Excerpt reprinted from Healthy, Happy and Free: Spirit-Soul-Body Solutions for Healing from Depression, with the kind permission of Connie Strasheim. For more information on Healthy, Happy and Free, click here.
Many people who battle chronic Lyme disease and related co-conditions such as mold toxicity, struggle with depression and/or anxiety. Without a doubt, both Lyme and mold toxicity, among other toxicities commonly experienced by those with Lyme disease, profoundly affect the mind and emotions. In a January article, I shared a little about my battle with depression. You can read that here. Following I share one of the biochemical approaches that helped to restore my mind and emotions: amino acid therapy. You may find this to be helpful for you, too!
Amino Acid Therapy
Amino acids provide the building blocks for neurotransmitters. Serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine are three of the most important mood regulating neurotransmitters, but they also promote healthy sleep, energy and cognition and can even lessen pain. Other neurotransmitters, like acetylcholine and GABA, have mood enhancing effects, but serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine are primary.
Tryptophan and 5-HTP are two amino acids that your body uses to make serotonin, which, as I mentioned, is a calming and powerful mood promoting neurotransmitter. You have probably heard about 5-HTP and tryptophan, and perhaps even tried these amino acids, but what you may not know is that they don’t always work that well in the body unless the body also has sufficient amounts of certain nutritional co-factors to synthesize or make serotonin from them. Some people also have liver problems or genetic issues that prevent them from properly synthesizing and breaking down neurotransmitters, so if you find that this is true for you, you may not benefit from taking amino acids unless you also have the proper liver-supportive nutrients to make them work in your body.
A surprising number of people actually have these issues; in fact, I had my genes tested and my results revealed that I had what’s called a “double mutation” in the genes that play a role in creating and breaking down neurotransmitters. A double mutation is bad news because it means that I inherited genes from both of my parents that potentially compromised my body’s ability to properly make and break down neurotransmitters.
Some people who have a double mutation in these genes battle severe psychiatric issues, but the good news is, science has proven that we can influence the expression of our genes by our lifestyle and dietary choices.
A health care practitioner who once analyzed my gene report said, “I’ve only met one other person who has had a double gene mutation in those same genes as you, and she battled crippling psychiatric issues.” I am so thankful that God helped me find a way out from my own crippling depression, in spite of my apparently negative genetic profile!
You don’t have to be a victim of your genes, either. So don’t despair if your whole family battles depression and/or you believe that you have genetic issues that are causing your depression. Your genes don’t have to determine your destiny!
Later, I will share some additional nutrients that you can take to help your body to synthesize neurotransmitters from amino acids. You’ll want to discuss these with a skilled naturopath or integrative doctor and ideally, get tested to discover which ones you may benefit from. Genetic tests can provide insights into your body’s ability to synthesize, utilize and break down neurotransmitters, and can be helpful for determining the nutritional support that you may need. Organic acid tests (OAT) tests do the same, but you’ll want to make sure to work with an integrative doctor who knows how to interpret them. The Great Plains Laboratory offers a quality OAT test.
For information, visit: www.greatplainslaboratory.com.
If you can’t afford genetic or other types of testing, you might ask your doctor to give you a trial treatment of amino acid therapy, to see how you respond. This is less ideal but can sometimes provide enough insight into what supplements you may need. Otherwise, it’s best to have your doctor do a complete amino acid and neurotransmitter profile, which are available through many sophisticated labs and compounding pharmacies such as:
- Sabre Sciences (SabreSciences.com)
- NeuroScience (WhyNeuroScience.com)
- Pharmasan (Pharmasan.com)
- BioHealth Diagnostics (BioHealthLab.com)
Some people, especially those who battle other chronic health issues in addition to depression, have commented to me that they feel worse when they take amino acids. I have at times, too. This can be due to several factors. First, and as I just mentioned, your body may not be able to synthesize neurotransmitters from the amino acids, and you may require additional nutrients so that your body will use the amino acids properly.
Secondly, if you are highly deficient in certain amino acids and/or neurotransmitters, you can also feel worse when you first start amino acid therapy. If neurotransmitter testing reveals that you are deficient in certain neurotransmitters and amino acids, you may want to ask your doctor to prescribe you low doses of the appropriate amino acids, and then slowly work your way up on the dosing. Taking a dose that is too high, too soon, can make you feel worse.
The first time that I took a 5-HTP product I actually became more brain fogged, depressed and fatigued. I mistakenly concluded that amino acids were not helpful for me. Unfortunately, I continued to suffer for several years after that, until I realized that the problem wasn’t that my body didn’t need 5-HTP, but rather, that it couldn’t make serotonin from the 5-HTP without a little help. Once I discovered the nutrients that my body needed to synthesize serotonin from 5-HTP, I actually became more energetic, clear-headed, and emotionally balanced after I took these nutrients, in combination with the 5-HTP.
Quality can vary among 5HTP products, so it’s a good idea to purchase one that has been recommended by a reputable health care practitioner. Personally, I have found the NeuroScience products to be very effective, although they are more expensive than some other amino acid supplements.
