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Each of these stimulates either inhibitory or excitatory neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) in the brain which cause feelings of satisfaction or discontent and moods of joy, happiness, anger, depression, confusion and anxiety. Food indeed is our medicine.
If you find yourself eating to energize, to lift a mood, to calm a hurt or ease a pain then you may be self medicating by supplying and stimulating specific amino acid activity in the brain. Whether its illegal drugs like cocaine or legal ones like chocolate or turkey the amino acid activity of these natural compounds are what create our mood. Proper understanding and manipulation of amino acids as found in our food or in concentrated supplements can profoundly impact our moods, equal to and often more reliably and safely then prescription drugs. Four categories of amino acids are responsible for most of the highs and lows we experience.
Serotonin is one of the most studied inhibitory neurotransmitters, found not only in the brain but in large quantities in the digestive system. If you eat to get a mood lift you may be serotonin deficient.
Serotonin deficiency will often result in those late day cravings for sweets or other mood modifiers such as alcohol and marijuana. A deficiency of this important inhibitory neurotransmitter may show with thinking which is negative, obsessive and worried. Poor self esteem may result with individuals becoming shy, fearful, irritable and prone to panic attacks. Sleep problems are common, along with aches like fibromyalgia and an aversion to hot weather may aggravate symptoms.
Lack of bright light which is a hallmark of seasonal affective disorder will further diminish and aggravate serotonin deficient symptoms. Caffeine, diet sweetened drinks, stress and lack of exercise also diminish serotonin levels. Serotonin deficit will occur if there is a lack of healthy dietary protein intake from food such as ocean going fish, organic eggs, and organic chicken or healthy vegetarian protein sources such as mixed nuts, seeds, grains and legumes. Healthy fats found in these organic foods provide additional support for ensuring healthy serotonin levels.
You can raise your serotonin levels by supplementing with the amino acid tryptophan or its derivative 5 Hydroxytryptophan (5HTP). I prefer 5HTP because it works for most everyone. However, each person is different so experimentation is warranted, if you don’t respond favorably to one try the other. The typical dose for tryptophan is 500mg up to three times a day and for 5HTP 25-100mg one to three times a day as needed. You should feel benefit within 15 to 20 minutes of taking this amino acid lasting 3-6 hours.
You have three catecholamines: dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine or adrenaline. Norepinephrine and adrenaline are made from dopamine. These three are excitatory neurotransmitters. Catecholamine deficiency will fuel one’s hunger for high octane stimulants such as caffeine, chocolate, NutraSweet and cocaine type drugs. It is interesting to note that while alcohol, tobacco and marijuana typically act to slow a person down, these people get a lift from such drugs.
The above drugs, including pharmaceutical antidepressants, are really just messengers stimulating the brain to produce more catecholamines. If the catecholamines are in short supply to begin with, stimulation by drugs of any type will only bring dependency and disillusion.
Deficiency may result from too much stress (too much fighting), high carbohydrate or low calorie diet, lack of exercise and hormonal deficiency i.e. menopause. The catecholamine deficient person may experience depression, low energy and poor focus such as that found with attention deficit disorder. A serotonin deficient depression generally shows with more energy then the type of depression found in this group of individuals.
If food gives you a significant energy boost and improved focus you may be tyrosine deficient. Tyrosine is the amino acid used to create dopamine. Tyrosine is also needed to create thyroid hormone, whose deficiency can mimic a catecholamine deficiency.
Like serotonin, tyrosine is found in our diet, especially cheese and other high protein foods such as fish and eggs. Supplements are generally dosed at 500-1,000mg early in the morning and again in the late morning if needed. You should see benefit within a few days. It is important to remember that you are not looking for another drug, so use tyrosine only as long as you need to for getting back in balance while addressing those lifestyle habits that caused the deficiency to begin with.
Use caution with tyrosine if you have high blood pressure, are bipolar (manic depressive) or troubled by migraines.
Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is the brain’s main inhibitory neurotransmitter for putting on the breaks. Overexcited states mark a GABA deficiency with feelings of being wired, stressed, overwhelmed, pressured, uptight, physically tense, easily frustrated, and snappy.
If you eat to calm yourself you may be GABA deficient. Hypoglycemia, the tendency to not do well if you go too long without food, may indicate GABA deficiency. Food sources for GABA are the same as those above.
If you wish to supplement, typical dosing is 100-500mg one to three times a day. Use caution if you have low blood pressure.
Endorphins include about 15 different neurotransmitters which give us a sense of pleasure and reduced pain. Deficiency of endorphins may show with oversensitivity states such as crying easily, difficulty getting over a loss and oversensitivity to pain. There may be a history of chronic pain. If you eat to soothe sensitive feelings you may be endorphin deficient.
Natural endorphin elevators include: sun, nature, romance, music and exercise. Regarding exercise, beware of the addictive state where you exercise in spite of your health and well-being to get that endorphin fix.
These individuals often crave indulgences such as bread, cheese, wine, marijuana, tobacco, lattes and chocolate. Chocolate contains quite a smorgasbord of mood altering chemicals including: theobromine, caffeine, slasolinol, phenylethylamine and amandamide (marijuana like cannabinoid neurotransmitter). I often recommend endorphin elevating amino acids to help break these habits.
It takes a multitude of amino acids and essential fatty acids for the body to make endorphins, so a well rounded diet is very important with ample adequate protein intake. The most common supplement to raise endorphins is phenylalanine (PA). There are two forms; D and L.
Use DLPA if you need more energy with your mood elevation. Dosage ranges are from 500-1,000 mg of equal parts D&L phenylalanine before breakfast and again at mid-morning if needed.
Use DPA instead of DLPA if you don’t want to be too stimulated and or if you tend to headaches, high blood pressure, insomnia, penylketonuria (PKU), Parkinson's disease, bipolar disorder or have a personal or family history of melanoma.