How to Find Peace of Mind in an Age of Anxiety
What is happening to our collective psyche?
In two words: neurotransmitter deficiency. We’re not getting enough of the chemicals our brains need to send messages between nerve cells. It could be our diets. Or our sedentary lifestyles. Exposure to contaminants, nutrient mal-absorption and bacteria- related chronic conditions have also been earmarked as potential causes. But regardless of the specific reason, the question that desperately needs to be answered is, what can we do to help ourselves and our loved ones?
Amino Acids: The Building Blocks of Protein
Vital neurotransmitters (serotonin, norepinephrine, epinephrine and dopamine) are made from amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. There are 20 amino acids in all, split evenly between two categories labeled essential and non-essential.
Essential amino acids are found in your diet in the form of protein, such as red meat, turkey, chicken, wild-caught fish, nuts and seeds, eggs, and milk. Your body cannot produce essential amino acids on its own.
Non-essential amino acids, on the other hand, are produced by the body. But let’s stay focused on the essential ones we can control.
More Protein = More Amino Acids = More Neurotransmitters
It’s important to eat protein at every meal. A healthy ratio is 40% carbohydrates, 30% protein and 30% healthy fat (Read more about good fats and bad fats). Adhering to this formula can reduce the symptoms of anxiety, especially if you take in proteins like turkey and milk that are high in tryptophan (the precursor to serotonin). If you get hungry between meals, go for a snack filled with protein instead of one full of refined sugar.
Vegans and vegetarians are even more susceptible to amino acid deficiency because plant source protein doesn’t contain all the amino acids your body needs. Supplementing your diet with high-quality amino acids is essential to replenishing your neurotransmitter levels.
Those suffering from chronic conditions should also consider supplementing their diets with high-quality amino acids to ensure adequate levels during times of illness. Conditions such as leaky gut syndrome, Candida, and bowel diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease can inhibit the body’s absorption of amino acids, causing key neurotransmitters to be depleted.
Are Amino Acids Safe?
Amino acids have virtually no reported side effects. Nor have there been any overdoses reported. Nevertheless, you should speak to your healthcare professional about amino acid supplementation before combining it with prescription psychotropic medications, or before stopping any medication. Sudden discontinuation may produce severe withdrawal.
A lot of attention is being given to 5-HTP, which is made from the amino acid called tryptophan. 5-HTP has been reported to help relieve anxiety and depression. (Read more about 5-HTP). In addition, there are alternative therapies utilizing herbs and supplements that may produce results in curbing anxiety. (Read more about living in the anxiety age).
What about Prescription Meds?
Paxil®, Effexor®, Zoloft®, Wellbutrin®, Ritalin® and a multitude of others serve to reduce the symptoms of anxiety, but they don’t fix the problem. When your body is low in serotonin, these medications simply trick the body into metabolizing it instead of replenishing it. If you stop these medications, you not only become susceptible to withdrawal symptoms, but most likely will return to low serotonin levels and continue to experience the same anxiety and depression problems.
Believe it or not, these medications actually deplete serotonin with long-term use! Not to mention prescription medications that work on isolated parts of the brain can produce severe side effects in other areas of the body. These can include metabolic disorders such as hypoglycemia, insulin resistance, and diabetes; weight gain and obesity; drug-induced insomnia, mania, agitation, or depression; psychosis; suicidal and/or homicidal ideation; and a multitude of other digestive symptoms. In fact, it appears that children who take certain psychotropic medications such as Paxil may increase their risk for suicidal ideation.1
Getting Psyched Again
Life’s too precious to be scary. And it always seems darkest just before the dawn. Let’s give our brains the opportunity to send a new message. Who knows …it might just end up being a transmission of hope.
1) “Paxil’s maker adds suicide attempt warning,” ScienceDaily.com
Accessed May 2006