Laura G Owens ~ Writer

Humanity. Health. Happiness.

Tag: Anxiety

insomnia

Tried everything but you still can’t sleep? It might be adrenal fatigue.

A few years ago I had a serious emotional breakdown from severe insomnia.  

At one point it got so bad I started feeling microscopic “bugs” crawling all over my skin at night.  I’d spend an hour scanning my arms with a magnifying glass trying to find invisible insects (this is a condition called formication). Formication is the perception of bugs crawling on the skin and is caused by a number of conditions including anxiety which if you’re chronically sleep deprived — is a given. 

I thought I was going crazy. 

Most people think getting “good” sleep is simply about getting enough (6 to 8 hours). But quality matters too, that is, cycling through all five stages throughout the night. Sleep is not only restorative it’s an essential part of disease prevention. Research has found that sleep helps cleans out our daily brain garbage (beta amyloids associated with Alzheimer’s).

Without adequate zzz’s it’s nearly impossible to function at full potential the next day. We feel “weirded out,” foggy, drowsy, anxious, unfocused, cranky, quick to anger, clumsy, slow and often times depressed. And at it’s worst, sleep deprivation can be dangerous, e.g. falling asleep at the wheel.

When I started having sleep problems I obsessively poured through online articles and read numerous research studies. I spent countless hours and dollars on sleep supplements and even got tested for sleep apnea. I posted desperate questions on dozens of online forums. Nothing worked.

What I tried for my insomnia (everything) 

Google “insomnia” and you’ll see pages of articles that recommend your first line of defense should be to “practice good sleep hygiene.” 

  • Keep regular bedtime hours (irregular sleep patterns disrupt your body’s natural circadian rhythm).
  • Keep your bedroom cool, dark and quiet at night.
  • Avoid screens an hour or more before bedtime (disrupts melatonin production).
  • Quiet the mind and body with a warm bath and soothing sounds.

Please. It should be so easy. 

Okay for some it is. But for the hardcore insomniac these just don’t cut it. Of course good sleep hygiene is important and without it, will only make matters worse. 

Here’s what many experts suggest to combat insomnia. I tried every single one. 

  • Cut out caffeine 
  • If you can’t fall asleep go read in another room. The idea is to avoid associating your bedroom with sleep problems, thus adding to “sleep anxiety.”
  • Meditate 
  • Listen to calming music. Certain music is actually designed to move your brain into an alpha (calm) state.
  • Avoid reading or watching scary or overstimulating books and movies right before bed. 
  • Wear eye plugs and an eye mask (I still do this every night).
  • Try hypnosis with a professional or self-hypnotize yourself to sleep.  Imagine slowly walking down steps while you silently count backwards. 
  • Try EFT, emotional freedom technique (tapping)
  • Try reflexology 
  • Address peri or full menopause. Bioidentical progesterone is a  calming hormone and it may help. In some instances bioidentical estrogen may be beneficial. (Bioidentical HRT is safe when monitored by a health care practitioner). 
  • Quiet your mind by replacing racing/ruminating thoughts with soothing images (the beach, waterfalls, basically your happy place).
  • Take a warm shower.
  • Try melatonin. 1-3 mg. Melatonin by itself makes my sleep worse.  It’s a hormone produced in the brain’s pineal gland and is only secreted at night. It’s not a sedative. Melatonin works with your body’s natural circadian rhythm (internal body clock). As we age we produce less. I’m testing it right now by adding it to my current supplements. 
  • For a short period, try an anti-histamine (these made me more awake, also known as a paradoxical effect).
  • Try calming herbs (Valerian, Hops, Lemon Balm, Kava Kava, etc). 
  • Try sleeping pills (*for a brief period).
  • Get tested for sleep apnea. According to my sleep clinic doctor I move in and out of each sleep stage “perfectly,” with no breathing disruption. 

*You probably already know but sleep meds are bad news long term.  First, they don’t address the underlying problem. Moreover they disrupt natural sleep patterns, are addictive and often have nasty side effects. My Ambien hangover was mean moody and nasty. And for some people Ambien can be dangerous (sleep-walking activities like driving, etc).

Chronic insomnia made me take a few swigs at 4am

There were times when after I tried for hours to fall back asleep I just gave up and chugged a couple vodka shots. But here’s the thing, alcohol disrupts REM (dream) sleep, which in turn makes you anxious the next day. Drinking is obviously not the answer but at 3am, 4am, 5am I’d have done virtually anything to go back to sleep, legal or otherwise. 

I remember once saying to my husband something like “I wish I had a small dose of that ‘milk’ that Michael Jackson took to sleep at night.” In the most desperate and sad way I understood why he begged his doctor to shoot him up with it. MJ’s “milk” was a powerful anesthetic drug and tragically it killed him.

After months of trying everything and spending hundreds of dollars, all I had left was to pray and sob. Night after night I sat alone on my back porch staring at the sky, begging for answers.

Every morning when my daughter got ready for school I stumbled around the kitchen, forced a smile and pretended I was okay. My husband was incredibly supportive but there was nothing he could do except listen every time I broke down. During the day I tried to nap but I was either too busy with my writing work or too wired to fall asleep (the latter is a classic sign of adrenal fatigue, “tired but wired”). 

Most of my life I never had any trouble falling asleep. Within 10 minutes of reading a book I’d zonk out. Every so often I’d wake up in the middle of the night and not fall back to sleep for a couple hours.

Of course this happens to everyone.

Racing thoughts, stress, an exciting day, hot flashes, depression, chronic pain or sometimes for no apparent reason, you’re just wide awake.

I didn’t think much about it until it started to happen more frequently and then eventually I started having trouble falling asleep.

Pretty soon bedtime became my enemy.

By 8 or 9pm I could feel my anxiety and panic creep in. This stressed me out which in turn, made it even harder to fall asleep.

Here’s the thing, insomnia creates a vicious cycle.

Poor sleep = higher cortisol (the “stress” hormone). Higher cortisol = poor sleep. And round and round the nightmare goes. 

Adrenal fatigue and insomnia

After months of research I finally figured out my sleep issues were likely caused by adrenal fatigue (AF).

“Adrenal fatigue is a collection of signs and symptoms, known as a syndrome, that results when the adrenal glands function below the necessary level,” writes Dr. James Wilson. “Most commonly associated with intense or prolonged stress, it can also arise during or after acute or chronic infections, especially respiratory infections such as influenza, bronchitis or pneumonia. As the name suggests, its paramount symptom is fatigue that is not relieved by sleep but it is not a readily identifiable entity like measles or a growth on the end of your finger.”

See: Common symptoms of adrenal fatigue

I had nearly all the symptoms.  

I should stop right here and mention that the conventional medical community doesn’t recognize AF.  

It only recognizes adrenal insufficiency in the form of Addison’s and Cushing’s disease both which are not related to AF.

I should also point out that I have a pituitary disorder called Empty Sella Syndrome that affects my Hypothalmic-Pituitary-Axis (HPA). I was diagnosed at 19 and until a few years ago was under endocrinologists’ care. HPA issues can correlate to adrenal problems. 

But here’s the thing, when I spoke to my endocrinologist about my sleep issues, she was zero help.  Why? Because my standard endocrine bloodwork was within normal limits for my pituitary condition.  Because the doc didn’t test my DHEA level which later turned out to be rock bottom (DHEA is an adrenal hormone). Because the endocrinology community thinks AF is total bunk. 

So I left my endocrinologist and went to a highly respected holistic MD., Dr. Sangeeta Pati who specializes in restorative medicine. Dr. Pati confirmed that I did indeed have AF, but that it wasn’t mild as I suspected; it was severe. 

