Optimal Brain Nutrition for Mental and Emotional Well-being
Do you ever feel depressed? Moody? Tense? Irritable? Anxious? Ever drink alcohol or crave sweets when you are feeling blue? You are not alone. In fact, Prozac and other anti-depressants are the top-selling pharmaceuticals today. The good news is that these issues are often caused by a lack of vital brain chemicals, called neurotransmitters, and can be reversed-drug free.
What depletes mood-enhancing brain chemicals?
There are several common problems that can result in depletion of brain chemicals.
Genetics can play a part. There are certain genes that program our brains to produce mood-enhancing chemicals, but some of us inherited genes that undersupply the chemicals. Parents who have low supplies of naturally stimulating and sedating brain chemicals often produce depressed or anxious children who use food, alcohol, or drugs as substitutes for the brain chemicals they desperately need.
Prolonged stress uses up the precious stores of brain chemicals that naturally calm your nerves. Over time, your brain can’t keep up with the demand, which is why you start to “help” your brain by eating foods that have drug-like effects on it.
Regular use of refined sugars and flours (which exhibit drug-like properties), and regular use of alcohol or drugs not only affect your blood glucose levels, thereby depriving your brain of the only fuel it can burn; but they also inhibit the production of any of your brain’s natural pleasure chemicals. All of these substances can plug into your brain and actually fill up the empty spaces, called receptors, where your natural brain drugs-the neurotransmitters-should be plugging in. Your brain senses that the receptors are already full, so it further reduces the amount of neurotransmitters that it produces. As the levels of neurotransmitters drop, more and more alcohol, drugs, or drug-like foods are needed to fill newly emptied brain slots. This vicious cycle ends when these substances you ingest are unable to fill the bill any longer. Now your brain’s natural mood resources are more depleted than they ever were, and you still crave mood-enhancing replacements-sugar, alcohol, or other drugs.
A diet deficient in high quality protein is a major contributor to addiction and emotional disorders. Your brain relies on protein-the only food source of amino acids-to make all of its mood-enhancing chemicals. If you are not getting enough lean, complete protein, you won’t be able to manufacture these vital “feel-good” neurotransmitters.
Using Amino Acid Therapy to End Food and Alcohol Addiction
Joan Matthews Larsen, author of Seven Weeks to Sobriety, is a pioneer in brain chemical research. Director of a nutritionally-oriented alcoholism treatment center in Minneapolis , Minnesota , she noticed that her patients were often depressed, and even when they stopped drinking alcohol, they developed an addition to sugar, and the depression continued. Sugar is almost identical in molecular structure to alcohol. Both are highly refined, simple carbohydrates that are instantly absorbed into the blood stream, without needing to be digested. Both instantly skyrocket blood sugar levels and temporarily raise levels of at least two “feel-good” neurotransmitters. This high would be followed rapidly by a low. After many years of research, she discovered great success treating her patient’s depression and addiction with nutrition. She introduced to her patients a technique that involved the use of amino acids that could rapidly feed the addicted brain exactly the type of protein that it needed to naturally fill its mood-chemical sites (receptors). The results were miraculous. No longer did alcoholic patients need sweets or alcohol to feel good. She also had success treating food-addicted clients in the same way.
There are four neurotransmitters that create our moods: dopamine/norepinephrine, which provides natural energy and mental focus; GABA, which is a natural sedative; endorphin, a natural painkiller; and serotonin; a natural mood stabilizer and sleep promoter. If we have the right amounts of all four neurotransmitters, our emotions are stable. When they are depleted, “pseudo-emotions” can result. These false moods can drive us to relentless over-eating and weight gain.
Certain foods, particularly ones that are sweet and starchy, can have a drug-like effect, altering our brains’ mood chemistry and fooling us into a false calm or temporary energy surge. We can eventually become dependent on these drug-like foods for continued mood lifts. The more we use them, the more depleted our natural mood-enhancing chemistry becomes.
Is there a place for drugs like Prozac?
