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Treating and Beating Anxiety and Depression with Orthomolecular Medicine
by Rodger H. Murphree, DC, CNS

Today in the United States, one in three women who visit a doctor are pre - scribed antidepressant medication and one in 10 take at least one antidepressant drug. Interestingly, studies show that up to 70% of those taking an antidepressant do just as well taking a placebo or sugar pill.

So while patients are attempting to correct their mood disorders with a prescription, which may or may not be more effective than a sugar pill, all of these drugs have potential—even serious—side effects. Ironically, many of these side effects produce the very symptoms of anxiety and depression that antidepressants are meant to alleviate, i.e., headache, muscle tension, chronic pain, nervousness, sleeplessness, drowsiness, changes in sex drive, tremors, irritated stomach, loss of appetite, dizziness, nausea, weight gain, diarrhea, impotence, hair loss, bronchitis, abnormal heart beat, feelings of hopelessness, and constant, exaggerated worrisome thoughts to name a few.

All antidepressants, according to the FDA, cause increased suicidality in young adults. Prozac has been linked to over 1,734 suicides and over 28,000 adverse reactions.


Fortunately there is a safer, more effective way to beat mood disorders. A group of progressiveminded physicians pioneered an alternate mental disorder treatment known as orthomolecular medicine: a practice based on the premise that many diseases and abnormalities result from the varying biochemical/chemical composition of each individual, which can be prevented, treated, or even cured by achieving optimum levels of these natural chemical substances via nutritional or amino acid therapy.

Certain amino acids with B vitamins and minerals, ingested from the food we eat, produce neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters, known as catecholamines, cause excitatory reactions. Other catecholamines, like epinephrine and norepinephrine (adrenaline), are derived from the amino acids: phenylalanine, tyrosine, and s-adenosyl-methionine (SAMe). Inhibitory or relaxing neurotransmitters, like serotonin, are produced from the amino acid tryptophan or 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP).

In my practice, I use various questionnaires to determine which amino acids to recommend.


The "S" (Serotonin) Group

Please select all items that apply to your present feelings:
  • It's hard for me to go to sleep.
  • I can't stay asleep.
  • I often feel irritable.
  • My emotions often lack rationality.
  • I occasionally experience unexplained tears.
  • Noise bothers me more or seems louder than normal.
  • I "flare up" more easily than I used to.
  • I experience unprovoked anger.
  • I often feel depressed.
  • I find I am more susceptible to pain.
  • I prefer to be left alone.
Studies (including double blind) comparing selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) and tricyclic antidepressants to 5-HTP (which boost serotonin levels) consistently show that 5-HTP is as good, if not better than, prescription medications in treating anxiety and depression, with out some of the more troubling side effects associated with prescriptions.

The "G" (GABA) Group

Please select all items that apply to your present feelings:
  • I often feel anxious for no reason.
  • I often feel "free floating" anxiety.
  • I frequently feel "edgy" and have difficulty relaxing.
  • I often feel a "knot" in my stomach.
  • It's hard to turn my mind off when I want to relax.
  • I occasionally experience feelings of panic for no reason.
  • I often use alcohol or other sedatives to calm down.
These symptoms are from the absence of Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), an important neurotransmitter involved in regulating mood and mental clarity. Tranquilizers (Xanax) used to treat anxiety and panic disorders work by increasing GABA. Usually only a small dose of GABA is needed: 500 - 1000 mgs twice a day.*

The "D" (Dopamine) Group

Please select all items that apply to your present feelings:
  • I lack pleasure in life.
  • I feel there are no real rewards in life.
  • I have unexplained lack of concern for others, even loved ones.
  • I experience decreased parental feelings.
  • Life seems less "colorful" or "flavorful."
  • Things that used to be "fun" are no longer enjoyable.
  • I have become a less spiritual or socially concerned person.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with the enjoyment of life, food, arts, nature, your family, friends, hobbies, and other pleasures. Brain fatigue, confusion, and lethargy are all symptoms of low dopamine.

The brain cells which "manufacture" dopamine use the amino acid, L-Phenylalanine, as raw material. Start with 1000 mgs L-phenylalanine twice a day*. If needed, increase up to 4000 mgs twice a day. Don't take late in the day since it may interfere with sleep. If you experience a rapid heartbeat, agitation, or hyperactivity, reduce or stop taking L-phenylalanine.

The "N" (Norepinephrine) Group

Please select all items that apply to your present feelings:
  • I suffer from a lack of energy.
  • I often find it difficult to "get going."
  • I suffer from decreased drive.
  • I often start projects and then don't finish them.
  • I frequently feel a need to sleep or "hibernate."
  • I feel depressed a good deal of the time.
  • I occasionally feel paranoid.
  • My survival seems threatened.
  • I am bored a great deal of the time.
When the neurotransmitter, norepinephrine, is released in the brain, it causes feelings of arousal, energy, and drive.


SAMe increases both serotonin and norepinephrine levels and is a potent antidepressant by itself. Over 100 peer-reviewed studies show SAMe is a safe and effective antidepressant. Prescription antidepressants fail to work for 50% of those who take them. Researchers found that combining SAMe with prescription antidepressants reduces the failure rate by 43%, however, do consult your physician if you are taking an antidepressant.

Start with 200 – 400 mg in the morning*. You can take up to a maximum 1200 mg/day, though avoid taking late in the day. Not everyone will need the maximum dose.

A more orthomolecular approach to mood improvement involves simply raising or replacing those chemicals already produced or found in the body; a method shown to be more biocomplementary and effective than the prescription counterparts. Now that is a static to get behind.

*NOTE: Most amino acids need to be taken on an empty stomach.

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