She treated my AF by suggesting immediate lifestyle changes (naps when possible etc.). She started me on bioidentical DHEA (and other bioidentical hormones), magnesium and a daily dash of Premier pink Himalayan salt in a glass of water. I also continued to take adrenal-supportive supplements I found through Dr. James Wilson’s website and Kavinace Ultra PM for sleep (more about both below). 

If you suspect you have AF (take this online questionnare) you have two options: 

    1. Listen to your doctor who will inevitably tell you, “There’s no such diagnosis. The Endocrinology Society doesn’t recognize it. It’s a made-up condition that preys on the unsuspecting in order to make money.”

      OR…..

       

    2. Find a health care practitioner who understands AF and takes it seriously.

       

But here’s the thing, adrenal fatigue treatment finally got me to sleep — my primary doctor and endocrinologist did not.

Sadly many people who suffer with AF are told there’s nothing clinically wrong with them, that like most Americans they’re simply overworked, tired, burnt out and stressed.

“Get some rest, stop burning the candle at both ends,” is the often the extent of insomnia medical advice. Or the doctor writes a prescription for sleeping pills, anti-depressants and/or anti-anxiety meds. All fine short term, but these won’t get to the root of your insomnia. 

Your insomnia may in fact be due to a condition that has nothing to do with AF. Menopause. Chronic pain. REM disorder. Your primary care doctor may order tests and refer you to a specialist to rule out certain conditions. But alternatively, your symptoms may point directly to AF. 

Just don’t rule it out even if your doctors automatically do. 

It’s real. Ask Dr Wilson. Dr. Lam. Dr. Northrup.

And, please please please don’t fall for the myth that “as we age we need less sleep.” Or what your friends tell you, that “as we age we don’t sleep as well and that’s just the way it is” No. As we age we still need 6-8 hours of quality sleep.  

What I did once when I realized I had adrenal fatigue

I found a website called Integrative Psychiatry that specializes in neuro-cognitive tests and sells supplements that addresses such issues. I immediately ordered the Adrenal Stress Index test.

Almost all my results were abnormal.

For a small fee I consulted with the company’s physician’s assistant over the phone. From my results she suspected I had adrenal fatigue so she told me I needed to address a number of issues that were most likely causing my insomnia.

First, gluten sensitivity.

Food sensitivities can contribute to insomnia as a result of gut inflammation and histamine. Inflammation in the body alerts the adrenals, “warning, warning something is wrong!” and bam, cortisol increases. 

And of course — stress.

Stress of any kind (good or bad) raises cortisol. But cortisol is not the enemy. We need it. It reduces inflammation.  Cortisol levels naturally go up and down with our circadian rhythm. Cortisol is also the famous fight or flight hormone we’ve relied on in our evolution to stay alert to danger, and so, to survive. “Run a tiger is coming!”

Of course we’re no longer running from tigers.

Today our “tiger” is the challenge of day to day living. “It’s time for bed but I have a business report to finish, kids to pick up, dishes to clean, emails to answer, texts to respond to, bills to juggle, persistent pain, aging parents who need me, social media to attend to (e.g. fear of missing out)…”

When something stressful happens (say a car cuts you off) your body immediately produces adrenaline. Afterward cortisol rises. As I mentioned cortisol naturally ebbs and flows.  But if you’re chronically stressed your cortisol level may never come down. So while you should be getting drowsy around 9 or 10pm you’re wide awake staring at the ceiling. Or you fall asleep but wake up because your cortisol spikes.

Eventually your adrenal glands simply can’t keep up with the demand for cortisol and your levels begin to drop. You move from “wired but tired” (high cortisol) to so exhausted (low cortisol) you can barely get out of bed in the morning.

How you feel depends on where you are within the four phases of adrenal fatigue.  Low or high cortisol disrupts sleep. 

Important: You can’t recover from adrenal fatigue without regular quality sleep. And you can’t sleep when you have adrenal fatigue. Insomnia and adrenal fatigue are intertwined. 

The physician’s assistant with NeuroScience suggested I take three products.  Kavinace and Ultra Kavinace PM for sleep  (no longer available, see below) and Dr. Wilson’s Adrenal Rebuilder

Both Kavinace supplements contain phenibut (listed on the label as  4-amino-3-phenylbutyric acid).

Phenibut works with the brain’s GABA receptors. GABA and other neurotransmitters play a key role to reduce anxiety and promote sleep. Phenibut unlike straight GABA,  effectively crosses the challenge of the blood-brain-barrier.

GABA is the brain’s primary inhibitory neurotransmitter. Its main role is to calm the central nervous system by neutralizing the effects of glutamate, an excitatory neurotransmitter. 

Every night before bed I took:

Not only did this work, but I had zero “hangover” (drowsy) effect the next day. When I woke up in the middle of the night I took one or two Kavinace and one Adrenal Rebuilder. Fifteen to 30 minutes later I was fast asleep until the next morning. 

*It’s recommended people limit phenibut use to two to three times a week and take a “vacation” (come off it for a period of time). 

FDA issues warning letter. Kavinace and Ultra Kavinace are no longer available. 

The FDA recently issued a warning letter to companies who sell supplements that contain phenibut. The warning is regarding labeling phenibut or phenibut formulation as a “dietary supplement” vs. what it actually is, a nootropic.

Last week I called NeuroScience, the company that makes Kavinace supplements. The representative told me they’re reformulating all Kavinace products for release in July 2019.

Update: 7/23/19. I spoke to a rep from the company. The Kavinace reformulation will be released within a week or so after undergoing internal quality control. It will be an emulsion (thick liquid) and will not contain phenibut. It will however, work with the GABA (calming) pathways in the brain.

The replacements will not however, contain phenibut (labeled as 4-amino-3-phenylbutyric acid). This is a major disappointment because unlike many GABA agonists, phenibut effectively crosses the challenging blood-brain-barrier. 

Alternatives to Kavinace and Kavinace Ultra PM. This is what I tested.

I seriously panicked when I found out Kavinace products were pulled from the market. So I did some research and found this article by Dr. Davidson. She recommends two supplements called Cerevive and PharmaGaba. 

I contacted Dr. Davidson and she suggested people who have severe sleep issues  “layer” (take both) supplements at the same time.  

Please bear in mind that every-body and brain and sleep challenge is unique. If something doesn’t work for me, it might work for you.

Be sure to read both positive and negative Amazon product reviews.  

So, as I mentioned except for a few years ago, I generally don’t have problems falling asleep. My issue is waking up too early or falling back to sleep (sleep maintenance due to adrenal fatigue). 

Regardless of which sleep supplement I decide to test, I always take the following before bed:

~ One capsule of prescribed bioidentical progesterone (compounded by a verified compounding pharmacist).

~ One tablet of Dr. Wilson’s Adrenal Rebuilder 

~ Two 500mg capsules of Pure Encapsulations tryptophan (Pure Encapsulations is a stellar brand).

~ Three sprays Ancient Minerals magnesium applied topically to my arms or legs (and/or 2 capsules of Pure Encapsulations magnesium glycinate).

This is what I’ve tried so far (as of 6/18/19):

X CereVive – 2 capsules. Didn’t work. I was already a bit skeptical because this product while impressive with a number of sleep-promoting ingredients, has tyrosine. Tyrosine is an amino acid involved in the production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved with drive and motivation (daytime behaviors). When I contacted Dr. Davidson she told me CereVive works well as a sleep-aid for many of her patients.  She suggested if I can tolerate it to gradually increase to 4 capsules before bedtime. No thank you! Maybe it’s a phenomenal daytime mood-booster but it’s not right for me as a sleep aid.