Drugs such as Prozac are called serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). They help stabilize moods by keeping active whatever serotonin stores we have in our brain. But, they do not actually provide additional serotonin. For this reason, most people using SSRIs often continue to have some low-seratonin symptoms. Before there were SSRIs, L-tryptophan was commonly used to increase serotonin levels. For more than 20 years, health foods stores and psychiatrists enthusiastically recommended it for alleviating depression and food cravings and normalizing sleep without side effects. But, in 1989 a series of bad batches of L-tryptophan, which killed 40 people and made many more sick, prompted the FDA to stop all US sales. Despite evidence that no other manufacturer has ever made a problem batch, the FDA recommended for years that L-tryptophan not be used as a supplement.
With L-tryptophan unavailable, drugs like Prozac, Zoloft, and Redux have become primary tools for combating the crippling symptoms of low serotonin. Unfortunately, however, these drugs provide only temporary and incomplete benefits, and often have uncomfortable or dangerous side-effects. Fortunately, a new version of tryptophan, called 5-HTP is now available, without FDA opposition.
How do you replenish your mood-enhancing brain chemicals?
To maintain the perfect balance of feel-good neurotransmitters, and therefore naturally alleviate depression, anxiety, and cravings for food, alcohol, and drugs, it is important to avoid the foods and substances that deplete these vital brain chemicals, and eat foods and take supplements that provide the raw materials for our body to manufacture them.
Avoid drug-like foods
Avoid these addictive, drug-like foods: sugar in all its forms (including white sugar, honey, maple syrup, turbinado sugar, brown sugar, etc.), and all foods containing sugar; white flour, cakes, candy, pastries and all foods containing white flour; white rice, white potatoes, breakfast cereals (except old-fashioned oatmeal), and alcohol (which has a very similar molecular structure to sugar.
Emphasize Lean Protein
Protein supplies the body with essential amino acids, which are the building blocks for the four “feel-good” neurotransmitters. L-tyrosine and L-glutamine are the amino acids needed to produce norepinephrine and dopamine. L-taurine increases levels of GABA. DL-phenylalainine and L-glutamine (as well as regular exercise) increase production of endorphins. And L-tryptophan (5-HTP) is needed to create serotonin. L-glutamine is also essential to fuel the brain to help alleviate sweet cravings.
Initially, in order to quickly replenish your neurotransmitter reserves, you can supplement with these isolated amino acids for a short period of time. However, it is important to eat high quality sources of lean, complete protein at regular intervals throughout the day, to keep your neurotransmitters at optimal levels. If you eat lean, complete protein every 3-4 hours (at least at each main meal) you will notice moods will stabilize and cravings will cease.
Foods rich in lean, complete protein include fish, chicken, eggs, egg whites, wild game, organic free-range beef, turkey, cottage cheese, and whey protein. Whey protein isolate is the richest source of essential amino acids, in their most absorbable form.
Water is also essential for proper functioning of your brain’s neurotransmitters, so it is also essential that you stay hydrated. You can do that by drinking water consistently throughout the day (aim for 1 glass of pure water every hour you are awake), as well as avoiding coffee, alcohol, and other caffeinated liquids and foods.
Sample daily “feel-good” meal plan
Here is a sample meal plan that will keep you feeling great-physically, mentally, and emotionally-all day long!
- Breakfast: Whey Protein Shake . Blend these ingredients: 1 ½ cups of distilled or reverse osmosis water, 50 grams of EnergyFirst Whey Protein Isolate (Vanilla flavored), 1 tablespoon Omega Oil Blend (a blend of flax, sesame, sunflower, and pumpkin seed oils), 1 TBS. Greenergy, and 1 cup of frozen strawberries.
- Snack: 1 Think Thin protein bar
- Lunch: 1 grilled chicken breast or 1 can tuna and a large salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing, or another Whey Protein Shake, if you do not have time to eat a full meal
- Snack: Handful of raw almonds.
- Dinner: 1 large filet of grilled salmon, 2-3 cups of steamed vegetables, and ½ cup wild or brown rice.
NutriScience is a Certified Clinical Nutritionist and popular professional speaker, who energizes professional teams across the nation. The EnergyFirst lifestyle program she teaches provides the keys to optimal health and performance, disease prevention, and anti-aging. NutriScience is the author of The EnergyFirst Program Practical Guidebook-Your Practical Guide to a Lean, High Energy Lifestyle . To contact NutriScience, e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (888) 88-ENERGY.