Restoring Your Brain Chemistry with Brain Recovery AM & PM
by Hyla Cass, MD
Depression, anxiety, panic, obsessions, addictions, memory loss, and even fatigue are too often considered issues of "mind over matter," best treated with psychotherapy or medication. The truth is that rather than being psychologically impaired, one may simply be deficient in specific brain nutrients. The keys to your mood, behavior, and mental performance are the brain's chemical messengers called neurotransmitters, made from the nutrients that you ingest. As these messengers travel around your brain and nervous system, they help determine how well you think and feel. Here are the main players and their actions:
GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is the "cool," calming, and relaxing neurotransmitter.
Dopamine and noradrenaline (or norepinephrine) are the "feel-good" neurotransmitters that energize, focus, and motivate you.
Acetylcholine helps with thinking, memory, and concentration.
Serotonin is the "happy," calming neurotransmitter that also enhances sleep.
When these neurotransmitters are out of balance, you may feel depressed, anxious, stressed, and unmotivated. You may also have impaired memory and sleep, as well as a painful condition called fibromyalgia. Balanced neurotransmitters, on the other hand, will help you feel calm, happy, and able to think and remember clearly. Additionally, you will experience less pain and sleep soundly.
You've heard the phrase, "You are what you eat." This definitely applies to the brain. Proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, as well as a myriad of micronutrients are needed for optimal brain function. Our ingested protein is broken down by digestive processes into its component amino acids. The important amino acids for optimal brain function are tryptophan, tyrosine, GABA, glutamine, and glycine. They are converted into neurotransmitters with the help of cofactors, or chemical helpers including vitamins B3, B6, B12, C, and folic acid (folate), and the minerals zinc, copper, and magnesium. Magnesium is a calming mineral, and its deficiency can lead to anxiety. You also need fish-oil-based omega-3 fatty acids. Fats comprise about 60% of each brain cell, providing the complex, pliable cell wall in which neurotransmitter activity takes place.
Then there's glucose (blood sugar). Your brain can use up to half of the body's glucose at any one time. That's why we feel so good when we have a sugar high—it goes right to our brain, where it's burned for fuel. The same is true of processed foods, alcohol, and caffeine. You'll get a quick high, but in a short time, your blood sugar dips and so does your mood, with resulting anxiety and depression. For more details on the food-mood-nutrient connection, refer to my book Natural Highs.
In addition to foods, certain medications, including antihistamines, tranquilizers, sleeping pills, narcotics, and recreational drugs can affect your brain chemistry, as discussed in my book, Supplement Your Prescription.
Depression and Anxiety:
In my own practice, I evaluate patients for specific deficiencies, then supply the missing nutrients. In depression, there is often a lack of mood-stabilizing serotonin, made from the essential amino acid tryptophan. This is found in protein-containing foods such as turkey, chicken, cottage cheese, avocados, bananas, and wheat germ. Supplementation with the amino acid 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), a downstream metabolite of tryptophan, can help your brain manufacture more serotonin. Fibromyalgia patients often have low levels of serotonin and 5-HTP has been helpful in relieving their symptoms by promoting deep sleep.
The "catecholamine" or stimulating neurotransmitters, adrenaline, norepinephrine, and dopamine, also found in protein foods, are the brain chemicals associated with motivation, focus, and energy. Deficiencies can result in cravings for sugar, coffee, or alcohol. The good news is that supplementation with the amino acids tyrosine and phenylalanine can help your brain manufacture more of the energizing catecholamines. Add in the amino acid, glutamine, which goes right to the brain, and those cravings become history. In cases of anxiety, there is a deficiency in the neurotransmitter GABA, the brain's "chill-factor."
Balanced blood sugar levels, essential for sustained mood and energy, require a diet that contains complex carbs as opposed to simple sugars. Micronutrients that help balance blood sugar levels include: chromium, vanadium, alpha lipoic acid (ALA), and N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC).
Over my many years of practice, I have found that patients did better when I simplified their program, as I have in formulating Metabolic Maintenance's Brain Recovery AM & PM Packets. These packets contain all of my recommended brain essentials.
The AM packet contains the more energizing amino acids; phenylalanine, glutamine, tyrosine, and DLPA, which together help improve mood, energy, and focus. It also contains heart-healthy EPA and DHA omega-3 fish oil, which enhances mood, learning, focus, and attention, while simultaneously regulating inflammation. Also included in the AM packet are essential vitamins for optimum nutrition and brain function, such as vitamins A, C, D, E, K, and all B vitamins. Additional important micronutrients for brain function in the AM formula include: ALA, NAC, iodine, selenium, manganese, chromium, molybdenum, and choline. The detoxifying herb silymarin is also included in the AM packet.
The PM packet contains the calming glycine, theanine, and 5-HTP amino acids, along with glutamine, which help to enhance mood, wind down from the day's activities, and experience relaxation and restful sleep. Calcium and magnesium are in the PM packet, as well as zinc, chromium, Vitamin C, and vitamin B6. Like the AM packet, the PM packet contains brain and heart-nourishing fish oil.
This program assures that when my patients take their supplements, they are doing so at the right times and in the right proportions, with no need to deal with various bottles. The results have been gratifying, with increased compliance and greater overall success.