X Thorne Pharma Gaba – 1 capsule 250 mg. Didn’t work. I woke up after a few hours and even after I added two 100mg of Natural Factors chewable Pharma Gaba I couldn’t fall back to sleep.  I like that Natural Factors is chewable (works faster) and comes in 100mg which allows you to start low and add more in the middle of the night. 

Both CereVive and Pharma Gaba. Didn’t work. This combo has a boatload of sleep-promoting ingredients.  GABA, L-theanine, 5-HTP, as well as a number of vitamins and minerals to improve the synthesis of the neurotransmitters. This goes to show you, more is necessarily better. Getting to the root cause of your insomnia is.  In case you’re interested: “What is Gaba vs l-theanine?”

NeuroScience Alpha Gaba PM (AGPM) –  2 capsules. Pretty good. This is NeuroScience’s current replacement for Kavinace products. The first time I took it I woke up a few hours later. But, I tried this before I got back on my adrenal fatigue protocol. After I started taking Dr. Wilson’s adrenal fatigue vitamins three times a day for several days, I found that AGPM worked better.  Not as well as Kavinace Ultra PM (oh how I miss you) but pretty good.

(I recently called NeuroScience and told the (very helpful) rep that their new sleep formula Alpha Gaba PM didn’t (initially) work very well. She told me, “Most people have found it takes about 2 weeks to work.”)

AGPM is an impressive formula. It contains 400 mg of l-theanine (a pretty hefty dosage), 3 mg of melatonin, and a proprietary blend of the herbs valerian, lemon balm and 5-HTP.  5-HTP is a precursor to serotonin, a sleep/mood neurotransmitter. 

So why didn’t these sleep supplements work as well as I hoped?

  1. Not enough of the active ingredient (GABA, l-theanine) is penetrating the blood-brain-barrier and/or they’re missing critical co-factors that increase bioavailability. 
  2. These sleep supplements don’t directly address my underlying issue, adrenal fatigue. 

*If you have adrenal fatigue it’s essential you support your adrenal glands all day long, every day. You can’t simply take herbs or supplements that boost the neurotransmitters GABA and serotonin at night and hope to avoid a 3am cortisol spike (or nighttime hypogylcemia which will wake you up. Hypoglycemia and AF are related). 

When I started testing these new supplements first night I woke up in the middle of the night. I took more supplements and read a book for about two hours. Nothing.

The more anxious I got, the more awake I felt (cortisol!). Frustrated I just sat on my porch with my head in my hands with flashbacks of my horrible insomnia days.  I finally fell asleep after taking 1mg of Klonipin prescribed by my holistic MD to use strictly for sleep emergencies (benzodiazepine drugs such as Klonipin are highly addictive and build tolerance quickly). 

So what did work? 

Addressing my adrenal fatigue. I was so disappointed the new supplements didn’t work. I sat down and thought about what was probably going on, what I’ve learned after five years of researching sleep. Adrenal fatigue.

I was already extremely anxious because my perfect Kavinace Ultra PM was pulled off the market. Then when I tried new sleep supplements and none of them worked, I got more anxious.  You know the deal by now, more anxious = higher cortisol = crappy sleep.

What I did to get back to sleep:   

  1. On day one I followed Dr. Wilson’s mild adrenal fatigue recovery protocol, although I adapted it a bit: 
    ~ 1 tablet Adrenal Rebuilder. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, bedtime.
    ~ 1 tablet Dr. Wilson’s Adrenal Vitamin C. Breakfast, lunch, dinner.  
    ~ 1 tablet Dr. Wilson’s Super Adrenal Stress Formula. Breakfast, lunch.      dinner. 
    ~ 10 drops in water of Dr. Wilson’s Herbal HPA breakfast and dinner. 
  2. At bedtime I took one 200mg soft gel of Sports Research L-Theanine  (I only use Suntheanine™ l-theanine). 
  3. As always I took my usual biodentical progesterone, tryptophan and topical magnesium.

The results?

I went to bed at 10:30pm. I woke up at briefly at 5:30am, took one Adrenal Rebuilder, rolled over and went back to sleep until 7:30am. I couldn’t believe it, I almost cried! 

So supporting my adrenal glands throughout the day stopped the middle-of-night cortisol spike. 

Gaba Complex  Worked. Recently someone responded to this post that  Gaba Complex works very well for her sleep issues. But Gaba Complex has phenibut (pulled by the FDA but still available on Amazon as of this writing). I ordered a bottle and tried it. I slept well but was drowsy the next day.  So the next time I took one capsule instead of the recommended two. I woke up in the middle of the night and took one more capsule along with one Adrenal Rebuilder. I slept okay, not fully awake, but not fast asleep either. 

When I called the company that makes Gaba Complex, Natural Creations, I asked a very informative gentleman named Bill how much phenibut Gaba Complex contains (I want to be careful). 

He told me 400mg which surprised me. I expected higher. Kavinace Ultra PM contains 625mg with zero hangover effect the next day. Bill explained that it’s not just how much GABA agonist a supplement contains, it’s also the combination of co-factors that help GABA work (penetrate the blood-brain-barrier). 

(Natural Creations, like NeuroScience, is in the process of reformulating their GABA Complex.) 

So that’s my journey. Treating adrenal fatigue to cure my insomnia. It’s a process. 

And truth be told, as someone who works out rigorously, stays up too late on the weekends and loves her wine (all of the above are taboo during adrenal fatigue treatment), some of my sleep issues are a direct result of my own behaviors, over and beyond my pituitary disorder. 

I’m still in the process of testing various sleep supplements that will keep me asleep for at least 7 hours.  But most importantly I’m back to treating my adrenal fatigue. 

Please let me know what’s working for you. 

Wishing you betters zzz’s, more restful days and great joy. 

Laura

Resources: 

Integrative Psychiatry  Provides at home testing, consultation by a nurse practitioner and products. 

ZRT Labs Offers home test kits (I strongly recommend working with a health practitioner to interpret results and design a treatment plan). 

NeuroScience NeuroScience offers proprietary blends of amino acids designed specifically to provide precursors for nervous system molecules called neurotransmitters.  7/23/19. I spoke to a rep from the company. Their Kavinace reformulation will be released within a week or so after undergoing internal quality control. It will not contain phenibut, but it will work with the GABA (calming) pathways in the brain.

Find a health practitioner who understands and treats adrenal fatigue

Supplements I mentioned:

Adrenal:

Dr. Wilson’s Adrenal Rebuilder 

Dr. Wilson’s Adrenal Vitamin C 

Dr. Wilson’s Super Adrenal Stress Formula  Dr. Wilson’s Herbal HPA

Pure Encapsulations tryptophan

Pure Encapsulations magnesium glycinate

Ancient Minerals magnesium

Premier pink Himalayan salt

Sleep:

Alpha Gaba PM 

Gaba Complex 

CereVive

Thorne Pharma Gaba

Natural Factors chewable Pharma Gaba

L-Theanine(Suntheanine™) 

Sleep Time 

Phenibut by LiftMode

More: New York Times: Insomnia Can Kill You 

                                           Getting a Good Night’s Sleep Without Drugs

 

Disclaimer: Please note I don’t recommend any products or service I haven’t  personally tried or that receive positive reviews from Amazon. Laura-Owens.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to [insert the applicable site name (amazon.com or whatever).

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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cure anxiety, cure depression, kavinace, holistic healing, natural cures for mood disorders

Letter to the anxious, the panicked, the depressed: Healing starts here.

cure anxiety, cure depression, kavinace, holistic healing, natural cures for mood disorders

(Picture courtesy of: FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

It astounds me how many people today are desperate for help to manage their long-time anxiety and depression.

