Last weekend I attended a seminar with Julia Ross, author of The Mood Cure and The Diet Cure.
I'll be honest. The day before the seminar, I was having my doubts. Would the seminar really be worth the hundreds of dollars I was shelling out, not to mention the cost of airfare, hotel room and rental car? I had already read both of Julia's books. How much more could I possibly learn from a seminar?
The seminar ended up being worth so much more than I could have ever paid. I took 20 pages of notes. It was absolutely engrossing — completely fascinating. I felt like I was on an episode of that TV show, House. Only Julia is much prettier and nicer than Hugh Laurie's character, and she laughs a lot more. She probably has a lot more serotonin. ;-)
She was handing out amino acids the whole time, advising us to break open the capsules on our tongues so we could absorb them more quickly and really feel the effects. The first time I tried that with a capsule of 5HTP, I felt like I had had half a glass of wine. It was very mellow and glow-y.
Obviously I can't share all of what I learned here — and my blog post won't do it justice. You're just going to get a brief glimpse into the amazing world of amino acid nutrition, neurotransmitters and brain chemistry.
I hope that you will learn some things and I hope that you will read her books, which are available at any public library, or on your Kindle or iPhone. And if you live near the San Francisco Bay Area or have the opportunity to travel there, I can't recommend her trainings highly enough. Even though I had read her books, The Diet Cure and The Mood Cure, seeing her talk about them in person really brought them to life for me. And Juila is just delightful. Really engaging and thought-provoking — and she has the BEST laugh!
What's In It For You?
Why learn about amino acids and neurotransmitters and brain chemistry?
Do you suffer from depression? Anxiety? Insomnia? ADD or ADHD? Are you addicted to coffee, alcohol, drugs, carbs, chocolate, sugar, or any other substances to get through the day? Do you have an eating disorder? Do you have trouble concentrating? Are you more irritable than you'd like? Are you stressed out? Do you have trouble relaxing? Are you worried or obsessive/compulsive or shy?
Or do you know someone who suffers from any of the above?
Let's run through my notes (OK, just the first page!):
False Mood and False Appetite Epidemics
Julia said that people today suffer from false moods and false appetites. She said these false moods and appetites are caused by the non-food we eat. Refined sugar and flour are not foods. They set off a drug-like reaction.
The more we eat these non-foods, the more we deprive ourselves of the brain-chemistry building amino acids we need in whole foods (protein, complex carbohydrates and fruits and vegetables). The more we deprive ourselves and our brains of these nutrients, the more we suffer from mental and emotional problems.
Julia said this is compounded by stress (especially prolonged stress — three weeks or longer) and our genetics/ancestry. Many people (Native Americans, for example) are more sensitive to foods and drugs — this explains why so many Native Americans turned diabetic and alcoholic when they went off their native diet.
Take the Test!
Before I get into it, if you're curious about your own deficiencies, go and take the mood questionnaire on Julia's site. If you'd like to share your results, please post a comment below.
I'll share mine — I scored high on all of them — meaning I'm deficient across the board. Especially low in endorphins, next GABA, then catecholamines, and lastly serotonin. I have low blood sugar, too.
There are four major neurotransmitters:
When we have deficiencies in any of these neurotransmitters, we start having emotional and mental problems.
Serotonin is the number one neurotransmitter deficiency. (That's why it's listed first.) It's the feel-good chemical that makes us happy, hopeful, self-confident, and outgoing. It stops the worry and turns on the bubbly enthusiasm. Who doesn't want some of that?
Oh, and guess what is the number one enemy of serotonin? Caffeine. That's right, caffeine depletes serotonin. So you might want to rethink that latte or cup of green tea. Or that dark chocolate they say is so full of antioxidants.
Serotonin converts to melatonin as the sun goes down, so if you're low in serotonin, you won't be able to create enough melatonin — which means you won't sleep well. If you suffer from insomnia, serotonin may help you.
I was also very curious to learn that you can give serotonin to kids to help them sleep. Yes, even infants. My daughter, age 3, has a tough time going down at night and really craves sweets after dinner. I talked to Julia and she said to give her half the adult dose of 5HTP. (For infants, you just use a pinch.) It makes sense because this stuff is hereditary — so if you are low in serotonin, your kids will be, too.
I've started doing it and guess what? The past few nights, she's been yawning and saying, “Time for night night!” She even got up and turned the TV off the other night and started off toward her bedroom!
Catecholamines (the number two most common deficiency) are the brain chemicals that make us feel energized and give us the ability to concentrate. Got ADD? It's caused by a deficiency in catecholamines. Need that cup of coffee to get going? You're most likely low in catecholamines. And if you're self-medicating with coffee or chocolate, you're doing damage to your serotonin levels in the process.
