By Ross Bishop
After several years of struggling with clients to find the right pharmaceutical drugs and dosages and deal with the brain numbing and detrimental side effects of antidepressants, I began a search for alternatives. Since our central nervous systems are almost completely regulated by amino acids, I thought I might find some help there, and I did. Amino acids can have a powerful impact on depression, with almost no side effects. Plus, they are considerably cheaper than prescription pharmaceuticals. Aminos cost about $20 a month, where Prozac now costs about $200, plus doctor visits.
Amino acids are derived from proteins and are largely responsible for cell function. They are the fundamental "building blocks" of the 50,000 different proteins that our bodies use and make. Our daily protein requirement is really a daily need for amino acids. Amino acids are vital to the formation of antibodies to combat bacteria and viruses and are part of the enzyme and hormonal system. They create RNA and DNA, carry oxygen to the cells, are vital to muscle function and many, many other things, in addition to the creation of neurotransmitters.
When the body is functioning normally, it makes most of the 22 amino acids it needs from protein-rich foods like meat and dairy or in selected combinations of plant proteins (like beans and corn or tofu and rice). These synthesized materials are called "non-essential" amino acids. The remaining 8 or 9 amino acids the body cannot synthesize, are called "essential" amino acids, and must be absorbed directly from food protein. Aminos do not last long in the body as such. The body takes what it needs and passes out the rest. If a necessary amino is not found in food, the body will break down its own tissue to get it.
Only a few amino acids are central to the creation of neurotransmitters. However, a number of others play smaller, but very important functions in healthy neurochemistry. I am going to take you through a process to find exactly what aminos you need, but what I have learned is that a shotgun approach by using an amino acid complex (readily found in most health food stores) seems to get the job done for most people, and it saves a lot of fussing. If that approach does not work, you need to find the (usually) two or three aminos that you need from amongst the 22 aminos, and then adjust the mix and dosage to find the right combination for you. This can take a little time and effort, if the shotgun approach doesn't work, it is worth the trouble. Be advised that your body will change it's needs from time to time, so periodic testing is a good idea.
The western diet is very high in protein, so for most people an amino acid deficiency is not an intake issue. In fact, most of us take in too much protein, causing our bodies to become acidic instead of their natural alkaline state. An acidic body can lead to a host of physical problems such as, cancer (cancer cells flourish in an acid environment and do not do well in an alkaline one), calcium deficiency (how are your teeth?) and candida. As just an aside, if you don't have some ph testing paper at home, get some, and check your urine and/or saliva. You will probably be surprised.
But back to amino acids: Since we should have ample amino acids in our diet, supplementation does not make sense to many conventionally trained experts. And, in theory they are correct. However, there is a large body of empirical evidence to support the premise that amino supplementation can have a profound effect on depression, so clearly something is amiss in our understanding of the process.
SOME WORDS ABOUT OUR NUTRITION
This is far from a complete explanation, but contrary to what you may have been lead to believe, the nutrition in our diets, even a good diet today, is pretty awful. The food choices we make are sometimes poor, but adding to that, and what is generally not told to us, is how nutritionally empty even the "good stuff" is. The reason is that the nutritional content of our grains, vegetables and produce has been dropping precipitously since WWII because of factory farming while at the same time, the use of industrial chemicals in processed food has skyrocketed.
The produce you buy in the supermarket today has very little nutritional value. By very little, I mean that you would have to eat eight oranges today to get the same amount of vitamin A your grandparents got from a single orange. Want to try six tomatoes? A pound of green beans? The average calcium levels in 12 fresh vegetables have declined 27%; iron levels have dropped 37%; vitamin A levels have fallen 21%; and vitamin C levels, 30% . . . all since we began the widespread use of chemical fertilizers.
In the old days, when I went to Mexico I could live on the tortillas because the grains were so full of life energy. The same was true of the pasta in Europe. Either product in America simply feels energetically dead. This may be a stretch, but if you remember from the opening paragraph of Part I of this series, people born after 1945 are 10 times more likely to experience depression than those born before then. Our factory farm agricultural began widespread use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides after WWII. A connection? Perhaps.
Experts tell us that our farm soil is dead. After three decades of the overuse of artificial fertilizers and chemicals, factory farming has destroyed our soil’s fertility, causing it to age the equivalent of 5,000 years in 30. There is almost nothing left in the soil of nutritional value that it can pass on to our grains, fruits and vegetables. The simple truth is that the most nutritious vegetable in your world these days is not something you get at the supermarket, but the lowly dandelion growing in your back yard! If people realized how much money they were wasting on dead supermarket fruit, vegetables and grain products, they'd buy organic in a heartbeat, even though it does cost more.