 

Many people have been caught, some for decades, in a medication loop with their doctors. Numerous physicians with the best intentions, simply practice what they know — conventional symptom-based medicine, rather than applying a functional, holistic and integrative approach to treating their patients.

We are complex beings, mind and body. You can NOT separate the two for how they affect each other.  It is I believe, impossible.

Because most doctors based on their schooling, focus on conventional treatments rather than integrative approaches, patients suffer needlessly  for years. Their health, job and relationships spiral down, and in the most severe cases of mood disorders — suicide sometimes becomes the final solution.

A firm belief you deserve to feel good is the best springboard toward finding answers, towards solving any problem.

Woman desperate for help off the anti-anxiety medication rollercoaster

Recently a woman from Canada named Lisa emailed me. She explained that she’s been on a roller-coaster of anxiety-depression medication for years.  She had great success managing her anxiety with cognitive therapy but due to life stresses, Lisa had setbacks.  Over time she gained 150 pounds and was at the end of her rope. Today, back on track, she’s 26 pounds away from her goal weight, weaning off two medications and in search of a natural approach to help her replace the GABA meds long relied on.  She told me one of her doctors had her stop her benzodiazepine meds cold turkey, a dangerous protocol that sent her brain into a serious tailspin.

After reading a few of my GABA articles, Lisa asked me in an email, for my advice. I told her I wasn’t a doctor; I don’t claim to have the answers to managing mood disorders or that my answers are vetted for 100% accuracy, but I do extensively research what I write from peer-reviewed sources (Pub-med etc).

And more, I offer what I’ve learned through my own experience. Ultimately however, people have to do their own homework.

My advice to anyone trying to recover from anxiety, panic, depression and insomnia

Dear Lisa,

Wow. It sounds like you’ve been through it.

Of course I’m not a doctor but I have spent a fair amount of time, over 10 years, researching natural mood and hormone balancing, largely because I suffered with fibromyalgia (no longer) and monthly mood swings (PMS, PMDD) the result of a long-time benign pituitary disorder and other factors.

More recently I came out of a very serious bout of unexplained insomnia that led to panic, mild depression and overall misery. The bottom line for what steers my work is I believe we are supposed to feel good. Anything less is unacceptable.

I try so hard to find answers, to steer my own well-being rather than “accept” from doctors quasi-solutions — as so many of us have come to expect, particularly as we age.

Brain “hiccups” or imbalances are the result of the interplay of one or several hereditary, chemical, environmental (food allergies etc.), and psychological factors (stress, bad childhood, trauma), and I might add recovery is also contingent upon — attitude.

We breed what we believe.

The combination of all these factors can have a complex and cascading effect on your health. Yet, any imbalance can be cured or at least managed with more effective and safer treatment protocols than long-term meds —  or “learning to live with it.”

The traditional approach of trying various medications is often a band-aid until the underlying causative factors are uncovered and addressed:

  • Neuroendocrine (hormones – neurotransmitters, the Hypothalmic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA axis) feedback system)
  • Psychological stressors (work, relationships, childhood trauma, crisis)
  • Environmental (food sensitivities, chemical, pollen etc.) U subscribe to a holistic approach for healing and in some cases to integrative healing (low dose traditional meds in conjunction with natural therapies).

As an aside, the mind-gut connection is regularly ignored as a potential contributor to mood  disorders. Food sensitivities, chronic gut inflammation, can wreak havoc on the brain. A good probiotic is useful (Jarrow etc.) as well as digestive enzymes — but food sensitivity or allergen avoidance is ideal.

When I was suffering from insomnia it threw me into a panic, the result of my brain getting out of whack from severe sleep deprivation, high cortisol and an adrenal imbalance. After weeks of doing extensive (and desperate!) research I found a website called Integrative Psychiatry, a company located in Sarasota, Florida.

IP offers tests for various functions involved in mood, sleep and cognitive/attention issues.  Many companies offer self-testing that includes a print out to explain your results, but IP also offers a one hour consult over the phone with a Physician’s Assistant who explains implications and suggested treatments.

Admittedly, their solutions are tied to purchasing their products but I trust the company’s recommendations I received – it worked.

IP’s testing and supplements are expensive, unfortunately, but if you contact IP they’ll help you pinpoint which test(s) can address your specific issues, and you can shop the supplements online in search of better value.

Lisa, shame on the doctor who told you to cold turkey benzo’s, that advice wasn’t only ignorant — it was irresponsible. The nurse at IP suggested I take a low dose of Klonapin to sleep and while I only took it for for two weeks she told me to wean off it gradually.

Kavinace supplement for anxiety, panic, sleep and to wean off benzodiazepene drugs

Among other things, she suggested I try Kavinace which contains a derivative of GABA found to be more effective than straight GABA supplements or L-theanine.  It also contains Taurine. It’s non-addictive and non-habit-forming, although I suspect all supplements have at least some potential to habituate.  I can’t say if that’s the case for Kavinace.

(Product description of Kavinace)

Kudos to you for practicing yoga. Yoga’s been proven to increase GABA in the brain so it’s a great idea to incorporate this ancient practice into your mind-body balancing journey.

Holistic healing requires a gradual sleuthing process to pinpoint causes. Once you nail down the underlying causes (not the least of which is a belief that you CAN recover and that you DESERVE to feel good) recovery is INEVITABLE.

Lisa, I hope some of my suggestions help. Holistic healing can sometimes take longer than a shot-gun approach of rotating medications but holistic and integrative medicine offers an effective, safer, LONG term approach to healing and well-being.

I suggest you:

a) Test for underlying causes

b) Taper your benzos using 1-2 capsules of Kavinace as needed

c) Get an IP consultation to discuss your test results

d) Don’t underestimate the potential for a food sensitivity which increases inflammation in the body, elevates histamine in the brain (an excitatory neurotransmitter) and can contribute to or exacerbate an anxious state.

e) Continue with cognitive therapies and mind-body work (yoga).

f)  Perhaps find a belief system that resonates within you — mine is Law of Attraction. Whether it is God, nature, or some spiritual force, having a belief in a good and divine power can be quite comforting and empowering.

All the best. To feeling good.

Laura Owens

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Vitamin D Deficiency, Fibromyalgia, Anxiety & Depression: Possible Links

vitamin d, fibromyalgia, depression, chronic pain

The Sunshine Vitamin. Vitamin D deficiency may contribute to fibromyalgia, chronic pain symptoms.

(Photo credit, Maggie Smith)

While researchers have found a relationship between insufficient vitamin D, chronic pain, anxiety and depression, the exact causality is still unknown.

Researchers in a 2007 study reported in Clinical Rheumatology that vitamin D deficiency is common in people with fibromyalgia and also occurs more frequently in those with anxiety and depression. Yet research is also emerging that may dispute the once believed link between Seasonal Affective Disorder, its depressive symptoms and D deficiency.

Regardless of the unanswered questions, patients suffering with mood issues and/or chronic muscle pain may want to consider having their 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels tested.

Fibromyalgia, Vitamin D, Anxiety & Depression May Be Linked

People with fibromyalgia often have symptoms of anxiety and depression as well as low levels of vitamin D. In the 2007 study, researchers tested serum vitamin D levels in 75 patients with fibromyalgia. The subjects completed a Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire (FIQ) and Hospital Anxiety and Depression Score (HADS). Results showed that patients with vitamin D deficiency scored higher on the HADS .

Research has also linked vitamin D deficiency to patients who suffer with chronic pain. While the relationship between fibromyalgia, pain, anxiety, depression and vitamin D deficiency is somewhat complex and the exact relationship remains unclear, evidence is mounting to suggest that vitamin D plays some role in chronic pain and mood imbalance.