If you take antidepressants or other mood-altering medications, you’ll want to first consult with your doctor to see if amino acids are appropriate for you. This is especially important if you are considering 5-HTP or L-tryptophan, as these amino acids are sometimes contraindicated in those who use anti-depressants, as the two remedies together can occasionally cause a condition known as serotonin syndrome. Therefore, if you are taking an antidepressant, use amino acids with caution and only under the guidance of a qualified health care practitioner who understands how to combine medication with amino acids and other nutrients.
Dopamine and norepinephrine are two other important neurotransmitters that powerfully regulate mood. The body makes norepinephrine from dopamine. Therefore, the amino acid precursors to both dopamine and norepinephrine are L-phenylalanine and L-tyrosine. These amino acids radically increased my energy, and so I found it was best for me to take them in the morning or early afternoon.
In addition, for best results, serotonin and dopamine should both be balanced in the body. This allows each neurotransmitter to function optimally. One of my former doctors, Jeremy Kaslow, MD, who is an expert in neurotransmitter balancing, taught me this. Both neurotransmitters regulate mood and cognition, but dopamine is an excitatory neurotransmitter that also gives you energy, while serotonin is more calming and promotes sleep at night.
You may find L-tyrosine to be more powerful than L- phenylalanine because it’s one step closer to dopamine on the amino acid synthesis chain so your body doesn’t have to do as much work to convert it to the final product. Similarly, 5-HTP may be more powerful than tryptophan because it’s one step closer on the amino acid synthesis chain than serotonin.
Therefore, if you are sensitive to supplements, you may want to try L-tryptophan before 5-HTP, and L- phenylalanine before L-tyrosine. However, if you have gene methylation issues that you know make it difficult for your body to make neurotransmitters from amino acids, you may benefit more from L-tyrosine and 5-HTP. Still, some people do best by taking some combination of all four amino acids. For instance, Dr. Kaslow once told me that some of his patients fare best by taking both 5-HTP and tryptophan at bedtime, not just one or the other. Dr. Kaslow has some great articles on neurotransmitter support. You can read these on his site: www.DrKaslow.com.
The dosages and types of amino acids that you may benefit from will depend on your symptoms and lab test results, so again, it’s best to get tested and work with your doctor to find out what you need. A typical regimen may involve starting out with a 50 mg capsule of 5-HTP before bedtime, and then increasing that dose over time until you feel better. Typical doses range from 50 mg up to 300 mg daily.
Similarly, to increase dopamine production (and norepinephrine), a typical regimen may involve taking 100 mg of L-tyrosine daily, and slowly increasing that dose over time until you feel better. Typical L-tyrosine doses range from 100-1,000 mg daily. If you experience anxiety or heart palpitations, you’ll want to lower the dose. Again, I recommend that you work with a naturopath or integrative doctor to determine what you need.
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As you take these supplements, monitor your mood, mental function, energy, pain levels, and sleep patterns to see how these change over time. If the supplements are beneficial for you, you should notice positive changes within a few weeks. It’s also best to test one amino acid at a time, to see how you respond to each.
Nutritional Co-Factors That Help the Body to Make and Utilize Neurotransmitters
As I mentioned, amino acids may not work properly in your body if you take the wrong product, dosage or combination of nutrients, or if you need nutritional co- factors, which help your body to synthesize, utilize and break down neurotransmitters. This is important to understand if you have tried amino acids before but not had good results from them.
I have found that many people, especially those who battle chronic neurological diseases and/or have genetic issues that prevent them from effectively synthesizing and breaking down neurotransmitters, need additional nutritional support when taking amino acids. Some common nutrients, or methylators, as they are called, which help the body to synthesize neurotransmitters from amino acids, include:
- Methyl-folate (a bioavailable form of folate)
- P5P (pyridoxyl phosphate, which is a bioavailable form of Vitamin B-6)
- Vitamin B-12 (the methyl form works best for most
In addition, your body needs an adequate supply of zinc, magnesium, vitamin C and vitamin B-6 to make serotonin from 5-HTP, so if you are deficient in these nutrients, ask your doctor which of these you may need, based on your test results. As well, you may want to ask your doctor about trying a low trial dose of one or more of the methylating substances, such as SAM-e, methyl- folate or Vitamin B-12.
A small dose of SAM-e would be about 50 mg, taken in the morning (as it can disrupt your sleep when taken at night). Again, even if you do lab testing, you may find that you and your doctor will need to experiment with the methylators and co-factor nutrients to find the one(s) that will work best for you, along with the appropriate dosages.
When I first started using supplements, I found that I could not tolerate more than half a capsule of SAMe. If I took more, it actually kept me up at night and caused insomnia, but a small amount helped my body to utilize the amino acids that I needed to get proper rest. I then introduced a small amount of P5P into my regimen, and finally, methyl- folate. I added them to my regimen one at a time, so that I could gauge my response to each.
