Restoring Your Brain Chemistry Naturally

Anxiety disorders are not a sign that you are psychologically impaired, but more of a sign of insufficiency in specific brain nutrients.

Depression, anxiety, panic, obsessions, addictions, memory loss, and fatigue are often considered issues of “mind over matter”. Research, however identifies the keys to your mood, behavior, and mental performance are the brain’s chemical messengers called neurotransmitters, made from the nutrients that you ingest and relying on your health to be keeping balance. As these messengers travel around your brain and nervous system, they help determine how well you think and feel.

Anxiety disorders tend to affect women more than men, and more so during pregnancy, premenstrual cycles, pre-menopause than at other times in life. Neurologically active hormones, estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, pregnenolone and DHEA are found in the brain to have an effect in a number of ways including mood.

The main players and their actions:

GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is the “cool,” calming, and relaxing neurotransmitter. 

Dopamine and noradrenaline (or norepinephrine) are the “feel-good” neurotransmitters that energize, focus, and motivate you. 

Acetylcholine helps with thinking, memory, and concentration. 

Serotonin is the “happy,” calming neurotransmitter that also enhances sleep.

A number of studies have linked hormone levels, high and low, to reduced serotonin production, to have a negative impact on mood and cognitive function. The question is at what stage might you consider Bio-identical hormone replacement therapy or make a start to balance neurotransmitters naturally by identifying where in your biochemistry you are out of balance.

“You are what you eat” isn’t truly correct as you might eat a very healthy diet, but you are not absorbing nutrients effectively due to digestive issues – poor stomach acid, a lazy pancreas, food sensitivities, bacterial and yeast imbalance, stress, poor detoxification, toxicity or you are a high user of certain nutrients. Further investigations into your history to find the underlying causes will help target rebalancing of essential nutrients and foods that tend to impact the brain. The requirement for many specific proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, as well as a host of micronutrients are essential for optimal brain function.

Food proteins are broken down by digestive processes into component amino acids which all have a specific role for growth and repair. The important amino acids for optimal brain function are tryptophan, tyrosine, GABA, glutamine, and glycine. With the help of cofactors, they are converted into neurotransmitters, or chemical partners including vitamins B3, B6, B12, C, and folic acid (folate), and minerals zinc, copper, and magnesium. Magnesium is a calming mineral, and deficiency can lead to anxiety. Epsom salts or bath crystals are magnesium and their use is to calm muscles and aid sleep. Fat makes up a large portion of the brain and keeps brain cells membranes pliable and in top order. Fish-oil-based omega-3 fatty acids, cholesterol and phospholipids such as lecithin are very important for brain tissue.

The brain also requires glucose which is another reason why we feel good when we have something sweet. It makes quite an impact on serotonin levels, however the smart chemists in the food industry have also used fat, salt, sugar caffeine and supplementary amino acids to also boost serotonin and make many processed foods addictive and mind altering. This type of unnatural high is short lived and followed by a serotonin dip taking mood, anxiety and depression with it.

In addition to foods, certain medications, including antihistamines, tranquilizers, sleeping pills, and other drugs can affect your brain chemistry.

A holistic approach evaluates patients for specific deficiencies and mood-stabilizing serotonin, made from the essential amino acid tryptophan. Boosting protein-containingfoods such as turkey, chicken, cottage cheese, avocados, bananas, and wheat germ are recommended as part of the dietary plan as well as supplementation with the amino acid 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), to help your brain manufacture more serotonin. Fibromyalgia patients often have low levels of serotonin and 5-HTP has been helpful in relieving their symptoms by promoting deep sleep.

The stimulating brain chemicals, adrenaline, norepinephrine, and dopamine, also found in protein foods, are the brain chemicals associated with motivation, focus, and energy which is why met at night can disrupt sleep. Deficiencies can result in cravings for sugar, coffee, or alcohol as well as cravings for protein. The good news is that further supplementation can help restore balance along with restoring balanced blood sugar levels, essential for sustained mood and energy. When your blood sugar is dipping and diving, and your mood is crying for a lift, it is very difficult not to give into the power of cravings.

Supplementation supports cognitive function at the right times of the day as well as reduces anxiety during danger times, but allows the body to relax in the evening with complimentary foods that lead into relaxation and a restful sleep.

Over my many years of practice, I have found that patients do better when the plan is simplified and formulated for about three weeks.

Worry and anxiety can be a result of low GABA and also low serotonin, so you may check off anxiety in both sections. Low GABA tends to result in a more physical anxiety, while low serotonin tends to result in more anxiety in the head, ruminating thoughts.

Low GABA

  • Anxiety and feeling overwhelmed or stressed
  • Feeling worried or fearful
  • Panic attacks
  • Unable to relax or loosen up
  • Stiff or tense muscles
  • Feeling stressed and burned-out
  • Craving carbs, alcohol, or drugs for relaxation and calming

 

Low Catecholamines

  • Depression and apathy
  • Easily bored
  • Lack of energy
  • Lack of focus
  • Lack of drive and low motivation
  • Attention deficit disorder
  • Procrastination and indecisiveness
  • Craving carbs, alcohol, caffeine, or drugs for energy

 

Low Endorphins

  • Heightened sensitivity to emotional pain
  • Heightened sensitivity to physical pain
  • Crying or tearing up easily
  • Eating to soothe your mood, or comfort eating
  • Really, really loving certain foods, behaviors, drugs, or alcohol
  • Craving a reward or numbing treat

 

 

 

Low Serotonin

    • Anxiety
    • Panic attacks or phobias
    • Feeling worried or fearful
    • Obsessive thoughts or behaviors
    • Perfectionism or being overly controlling
    • Irritability
    • Anxiety that’s worse in winter
    • Winter blues or seasonal affective disorder
    • Negativity or depression
    • Suicidal thoughts
    • Excessive self-criticism
    • Low self-esteem and poor self
    • -confidence
    • PMS or menopausal mood swings
    • Sensitivity to hot weather
    • Hyperactivity
    • Anger or rage
    • Digestive issues
    • Fibromyalgia, temporomandibular joint syndrome, or other pain syndromes
    • Difficulty getting to sleep

Insomnia or disturbed sleep

  • Afternoon or evening cravings for carbs, alcohol or drugs

 

Low Blood Sugar

  • Crave sugar, starch or alcohol any time during the day
  • Irritable, shaky, headachey – especially if too long between meals
  • Intense cravings for sweets
  • Lightheaded if meals are
    missed
  • Eating relieves fatigue
  • Agitated, easily upset, nervous

 

* http://www.everywomanover29.com

As a holistic nutritionist and functional health practitioner, my philosophy is to identify the root cause of your concerns and underlying health issues, slowly peel away the layers, and design a healing protocol and lifestyle plan specific to your unique biochemistry to re-heal and restore vibrant health, balance hormones, and look, think and feel better. I consult with men and women around the Mena region and can consult via Skype.

References:

  1. Khan S, Khan RA (2016) Healthy Diet a Tool to Reduce Anxiety and Depression. J Depress Anxiety 5:220.
  2. Murphy M and Mercer J(2013) Diet-regulated anxiety. Int J Endocrinol. 10.1155:701967
  3. Sarris J et al(2015)Nutritional medicine as mainstream in psychiatry. The Lancet Psychiatry: 2(3): 271-274.