Vitamin D Deficiency, Depression With Seasonal Affective Disorder Research Disputed

Vitamin D continues to gain worldwide attention due to emerging research linking it to more than 2,000 gene processes in the body. Yet evidence has surfaced to challenge vitamin D’s once presumed role in Seasonal Affective Disorder and the associated depressive symptoms. Researchers believe Seasonal Affective Disorder manifests during winter months as a result of lack of sunlight exposure on the skin which then results in vitamin D deficiency.

In a study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, Dr. Oscar Franco, Assistant Clinical Professor in Public Health and his team, recruited more than 3,000 people and tested levels of vitamin D (25-hydroxyvitamin D) in the blood. Subjects completed a questionnaire to measure depressive symptoms. Researchers found no clear association between depressive symptoms and the concentration of vitamin D in the blood.

“Few studies have explored the association between blood 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentrations and depression in the general population, ” said Dr. Franco. “Previous studies into the effects of vitamin D supplementation have produced mixed results. More studies are still needed to evaluate whether vitamin D is associated with seasonal affective disorders, but our study does raise questions about the effects of taking more vitamin D to combat depressive symptoms.”

A Japanese study conducted in 2009 also found no evidence linking higher blood vitamin D levels with decreased depressive symptoms.

Vitamin D, Mood & The Brain

In a report entitled, “Vitamin D and the occurrence of depression: causal association or circumstantial evidence?” researchers concluded that based on the body of research to date, high doses of supplemental vitamin D may improve mild depressive symptoms. Yet questions persist regarding the following critical study areas of mood regulation:

  • how vitamin D affects monoamine function and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis response to stress
  • whether vitamin D supplementation can improve mood in individuals with moderate-to-severe depression
  • whether vitamin D sufficiency is protective against incident depression and recurrence.

Investigators in the report suggest it is “premature to conclude that vitamin D status is related to the occurrence of depression. Additional prospective studies of this relationship are essential.”

While the exact relationship between mood disorders, chronic muscle pain and vitamin D deficiency has not be clearly established, evidence suggests that patients with chronic muscle pain, anxiety or depression should at least consider testing their vitamin D levels and supplementing if they are deficient.

Additional Reading:

Fibromyalgia Pain: Magnesium and Malic Acid Combined More Effective

Vitamin D Deficiency and Fibromyalgia, Chronic Pain, Linked

Integrative Massage For Chronic Pain: Multi-Disciplinary Approach More Effective

Footnotes:

Armstrong DJ, Meenagh GK, Bickle I, Lee AS, Curran ES, Finch MB, “Vitamin D deficiency is associated with anxiety and depression in fibromyalgia,” Clinical Rheumatology,2007 Apr.

An Pan, Ling Lu, Oscar H. Franco, Zhijie Yu, Huaixing Li, Xu Lin. “Association between depressive symptoms and 25-hydroxyvitamin D in middle-aged and elderly Chinese., “ Journal of Affective Disorders, 2009.

University of Warwick (2009, March 18). Vitamin D May Not Be The Answer To Feeling SAD. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 3, 2010.

Bertone-Johnson ER, “Vitamin D and the occurrence of depression: causal association or circumstantial evidence?” Nutritional Review, 2009 Aug.

Copyright Laura Owens. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.
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Depression Caused by Low GABA Rather Than Serotonin in Some

depression, anti-depressants, GABA, serotonin, SSRI

SSRI meds For GABA-Related Depression May Not Work

Photo credit, Flickr

Doctors may be closer to treating major depression in individuals who don’t respond to selective-serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and selective-serotonin nor epinephrine re-uptake inhibitors (SSNRIs).

Medications prescribed to treat major depression are often those designed to increase the availability of serotonin, dopamine and/or nor epinephrine in the brain, neurotransmitters involved in a number of processes, including mood. Yet patients who don’t respond to those classes of drugs may in fact have an imbalance in another key brain chemical, GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid).

Depression Not Always Due to Serotonin, Dopamine, Nor Epinephrine Imbalance

Major depression is a complex mood disorder that can be caused by a number of underlying and potentially intertwined biochemical and psychological factors. While some patients respond to serotonin therapies, for others, SSRI’s don’t improve their symptoms or can even make them worse.

Scientists in a study released in 2005, “Corelease of Dopamine and Serotonin from Striatal Dopamine Terminals” found that higher serotonin concentrations caused by SSRIs can “trick” transporters of another key neurotransmitter, dopamine, into retrieving serotonin into dopamine vesicles. This is referred to as “cosignaling” and can lead to a dangerous, even life threatening condition called serotonin syndrome.

In a March 2010 study published in Biological Psychiatry, co-authors Drs. Andrea J. Levinson and Zafiris J. Daskalakis of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) studied a group of brain chemicals involved in virtually all brain activity, the neurotransmitter GABA. In the study, individuals who were the least likely to respond well to prior depression treatments were also the ones with the lowest level of GABA in their brain.

Depression and GABA

GABA controls the brain’s rhythmic theta waves that allow individuals to feel physically and mentally balanced. They are the electrical brain waves associated with an “in between” mental state, a drowsy, semiconscious, alert yet relaxed dream-like state of mind.

Dr. Ray Sahelian, author of Mind Boosters [St. Martin’s Press, 2000] explains, “GABA is the most important and widespread inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. Excitation in the brain must be balanced with inhibition. Too much excitation can lead to restlessness, irritability, insomnia, and even seizures. GABA is able to induce relaxation, analgesia, and sleep.”

GABA creates a sense of well-being and is involved in the production of endorphins, brain chemicals that create feelings of well-being known as the “runners high.” “Endorphins are produced in the brain during physical movement, such as stretching or even sexual intercourse,” explains Dr. Braverman in his book The Edge Effect [Sterling Publishing, 2005]. As endorphins are released, people begin to feel a sense of calm, often referred to as the Endorphin Effect.

A GABA imbalance can be involved in bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and anxiety disorder but it’s also inherent to a number of critical day to day brain functions. “We apply so many conscious and unconscious perceptions and judgments to our actions at every second, without even realizing that we are doing so,” says Dr. Levinson. “GABA is part of the brain system that allows us to fine-tune our moods, thoughts, and actions with an incredible level of detail,” she says.

The findings on GABA and major depression may explain why electroconvulsive therapy, once thought barbaric, is still the most efficacious therapy for major depressive disorder. “Electroconvulsive therapy may act on GABA brain chemicals in a way that can reset the balance,” says Levinson.

GABA deficiency symptoms

Because GABA is the chief inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain, it’s involved in an impressive list of regulatory processes in the body. A GABA deficiency can lead to:

  • Allergies, light-headedness, restlessness, transient muscle tension or aches;
  • Feelings of dread, blurred vision, protein cravings, impulsive attention errors, cold or clammy hands, butterflies in the stomach, feeling of a lump in the throat;
  • Dizziness, coughing or choking, temporomandibular joint syndrome, paresthesia (prickling or tingling sensation), phobias;
  • PMS, irritable bowel syndrome, night sweats, moderate to severe constipation/diarrhea;
  • Tachycardia (rapid heartbeat), mood swings, various mild pain syndromes, various anxiety disorders, hypertension;
  • Delusions, unexplained chronic pains, trigeminal neuralgia and other facial pains;
  • Short or violent temper, chronic insomnia, neuropathy (nerve pain), fibromyalgia (chronic muscle pain);
  • Severe heart arrhythmias, carbohydrate cravings, severe migraines, rage; and
  • Severe tinnitus, severe pain, manic depression, seizures.

The implications of the study suggest that targeted drug therapies that include GABA medications may be more effective for patients with major depression than the trial and error approach that relies on serotonin and other neurotransmitter drug therapies.

