Amino Acid Therapy For Stress, Anxiety & Depression
We are finally, as a culture, ready to talk about our emotional health and ALL of us experience anxiety and depression at one point or another because, let’s face it, life can be a lot sometimes.
But what about when those emotions stick around? They can be so oppressive— either a black cloud of depression colors our life or the quasi-electric shock of feeling consistently anxious without being able to relax and let go does.
Over 65% of the population is struggling with anxiety and/or depression, and of that number 36% do not feel better despite treatment.
Today, we are bringing you a brand new Food as Medicine TV episode, where we are talking all about amino acid therapy to help you produce the calming and emotion-boosting brain chemicals that alleviate these feelings. Your body uses amino acids every single day to build neurotransmitters such as dopamine (helping you to feel excited, joyous, focused, and relaxed) and serotonin (helping you to feel calm, relaxed, and like all is okay).
This is a must-watch episode for anyone struggling with anxiety, depression or chronic stress.
More than 30 million Americans struggle with anxiety and/or depression and are currently taking something for it.
Within this number, over half of the people taking SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) medication for depression experience uncomfortable side effects, such as:
- Weight gain
- Stomach problems
- And headaches
If you are feeling depressed or anxious, running hormone panels, neurotransmitter tests, and basic blood panels can be very important during treatment.
We know that inflammation, thyroid dysfunction, adrenal stress, and blood sugar imbalances can all dramatically influence our mood.
Depression is associated with sadness and anxiety, loss of appetite, depressed mood, and loss of interest in pleasurable activities. Daily stress and anxiety wreak havoc on well-being.
Anxiety and depression are the most prevalent and common mental disorders, yet only 36% of sufferers receive treatment.
What Are SSRIs?
SSRI stands for selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. They were developed in the 1980’s, and today more than one in ten Americans are taking some type of antidepressant.
Antidepressants are designed to recirculate our current neurotransmitter pool—for example, the neurotransmitter serotonin.
The catch is that if we have a low pool of serotonin due to low stomach acid (hydrochloric acid), a poor diet, or nutrient deficiencies, there is not much serotonin to recirculate.
In simpler terms, if we are depleted in nutrients, receiving inadequate protein consumption (you could be eating protein but not able to convert it to the fuel your body needs to make these precious neurotransmitters), have low stomach acid or malabsorption, the SSRI medication will not be able to increase these levels of neurotransmitters. In cases like these, medications stimulate the circulation of these neurotransmitters to the point of exhaustion and depletion.
We often see this when those on these medications feel improvement initially, but then have resistance and have to move on to another medication such as tricyclic antidepressants, serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors and/or dopamine reuptake inhibitors.
Luckily, we now know that we can help modulate neurotransmitter production, rather than just recycling the low levels already present.
How can we do this?
By providing the body with amino acids, amino acid precursors, and necessary cofactors.
From a dietary perspective, it is essential to strive for:
- 25-30 grams of usable protein per meal (just another reason why we love bone broth and collagen)
- A healthy balance of fats
- As well as carbohydrates from organic fruits and vegetables
Important to note: The use of any amino acids should only be combined with medications when working with a qualified practitioner who understands how they interact together. This is equally important for anyone who is on or coming off of an SSRI medication. Find a practitioner who is familiar with amino acid therapy, as well as testing, including ZRT Labs or the DUTCH test, which are dried urine neurotransmitter tests.
Neurotransmitter imbalances (whether low or high) can significantly influence our mood and brain. Neurotransmitters are made up of amino acids along with vitamin coenzymes (these are non-protein compounds that are necessary for function) as well as mineral cofactors.
If we are low in cofactors, such as B vitamins, zinc, magnesium, vitamin C, iron, and manganese, we cannot correctly convert amino acids into neurotransmitters. If we have a diet low in organic fruits and vegetables (which provide many of these necessary vitamins and minerals), we won’t be able to support proper neurotransmitter production.
Vitamins and minerals include:
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B12
We love using a high-quality multi-mineral supplement to be sure we are receiving adequate minerals—this is especially important when using amino acid therapy.
Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)
Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is an inhibitory neurotransmitter and induces relaxation while reducing nervousness and anxiety. GABA is amazing for those who tend to be anxious and have trouble sleeping. It has saved me more than once during times of high stress and amazed my clients in its ability to help them finally relax and get deep sleep.
GABA promotes relaxation in the central nervous system, providing a calming effect throughout the entire body. This neurotransmitter is not safe to take during pregnancy, but foods to support GABA are lactobacillus-fermented foods.
In supplement form, it is important to find a form which is small enough molecularly to cross the blood-brain barrier so it can enter the brain and have a calming effect—PharmaGABA can do this.
Signs of Low GABA:
- Feelings of fear and worry
- Inability to relax or calm down
- And a tendency to have tight neck muscles, as well as tension
Typically, when low in GABA, we’ll tend to gravitate towards carbohydrate-rich foods as well as alcohol, which help us to turn off our monkey mind.
5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is an amino acid and precursor to serotonin. If we are low in serotonin, we tend to have feelings of depression, a low immune system, and a poor sleep cycle.
5-HTP is directly converted into the neurotransmitter serotonin and is one of the most commonly used amino acids for depression. Maintaining healthy serotonin levels is important for supporting a sense of calm and relaxation while also regulating appetite and a natural sleep cycle.
Signs of Low Serotonin:
- Anxiousness with more panic and obsessive thoughts, coupled with depression and negativity
- Insomnia and OCD are very common
- Afternoon or evening cravings
- And digestive issues like constipation are also common, as serotonin plays a pivotal role in gut motility
L-Theanine is an amino acid which has been shown to increase alpha brainwave activity significantly. Alpha brainwave state is crucial for increasing attention while promoting a sense of relaxation. We think of it as “yoga in a capsule.”
This amino acid is excellent for those who have trouble winding down at night and are unable to handle stress. L-theanine binds to the same receptors as glutamate (an excitatory neurotransmitter), therefore having an inhibitory effect and creating a sense of relaxation in the brain.
L-theanine also increases the synthesis of GABA, which helps support healthy levels of dopamine in the brain. For people who do not respond to GABA, L-theanine often does the trick.
Use L-theanine For:
- Cognitive support
- And focus
This amino acid is found in green tea (even decaf) and is safe to take while breastfeeding. You can take L-theanine during the day for a calming effect without getting drowsy.
Ready To Learn Even More About Amino Acid Therapy?
The use of individual amino-acid supplements helps balance our brain chemistry, which can do wonders for anxiety, panic, and depression. Pairing amino acid therapy with lifestyle changes, such as meditation, yoga, and relaxation, can make a huge difference in our mood and stress response.
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Now we want to hear from you, have you tried using amino acids before? How have they worked for you? Let us know in the comments.