But dead fruit, vegetables and grains are only the beginning. Adding to this are the preservatives and chemicals we get from processed food and the steroids, antibiotics and growth hormones used in our meat and dairy products. You have to wonder how our bodies survive the onslaught! And the truth is many of us are not doing very well at all. By the way, most of this comes to you compliments of the factory-farm dominated, U.S. Department of Agriculture, whose employees are in a revolving door relationship with chemical companies like Bayer and Monsanto.
BACK TO AMINOS
Our levels of emotional stress these days are off the charts and that certainly must be considered a significant, if not causal, factor. As I say, also are the preservatives, processed food, pollution, hydrogenated oils or the lousy nutrition from store bought produce. But whatever the cause, many people today are lacking in one or more vital amino acids and depressed people significantly more so. Don't be thrown by their scientific sounding names, aminos are basically highly concentrated foodstuff.
In working with aminos it would be good for you to change your point of reference from drugs. Amino acids are concentrated food and the body sloughs off what it does not need. Supplementing with amino acids does not require the precise accuracy demanded by prescription drugs. With most aminos you could consume many times your normal dosage and probably not even notice it. It's simply wasteful, not generally harmful. Experts have been unable to identify lethal doses of amino acids, which is rare in toxicology studies. If you grossly overdo most drugs they will kill you. If you overdo an amino, about all that you will feel is some agitation and maybe a headache. It's like drinking too much coffee. But I do not meant to infer that there is no risk. You can have a bad reaction to too much caffeine, too! Surprisingly little is known about the side effects of amino acids, mostly because they are so few and so rare. They do occur, and you should become familiar with any drug or supplement you take in order to assess potential problems. The most typical long-term side effect to excessive amino acid consumption is the loss of appetite.
It is essential to increase your intake of B vitamins and vitamin C when you supplement aminos. Notice that I said essential. You must have B vitamins to assimilate aminos and if the B's are not there, you will stress your liver and kidneys. Find a good source with B3 (Niacin), B6 and B12. Don't buy drug store or grocery store vitamins! They are made from coal tar derivatives and are really awful for your body. You'll get the most from your aminos if you take them on an empty stomach. I suggest first thing in the morning with juice, then mid-morning and mid-afternoon. The B vitamins are better taken with food.
If you supplement with aminos, your body will get used to this more available source and begin to depend on it. Therefore it is not a good idea to supplement aminos for long periods. After supplementing aminos for 4-6 weeks, I encourage people to take a break for a week. If the depression starts to snarl back at you, then you will have to respond accordingly. The point is that as you begin to heal, start to wean yourself by taking breaks from your supplementation to encourage your body into a more normal state.
If there is any risk to taking amino acids it is because as the aminos are digested, ammonia is produced. Ammonia is normally processed out in the urea cycle. If your body's processing (that's why the B and C vitamins are important) and clean-up systems are not working as they should, increasing your amino acid intake can overload the clean-up system, create stress, and increase your body's toxicity. You'll get headachy, feel like you have a hangover and be agitated and edgy.
That is why, if you have liver or kidney problems for example, you should not take any substance, amino acids included, which is not directly related to your treatment. That is also why I do not recommend the extremely high-dose approaches used by some body builders. At those intake levels, the body must be very efficient in cleaning out by-products, and it can easily become toxic if it's not. When you are a peak-performance athlete, your body is working very efficiently and you can get away with some things that the rest of us should not try.
As a general precaution, no supplement should ever be taken in combination with other medication until you have checked with your physician. Pregnant women should always check any treatment with their doctor. And if you are being treated for any serious illness, especially liver or kidney disease, consult your doctor before taking any supplement. Having said that, I know that few Doctors know much at all about amino acid supplementation. But maybe you can help them to learn something.
Never take amino acids if you are taking prescription antidepressants and remember that pharmaceutical antidepressants can take weeks to clear out of your system. Do not take amino acids if you are suffering from schizophrenia, phenylketonuria (pKU), hepatic cirrhosis, diabetes, overactive thyroid, malignant melanoma or anxiety attacks. Please understand that the information I am providing here is solely for educational purposes. I do not intend this information to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or the care of any medical condition.
Do you feel anxious as well as depressed? If you do, don't shotgun aminos. Some aminos excite and others act to soothe the system. It is important that you take the right combination for your situation. There are some issues regarding side effects, but mostly if you take the wrong amino you'll just make yourself more uncomfortable. That is why I encourage people to test for what they need. But if you do not feel particularly anxious with the depression, and want to try this approach, fine.
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