So how do I raise my neurotransmitter levels?
First, consult with your doctor if you have any pre-existing health condition, or if you’re already taking antidepressants. Never, never stop taking your antidepressants without your doctor’s consent—the withdrawal symptoms can be quite servere. The below recommendations are for informational purposes only. It is best to have a certified nutritionist draw up a detailed supplementation plan that fits your depression style and your eating style. There is more detailed information in the books cited as research sources.
During one seven-year study of over 2,000 people given neurotransmitter urine analysis tests, the results showed over 80% of people have serotonin deficiency. Serotonin is our biggest defense against depression and anxiety. To get more in your diet, take 5-HTP or eat the foods that contain the amino acid tryptophan, like shrimp, beef, turkey, dairy products, chicken and eggs, and whole grains32. Choosing free-range meats or wild game increases your chances to get more of the feel-good amino acids because the animals graze on wild grasses rich in tryptophan. The animals raised in captivity are fed corn or other low-tryptophan grain. 5-HTP works better than Prozac with fewer side effects, it’s available at health food stores, and it’s vegetarian!
Another natural and effective serotonin booster is Saint John’s Wort, an herb available in capsules, as loose tea, and as a tincture. It also works as well as Prozac at improving symptoms of depression, with few side effects. People in Europe are actually prescribed Saint John’s Wort for depression by their doctors33.
Exercise in moderation has a positive effect on serotonin levels in the brain, so it follows that regular moderate exercise helps lift depression. If you don’t have a gym membership, then try following along to an exercise show or a strength training DVD. There is a television channel devoted to fitness that airs exercise programs. The trick is not to stress your system by overdoing it, because that will leave you even more fatigued.
Catecholamines (dopamine, etc)
Catecholamine deficiency, noted by a flat, blah, apathetic kind of depression can be countered by adding fish oil capsules or eating cold water fish for their omega-3 content. The amino acid tyrosine, available at health food stores, helps with this deficiency. This deficiency may be linked with low thyroid function, and it is documented that depression is a side effect of thyroiditis. Your doctor has tests you can take to check your thyroid.
32. The World’s Healthiest Foods. “Tryptophan Sources.” http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=nutrient&dbid=103
33. Murray, Dr. Michael. “What Is Depression?” Dr. Murray Natural Living. http://www.doctormurray.com/conditions/Depression.asp
For burnout, feelings of overwhelm, like you just can’t take it anymore, take GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), or Calms Forte, a homeopathic preparation that is known to help reduce one’s stress reaction. The constant daily exposure to stress burns out your adrenal glands, causing your cortisol (stress response) levels to drop dangerously low. Then you are left with no defenses to any kind of stress, even small inconveniences seem overwhelming to you. Also try chromium and the amino acid glutamine together if you can’t give up your cravings for sweet and starchy foods. The amino acid taurine is very soothing and is added to several popular drinks today. Add more protein to your diet.
If you cry all the time and have trouble feeling pleasure or joy from anything, you may be deficient in endorphins. Since fats and oils encourage the release of the endorphins, be sure not to limit high unsaturated fat foods like egg yolks, nuts or avocado. Beware of unhealthy addictions to endorphin-generating activities like over-exercising, sex addiction, or eating too much chocolate. This is your body’s attempt to force a short term burst of endorphins for a “runner’s high.” A better way to help your body produce endorphins is to use the amino acid supplement “DLPA” (D-phenylalanine and L-phenylalanine), exercise only in moderation, and include lots of protein at every meal; about 30 grams.
Adding amino acid supplements to your diet can help you be more effective in battling cravings for drugs, sugar, junk food, and caffeine. Amino acids do not have to be a life-long supplement for you. Your body may give you signals to stop supplementation by giving you headaches after you ingest the amino acid, or more of the same irritability symptom that drove you to need the supplement in the first place.
Brief note on drugs
The reason some people are drawn to certain illegal drugs like marijuana, cocaine, or heroin is sometimes a preexisting deficiency of one or more of the important neurotransmitters. It could be due to learned eating habits through family, or some other genetic reason. Just imagine a serotonin-deficient person trying a drug for the first time and actually feeling good for the first time in their life. That is a setup for addiction. Self treatment often fails because of the underlying biochemical need, and in this case the most prudent way out of addiction is a combination of nutritherapy with recovery programs and family support. Much more information on this can be found in The Mood Cure by Julia Ross.