“We are advancing the goal of a truly personalized medicine,” says study co-author Dr. Daskalakis. “It is intriguing to think that we may soon be able to apply simple brain stimulation to identify which treatments are most likely to help the individual person, eliminating the guesswork. That is, through these findings we may be able to one day determine who is and who is not going to respond to traditional pharmacological approaches to depression.”

Footnotes: 

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (2010, March 6). “Critical brain chemical shown to play role in severe depression.” ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 19, 2010, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2010/03/100301102803.htm

Fu-Ming Zhou, Yong Liang, Ramiro Salas, Lifen Zhang, Mariella De Biasi, and John A. Dani: “Corelease of Dopamine and Serotonin from Striatal Dopamine Terminals” Publishing in Neuron, Volume 46, Number 1, April 7, 2005, pages 65–74. http://www.neuron.org

Copyright Laura Owens. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.
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Five Ways To Improve Mood Naturally: Dopamine, GABA, Fish Oil…

Natural mood elevators, including fish oil

(Photo credit: Kittikun Atsawintarangkul)

Depression and anxiety treatment continues to explode as a highly profitable industry for drug companies. A growing number of people are popping prescriptions, desperately seeking solutions that will work long term and don’t carry risky side effects.

Pharmaceutical companies continue to spend millions on advertising to convince consumers that the solution to conquering mood disorders comes from a doctor’s prescription pad. Yet there are numerous natural alternatives available that cost little money, are safe and effective and will treat a spectrum of acute and chronic mood issues.

Serotonin Not Always Solution to Depression

Many prescription anti-depressants are designed to address low levels of serotonin and nor epinephrine. Yet in a 2005 review, researchers Jeffery Lacasse and Jonathon Leo wrote that they couldn’t find any article to directly support the long-held claim that a serotonin deficiency causes mental disorders.

Moreover, not all mood disorders are due to a biochemical imbalance, and medications often miss the mark or don’t address the underlying causes. Drugs can have unpleasant side effects such as weight gain, loss of libido, or diminished affect (emotion); and can even exacerbate symptoms. Alternatively there are a number of natural alternatives to boost mood.

1.Increase Dopamine for Depression Relief

Dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in arousal and motor function is a precursor to adrenaline and a related molecule, not adrenaline. Dopamine is made from the amino acid tyrosine and is central to the creation of reward systems such as food, sex, positive social interactions, even humor. While doctors can prescribe medications to treat dopamine-dependent depression, there are natural ways to elevate dopamine.

Michael Lardon, a doctor and researcher on the neuroelectric assessment of athletic peak performance explains in an online article for the Modesto Bee that everyone who exercises can reap the benefits from the “dopamine buzz.”

“Dopamine is released within just 20 minutes of moderate exercise, says Lardon, “and triggers within your brain positive feelings about yourself even after your first session of exercise, before your body has had a chance to firmly establish an association between the exercise and the great feelings.”

2. Boost GABA for Mental Health

Another neurotransmitter involved with mood regulation is GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). GABA controls the brain’s rhythmic theta waves that allow individuals to feel physically and mentally balanced.

Dr. Ray Sahelian, author of Mind Boosters [St. Martin’s Press, 2000] explains GABA’s key brain balancing role, “GABA is the most important and widespread inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. Excitation in the brain must be balanced with inhibition. Too much excitation can lead to restlessness, irritability, insomnia, and even seizures. GABA is able to induce relaxation, analgesia, and sleep.”

GABA is involved in the production of endorphins, brain chemicals that create feelings of well-being known as the “runner’s high.” An imbalance can be involved in bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and anxiety disorder but it’s also inherent to several critical day to day brain functions.

A GABA-rich diet and certain supplements can elevate GABA, and so can yoga, research finds. “The practice of yoga should be explored as a treatment for disorders with low GABA levels such as depression and anxiety disorders. Future studies should compare yoga to other forms of exercise to help determine whether yoga or exercise alone can alter GABA levels,” write scientists in a 2007 study.

3. Take Fish Oil to Improve Mood

Fish oil is most often associated with cardiovascular health, but the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil can also improve mood in some people.

According to Dr. Mercola, a leading natural health expert, “Numerous studies worldwide have linked lack of omega-3 consumption – specifically DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) – with depression. One study found that depression symptoms were higher among infrequent fish consumers than among those who ate fish on a regular basis.”

Researchers found that low plasma concentrations of DHA were good predictors of low concentrations of brain serotonin. Low serotonin can be associated with depression and suicide in some individuals.

4. Socialize With Cheerful People

Depressed people often avoid social interaction, but forcing face-to-face connections with upbeat people can boost mood, research indicates.

Forbes.com reported on a 20-year study that found social networks can have a deep impact on an individual’s happiness. Scientists tracked over 4,700 people and found that social interactions with both cheerful friends and strangers considerably influenced the subject’s chances of happiness.

5. Pet a Pet to Boost Mood

Petting Rover can be plus for mental and physical health. “The benefit is especially pronounced when people are strongly attached to their pets,” says researcher Judith Siegel, PhD for a WebMD article.

Blair Justice, PhD, a psychology professor and author of Who Gets Sick: How Beliefs, Moods, and Thoughts Affect Your Health [Peak Press, 2000] tells WebMD that like any enjoyable activity, playing with a pet increases serotonin and dopamine. “People take drugs like heroin and cocaine to raise serotonin and dopamine, but the healthy way to do it is to pet your dog, or hug your spouse, watch sunsets, or get around something beautiful in nature, “says Justice.

While the pharmaceutical industry continues to promote a long list of medications for anxiety and depression, several natural alternatives are available that are safe, often very effective, and without risky side effects.

People suffering with acute or chronic mood changes who are interested in natural treatments should seek a holistic practitioner. Holistic physicians often measure neurotransmitter and hormone levels and then develop a comprehensive treatment plan that may include a combination of diet changes, exercise, hormone replacement and supplements. Treatment may be combined with conventional approaches to mood management or as an alternative.

Footnotes:

Lacasse JR, Leo J, “Serotonin and depression: a disconnect between the advertisements and the scientific literature,” Florida State University College of Social Work, Tallahassee, Fl., 2005 Dec;2(12):e392.

Lerche Davis, Jeanie, “5 Ways Pets Can Improve Your Health,” WebMD. November 16, 2009.

Mercola, Joseph, Ph.D., “More Omega-3 Studies Find Links to Depression,”November 24 2004.

Rebecca, Ruiz, How To Beat The Winter Blues. Forbes.com. December 15, 2008.

Streeter, CC, Jensen JE, Perlmutter RM, Cabral HJ, Tian H, Terhune DB, Ciraulo DA, Renshaw, PF, “Yoga Asana sessions increase brain GABA levels: a pilot study.” Journal of Complementary Medicine, 2007 May 13.

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GABA: Increasing the Brain’s Own Calming Chemical

gaba, stress, l-theanine, suntheanine, anti-anxiety, naturally decrease stress

Reducing stress by naturally elevating GABA levels

Photo credit: Renjith krishnan

Anxiety has become nearly a near epidemic as thousands of people today struggle with feeling chronically anxious, irritable and unfocused on a daily basis. And for some, persistent untreated anxiety seriously interferes with their ability to function in social and workplace settings.  Low levels of GABA, gamma-aminobutyric acid, may be a contributing factor because GABA deficiencies can negatively affect an individual’s ability to manage even the most low level stressful situations.

