryptophan, an amino acid, is metabolized into a brain chemical called serotonin.  The amount of serotonin present in the brain is proportional to the amount of tryptophan in your diet.  When your intake of tryptophan is low you may experience sleep disturbances, more sensitivity to pain and depression.  If this deficiency occurs over several months you may experience: suicidal or aggressive impulses, short attention span in children, alcoholism, eating disorders and chronic pain.  To enhance the uptake of tryptophan over other amino acids in protein sources, you should take in carbohydrates with the tryptophan source.  Now that supplements of tryptophan are not available, the best dietary sources are soy-based protein powders, milk, eggs, and turkey.

It has been proposed by many researchers that defects in the metabolism of tryptophan may be present in persons with schizophrenia.  Some researchers say that changing the tryptophan levels in the person’s diet will not correct the detect, while others say that supplementation may be beneficial.  Patients that were treated experimentally with tryptophan experienced reduced hostility and aggressive moods, less “acting out” on hospital wards and less depression.

Tyrosine is an amino acid formed from the ingestion of the essential amino acid phenylalanine.  Tyrosine has also shown beneficial effects in the treatment of depression.  When tyrosine is metabolized completely it gets converted into adrenalin.  Reduced amounts of adrenalin (also known as norepinephrine) also result in depressed mood.  With adequate amounts of adrenalin you feel a sense of purpose, pleasure and gratification.  This chemical works in your brain to promote memory, drive, ambition and alert mental functioning.

Methionine is an essential amino acid required for growth in infants and proper nitrogen balance in adults.  If methionine levels are low in the diet you may experience:  seizures, spasticity, Parkinsonism, hereditary forms of depression and some forms of osteoporosis.  Additionally, methionine is a part of a large pain-killing protein called Met-enkephalin.  This is a naturally occurring chemical that is secreted by the adrenal glands.  It functions to increase immunity, enhance mood, improve outlook and assist in the weight gain of depressed patients.  Methionine-enkephalin has been found to improve the conditions of patients with AIDS or ARC.  Methionine as a dietary supplement, has been effective in the treatment of bipolar depressive disorder.

These treatments work by making adequate nutrients available so that the nervous system can create the quantities of brain chemicals it needs.  A balance is obtained and this results in improved functioning  of your central nervous system.  The goal of this therapy is to increase the amount of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters.  Tryptophan, tyrosine and methionine are all considered precursors to the neurotransmitters and are one of the safest and best methods of increasing brain amine levels.  One theory on how they work is by increasing both serotonin and epinephrine together instead of only just one type of neurotransmitter.

Since traditional antidepressants promote the presence of only one type of neurotransmitter they may not work in certain cases of schizophrenia or depression.  The toxic and hazardous side effects of traditional anti-psychotic treatments are their most unfortunate disadvantage.

Presently, what seems to help the brain most is a close chemical match from NATURE.  Combining this therapy with supportive vitamins, and other individualized care may be suitable choice for you.  Our purpose is to correct a deficiency or imbalance, avoid toxic side effects, and help you feel better.

The above is a handout from Bastyr’s Center for Natural Health’s Nutrition Department. It is re-published here with permission. Bastyr’s Clinic is a good, affordable, team based option for many health related issues.

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