Again, I highly recommend following your doctor’s recommendations and doing lab tests to determine what your body needs, as taking too much of any one methylator or co-factor nutrient can cause side effects, such as insomnia or excitability. In any case, it is always best to consult with a knowledgeable integrative doctor and/or compounding pharmacist for help in balancing your chemistry.
Finally, GABA, which is a calming amino acid in addition to a neurotransmitter, has been shown in studies to be helpful for managing anxiety. GABA may aid in relaxation, although in some cases may occasionally worsen depression.
I have also found GABA to be a fantastic sleep aid. Insomnia is common in people who battle depression and I have found GABA supplements to be one of the most powerful tools for helping me to recover from depression-induced insomnia, and I continue to use it to this day. If you struggle to sleep, you can read more about GABA and other novel sleep solutions in my downloadable E-book: Beyond a Glass of Milk and a Hot Bath: Advanced Sleep Solutions for People with Chronic Insomnia, which you can find at: ConnieStrasheim.org.
The Role of Other Neurotransmitters in Mood Regulation
Other neurotransmitters play a role in mood regulation, but those that I just described to you are among the most powerful. Acetylcholine is another neurotransmitter that has a positive effect upon mood, although its impact is generally less significant than that of serotonin and dopamine. However, it can greatly improve cognition and mental function, which are often compromised in people who battle depression.
I’ve found that taking choline, which is a precursor that the body uses to make acetylcholine, has also been very helpful for improving my mood and reducing other symptoms of depression, like brain fog, slow mental processing, indecision, and memory loss. All of the body’s cell membranes are partially comprised of choline, so by taking choline, either orally, trans-dermally or even intravenously, you can also help to heal all of your cells. By healing cell membranes, choline also helps to detoxify the cells, which can also, as a side effect, mitigate depression.
Finally, taurine is an amino acid that is found in high levels in the central nervous system, and which helps to modulate and promote healthy levels of GABA, as well as a neurotransmitter called glutamate. Glutamate is an excitatory neurotransmitter that plays a crucial role in mental function but which is found in excess in many people, especially those with neurodegenerative diseases and depression. Excessively high levels of glutamate can cause inflammation and depression, so if your testing shows that you have high glutamate due to disease or toxicity, you may benefit from taurine supplements.
Another benefit of taurine is that studies have shown it to help prevent neuron damage caused by excessive levels of glutamate.Taurine can be purchased at many online retailers and at health food stores.
How to Determine Whether Amino Acid Therapy Is Right for You
In the end, the steps that you’ll want to take to determine whether amino acid therapy is right for you, include:
- Doing a complete amino acid and neurotransmitter profile, with your doctor’s help, through a reputable lab such as Sabre Sciences, NeuroScience, and/or BioHealth For more information, visit the websites: SabreSciences.com, NeuroScienceInc.com, and BiohealthLab.com, respectively.
- Doing a trial treatment of amino acid therapy. I always recommend working with a doctor on this, too, so that he or she can help you determine an appropriate supplement regimen and adjust it if needed.
- Supplementing with the appropriate co-factors that aid in neurotransmitter synthesis, such as zinc, magnesium and vitamin C, the levels of which are depleted in many of us, due to our nutrient-deficient food supply.
- Supplementing with methylators, or nutritional co- factors that help your body to make neurotransmitters from amino acids. Take these only if your test results indicate that you need nutritional or methylation support, you respond poorly to amino acids, and your doctor tells you that you need them.
Clues that you may have a genetic defect that is compromising your body’s ability to utilize amino acids include:
- Having a negative reaction to amino acids
- Genetic test results that indicate you need methylation support
- Test results that indicate that you have an amino acid deficiency, but taking the appropriate amino acids seems to produce no change in your symptoms.
The most commonly used methylators or nutrients that aid in neurotransmitter synthesis include:
- Vitamins B-6 (or pyridoxyl phosphate, P5P)
- Vitamin B-12 (methyl B-12 tends to be the most effective form of this B vitamin for most people). You may need one or more of these
I hope this article has been helpful! To learn more about the physiological and biochemical causes of depression in neurological disease, as well as some great spirit-soul body solutions for healing, I invite you to check out my latest book, Healthy, Happy and Free. Many blessings!
Connie Strasheim is the author or co-author of 13 wellness books, including the recently released New Paradigms in Lyme Disease Treatment: 10 Top Doctors Real Healing Strategies that Work. (October, 2016) and Happy, Healthy and Free: Spirit-Soul-Body Solutions for Healing from Depression. She is also a medical copywriter and an editor at ProHealth.com, as well as Editor of the Alternative Cancer Research Institute (ACRI). Her passion is to help people with complex chronic illnesses find freedom from disease and soul-spirit sickness using whole body medicine, and she collaborates with some of the world’s best integrative doctors to do this. In addition to Lyme disease and insomnia, Connie’s books focus on cancer, nutrition, detoxification and spiritual healing. To learn more about her work, see: www.ConnieStrasheim.org.