GABA Deficiency Symptoms

A calming or “peacemaker” chemical in the brain, GABA induces relaxation, reduces stress and anxiety, and increases focus. One of the four key neurotransmitters, GABA also serves to keep all the other neurotransmitters in check. A deficiency can lead to:

  • Anxiety symptoms
  • Irritability
  • Headaches
  • Hypertension
  • Palpitations
  • Seizures
  • Lower sex drive
  • Disorders of the heart
  • Depression

Naturally Increase GABA:

While many people diagnosed with anxiety disorders take prescription medications such as Valium, Xanax or Ativan, benzodiazepine drugs that stimulate GABA receptors, these drugs often produce unwanted side effects and over time, can become less effective until the dose is increased.

Alternatively, individuals can gradually manage their mood disorder with a program that includes daily exercise, regularly eating foods that naturally elevate the production of key neurotransmitters and targeted supplementation.

Foods rich in complex carbohydrates increases GABA in the brain because they increases glutamine, an amino acid that is a precursor (needed in the formation of) to GABA. Introducing GABA-friendly foods into meals and avoiding excess simple sugars, white flours and wheat products (besides whole grains) can help elevate and maintain GABA levels.

Foods That Increase GABA:

According to Dr. Braverman, author of “The Edge Effect: Achieve Total Health and Longevity with the Balanced Brain Advantage,” the following foods are high in glutamic acid/glutamate (forms glutamine, precursor to GABA):

  • Almonds, tree nuts
  • Bananas
  • Beef Liver
  • Broccoli
  • Brown Rice
  • Halibut
  • Lentils
  • Oats, whole grain
  • Oranges, citrus fruits
  • Rice bran
  • Spinach
  • Walnuts
  • Whole wheat, whole grains.

Supplement with L-theanine to Reduce Anxiety:

L-theanine, a naturally occurring amino acid found in green tea, raises GABA levels and has few if any side effects. L-theanine creates a calm feeling in people without the drowsiness many anti-anxiety medications have, and in almost a paradoxical affect, L-theanine also improves mental clarity and focus.

Suntheanine®, the tested and patented form of L-theanine, is produced by several vitamin companies and is available in most health food stores. Individuals should vary the dose and frequency according to their symptoms although most people find between 100 to 200mg one to four times a day is effective.

How GABA Works to Lower Anxiety

GABA controls the brain’s rhythmic theta waves, the normal brainwave in the encephalogram of a person who is awake but relaxed and drowsy. Theta waves help the brain maintain physical and mental balance. Dr. Ray Sahelian, author of Mind Boosters explains, “GABA is the most important and widespread inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. Excitation in the brain must be balanced with inhibition. Too much excitation can lead to restlessness, irritability, insomnia, and even seizures. GABA is able to induce relaxation, analgesia, and sleep.”

This key brain chemical is critically important to maintaining an overall sense of mental well-being. “GABA is also involved in the production of endorphins, brain chemicals that create a feeling of well-being known as ‘runners high.’,” writes Dr. Braverman. “Endorphins are produced in the brain during physical movement, such as stretching or even sexual intercourse.” As endorphins are released people begin to feel a sense of calm, often referred to as the Endorphin Effect.

Although experiencing occasional anxiety is common, chronic anxiety can be debilitating and can dramatically decrease an individual’s quality of life, as well as negatively impact their immune system.

Individuals suffering from chronic anxiety should ask their doctor to test their neurotransmitter and hormone levels because each has a complex relationship with the other that can affect numerous functions in the body, including mood regulation.

Copyright Laura Owens. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.


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11 Ways to Naturally Improve Depression or Anxiety

Photo credit: Digitalart

While the pharmaceutical companies continue to promote expensive mood medications that come with a long list of side effects to manage anxiety and depression, in many cases, natural therapies alone or in combination with low dose medication can alleviate symptoms, and without side effects.

Re-think Serotonin theory on depression

Many prescription anti-depressants are designed to address low levels of serotonin and nor epinephrine. Yet in a 2005 review, researchers Jeffery Lacasse and Jonathon Leo wrote that they couldn’t find any article to directly support the long-held claim that a serotonin deficiency causes mental disorders.(Click here for serotonin-related products)

Moreover, not all mood disorders are due to a biochemical imbalance, and medications often miss the mark or don’t address the underlying causes. Drugs can have unpleasant side effects such as weight gain, loss of libido, or diminished affect (emotion); and can even exacerbate symptoms. Alternatively there are a number of natural alternatives to boost mood.

Increase dopamine

Dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in arousal and motor function is a precursor to adrenaline and a related molecule, not adrenaline. Dopamine is made from the amino acid tyrosine and is central to the creation of reward systems such as food, sex, positive social interactions, even humor. While doctors can prescribe medications to treat dopamine-dependent depression, there are natural ways to elevate dopamine. (Click here for dopamine-related products)

Michael Lardon, a doctor and researcher on the neuroelectric assessment of athletic peak performance explains in an online article for the Modesto Bee that everyone who exercises can reap the benefits from the “dopamine buzz.”

“Dopamine is released within just 20 minutes of moderate exercise, says Lardon, “and triggers within your brain positive feelings about yourself even after your first session of exercise, before your body has had a chance to firmly establish an association between the exercise and the great feelings.”

Increase GABA

Another neurotransmitter involved with mood regulation is GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). GABA controls the brain’s rhythmic theta waves that allow individuals to feel physically and mentally balanced. (Click here for GABA-related products)

Dr. Ray Sahelian, author of Mind Boosters [St. Martin’s Press, 2000] explains GABA’s key brain balancing role, “GABA is the most important and widespread inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. Excitation in the brain must be balanced with inhibition. Too much excitation can lead to restlessness, irritability, insomnia, and even seizures. GABA is able to induce relaxation, analgesia, and sleep.”

GABA is involved in the production of endorphins, brain chemicals that create feelings of well-being known as the “runner’s high.” An imbalance can be involved in bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and anxiety disorder but it’s also inherent to several critical day to day brain functions.

A GABA-rich diet and certain supplements can elevate GABA, and so can yoga, research finds. “The practice of yoga should be explored as a treatment for disorders with low GABA levels such as depression and anxiety disorders. Future studies should compare yoga to other forms of exercise to help determine whether yoga or exercise alone can alter GABA levels,” write scientists in a 2007 study. (Click here for GABA-related products)

Fish Oil to Improve Mood

Fish oil is most often associated with cardiovascular health, but the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil can also improve mood in some people. (Click here for Nature’s Way fish oil product, their Mega Gold is one of my and my husband’s favorites)

According to Dr. Mercola, a leading natural health expert, “Numerous studies worldwide have linked lack of omega-3 consumption – specifically DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) – with depression. One study found that depression symptoms were higher among infrequent fish consumers than among those who ate fish on a regular basis.”

Researchers found that low plasma concentrations of DHA were good predictors of low concentrations of brain serotonin. Low serotonin can be associated with depression and suicide in some individuals.

Socialize With Cheerful People

Depressed people often avoid social interaction, but forcing face-to-face connections with upbeat people can boost mood, research indicates. (Click here for books about boosting mood)

Forbes.com reported on a 20-year study that found social networks can have a deep impact on an individual’s happiness. Scientists tracked over 4,700 people and found that social interactions with both cheerful friends and strangers considerably influenced the subject’s chances of happiness.

Pet a Pet to Boost Mood

Petting Rover can be plus for mental and physical health. “The benefit is especially pronounced when people are strongly attached to their pets,” says researcher Judith Siegel, PhD for a WebMD article.

Blair Justice, PhD, a psychology professor and author of Who Gets Sick: How Beliefs, Moods, and Thoughts Affect Your Health [Peak Press, 2000] tells WebMD that like any enjoyable activity, playing with a pet increases serotonin and dopamine. “People take drugs like heroin and cocaine to raise serotonin (click for 5 Htp products) and dopamine, but the healthy way to do it is to pet your dog, or hug your spouse, watch sunsets, or get around something beautiful in nature, “says Justice.(Click here for serotonin-related products)

While the pharmaceutical industry continues to promote a long list of medications for anxiety and depression, several natural alternatives are available that are safe, often very effective, and without risky side effects.

People suffering with acute or chronic mood changes who are interested in natural treatments should seek a holistic practitioner. Holistic physicians often measure neurotransmitter and hormone levels and then develop a comprehensive treatment plan that may include a combination of diet changes, exercise, hormone replacement and supplements. Treatment may be combined with conventional approaches to mood management or as an alternative.

Take SAM-e

Sam-e, a naturally occurring compound found in all living things is distributed throughout the human body and can help to maintain mood. Levels fall as people age and certain groups of people, including those with low mood, tend to have lower levels of SAM-e (Click here for Sam-e products) in their bodies.

Lower Homocysteine

Homocysteine is a harmful amino acid that naturally occurs in all humans and is involved in cellular metabolism and the manufacture of proteins. The body uses vitamin B12 and folic acid to convert homocysteine into SAM-e and without sufficient B-vitamins, blood homocysteine levels rise.

Researchers believe that high homocysteine levels contribute to cerebral vascular disease and neurotransmitter deficiency, both which can lead to depression. A study conducted in 2005 found that total homocysteine levels were higher in elderly patients with late-onset major depression (Chen CS et al 2005).

Plasma homocysteine levels are strongly influenced by diet, genetic factors, and a deficiency in folic acid, B6 and B12 vitamins. Aging, smoking, large amounts of coffee and some medications can also elevate homocysteine. The following supplements may lower homocysteine levels and improve depression:

  • folic acid
  • vitamin B12 (cobalamin) (sublingual (under the tongue), transdermal (skin) or injection form only)Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)
  • trimethylglycine and zinc
  • selenium
  • N-acetylcysteine
  • cysteine
  • creatine and choline-producing nutrients (inhibits the release of homocysteine)

Boost Vitamin D

Dr. John Cannell, Executive Director of the Vitamin D Council, explains that while further research needs to be conducted, vitamin D may play a role in depression. Vitamin D is a secosteroid hormone involved with over 2000 genes in the body and is created when the sun’s rays strike bare skin. With an increase in sunscreen use and indoor activity, researchers believe there is a D deficiency epidemic across the globe. (Click here for vitamin D products)

Heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, and low bone mineral density are all associated with depression, writes Cannell on the Council’s website. Viitamin D deficiency, it turns out, causes some aspect in all these illnesses. Summer sunlight increases brain serotonin levels twice as much as winter sunlight, a finding compatible with both bright light in the visible spectrum and vitamin D affecting mood.

While Cannell promotes the critical importance of optimizing vitamin D levels for disease prevention, he isn’t suggesting vitamin D is the one-stop shopping cure for depression. “We were unable to find any studies in the literature in which patients with depression were treated with enough natural sunlight, artificial sunlight or plain old cholecalciferol to raise their levels to 35 ng/mL or higher. We all know how we feel after a week at the beach, but is that bright light, vitamin D, or something else? (Click here for vitamin D products)

Increase Magnesium

Magnesium is an essential mineral that regulates more than 325 enzymes, including many critical functions that produce, transport, store and utilize energy. It also orchestrates the electrical current that sparks through the miles of nerves in the body.

A magnesium deficiency can produce symptoms of anxiety, depression, muscle weakness, fatigue, eye twitches, insomnia, anorexia, apathy, apprehension, poor memory, confusion, anger, nervousness, and rapid pulse. Serotonin, the “feel-good” brain chemical, relies on magnesium for its production and function.

“People do not get anxiety, panic attacks, or depression because they have a deficiency of Valium or Prozac,” says Dr. Carolyn Dean, author of The Magnesium Miracle, [Ballantine Books, 2007]. “Our bodies do not require these substances for essential metabolic processes. However, we can develop a myriad of psychological symptoms because of a deficiency of magnesium, a nutrient our bodies do require,” says Dean. (Click here for Natural Calm Magnesium Products, one of the best magnesium products, IMO).

Laugh

Since the 1980s, Dr. Lee S. Berk, a preventive care specialist and psychoneuroimmunology researcher, and Dr. Stanley Tan have followed in Norman Cousins’ ground breaking work. In the 1970s, Cousins suggested humor and the resulting laughter benefits a person’s health.

Berk and Tan’s research has shown that laughter helps optimize many of the functions of various body systems such as optimizing the hormones in the endocrine system and decreasing the levels of cortisol and epinephrine which lead to stress reduction. Repetitious mirthful laughter causes the body to respond in a way similar to moderate physical exercise.

While the pharmaceutical industry continues to promote a long list of medications as the solution to treat anxiety and depression, several natural alternatives are available that are safe and without risky side effects. (Click here for L-theanine, the patented Suntheanine form works best)

People suffering with acute or chronic mood changes interested in natural treatments should seek a holistic practitioner. Holistic physicians often measure neurotransmitter and hormone levels and develop a comprehensive treatment plan that may include a combination of diet changes, exercise, hormone replacement and supplements. Natural treatments may be used in conjunction with conventional approaches to mood management or as an alternative.

Footnotes:
“Body’s response to repetitive laughter is similar to the effect of repetitive exercise, study finds.” ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 11, 2010.

Folstein M, Liu T, Peter I, Buell J, Arsenault L, Scott T, Qiu WW, “The homocysteine hypothesis of depression,” The American Journal of Psychiatry, June 2007. Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (2010, April 26).

Lacasse JR, Leo J, “Serotonin and depression: a disconnect between the advertisements and the scientific literature,” Florida State University College of Social Work, Tallahassee, Fl., 2005 Dec;2(12):e392.

Lerche Davis, Jeanie, “5 Ways Pets Can Improve Your Health,” WebMD. November 16, 2009.

Mercola, Joseph, Ph.D., “More Omega-3 Studies Find Links to Depression,”November 24 2004.

Mercola, Joseph, Ph.D., “Elevated Homocysteine Levels May Affect Your Ability to Think,” Mercola.com, September 10, 2003.

Rebecca, Ruiz, How To Beat The Winter Blues. Forbes.com. December 15, 2008.

Streeter, CC, Jensen JE, Perlmutter RM, Cabral HJ, Tian H, Terhune DB, Ciraulo DA, Renshaw, PF, “Yoga Asana sessions increase brain GABA levels: a pilot study.” Journal of Complementary Medicine, 2007 May 13.\

Copyright Laura Owens. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

Author’s Note:

Depression and anxiety treatment has exploded into a highly profitable industry for drug companies. A growing number of people are popping prescriptions, desperately seeking solutions that will work long term and won’t carry risky side effects.

But pharmaceutical companies continue to spend millions on advertising to convince consumers that the solution to conquering mood disorders comes from a doctor’s prescription pad. Yet there are numerous natural alternatives available that cost little money, are safe and effective and will treat a spectrum of acute and chronic mood issues.

Ideally people battling mood disorders should find a physician who will first test their neurotransmitters and hormone levels (interrelated) and then work from the patient’s baseline numbers to create a brain balancing program with natural and/or traditional solutions. In addition, people should track their symptoms over several months, noting any changes and what factors preceeded their symptoms (food, stress, hormonal change, poor sleep, etc).

Not all depression and anxiety stems from the same imbalance, knowing what the deficiencies are is a better treatment plan then throwing medication at a patient and hoping it sticks, with endless trials and error. Although even with natural healing, trial and error is part of the package to wellness. – Laura



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