Coffee reduces blood circulation in the brain by 23%. In addition, coffee is a strong appetite suppressant. Julia says that her number one objection to coffee is the fact that most people drink it in the morning and then don't eat breakfast. And it's protein that provides the amino acids we need to build neurotransmitters.
Julia says we need 20-30 grams of protein 3 times a day. That is JUST for maintaining your current brain chemistry — not for if you are already deficient. This is why amino acids are often necessary.
I know for a fact I went many years not getting that much. Considering that I have been skipping breakfast most days since I started drinking coffee (at age 16), that means I was only 2/3 of the way there most days.
Skipping meals (even in the form of fasting or dieting) is a big no no for mental health and brain function! And if you're just eating salads or beans and rice, you may not be getting enough protein. Meat, dairy, fish and eggs have a lot more protein than carbs. Sure, you can eat 4 cups of beans — but I'd rather have a little cheese or fish with my beans and rice.
Stressed out? Can't relax? You might be low in GABA, the third most common deficiency. GABA is a natural tranquilizer and muscle relaxer. I don't know about you but I tend to be a bit more cranky and irritable than I'd like from time to time. And I'd much rather reach for a GABA than a Xanax. And interestingly, Julia points out that while Xanax initially boosts the brain's supply of GABA, over time, it often depletes it.
Most people know about endorphins from exercise — the “runner's high.” Endorphins give us the ability to enjoy our lives and experience pleasure. When we are in pain, endorphins rush in to flush and flood us with pleasurable feelings.
Julia says most women tend to be lower in endorphins than men — which is why there is that age-old fight among couples:
Man: “You're too sensitive!”
Woman: “You don't bring me flowers!”
This is why so many of us women crave chocolate, bread and wine. If you find yourself saying how much you “LOVE” your chocolate or wine, and overly sensitive [raising hand,] you may be low in endorphins.
The Mood Cure
So, what are we to do about all these deficiencies? Nutrition to the rescue! Julia recommends a traditional foods diet rich in protein, fresh vegetables, whole grains, and good fats. She says to avoid white flour, refined sugar, caffeine, unfermented soy, and other modern industrial “food-like substances”.
Sound familiar? Yep, it's the same thing I preach on this blog. The only problem is, when you're deficient to the point of becoming alcoholic or insomniac or anorexic, you can't correct the brain chemistry fast enough with real food. Which is where the amino acids come in.
Some of My Favorite Moments from the Seminar
My favorite moments in the seminar were Julia's stories. These are the kinds of things you don't get from books!
Coffee vs. Tyrosine
Julia told us that she gave a speech to 150 people in Canada recently. The people holding the seminar tricked the attendees and did not provide caffeine. They had monitors pass out Tyrosine. Within 10 minutes after the Tyrosine was passed out, there was a din. Everybody was animated and talking. She said she couldn't make herself heard.
Later they passed out GABA. She said there was a complete hush in the audience.
Whistling and Singing
She talked about the fact that there are more stressors in our modern day — electromagnetic, pollutants, chemicals, etc. Many of these new stressors are invisible. But, she said, for the most part, emotionally and financially, we are no more stressed now than we were 100 years ago. But, she said, we used to be able to handle the stress.
“I'm 65,” said Juila, “and I remember it was really common to walk out your door and hear people whistling and singing all the the time. Nowadays I don't hear anyone whistling unless it's a drunk coming from the bar at 2 am. I know from my own experience that something terrible has happened here.”
I thought about it and she's right! You never hear anyone whistling!
An 11-Year-Old Deficient in Serotonin
She also told the story of an 11-year-old who was brought into the office by her mother. The girl's tantrums were getting worse. She went into a rage and tried to jump out of a moving car. The parents had split up. The father had a problem with psychosis (there's that genetic thing again). He could not have daughter visit — as a result, the daughter blamed the mother since she couldn't see her father. She as mad at her mother all the time.
Julia told the little girl that there was a part of her brain that was hungry. She said that she knew what food that part of her brain needed. She asked her if she would like to try the food — a 25 mg tablet of 5HTP. The little girl chewed it up.
About five minutes later, she got up and whispered in her mother's ear. Her mother nodded, and the little girl stood up and started to sing, “You are so beautiful in every way no matter what they say.” After that she sat quietly while Julia wrapped up the appointment with the mother.
The mother called a week later. She had been giving her daughter 25 mg of 5HTP after school and 25 mg again in the evening. She reported that she was finally sleeping — and that she was completely different. She said that her daughter was no longer angry. She said, “We don't need to see you again.”
My Results with The Mood Cure
Following Julia Ross's advice in The Mood Cure, I was able to quit coffee with absolutely no effort in just a few days, taking DLPA (endorphin).
Julia teaches people to start with the worst symptom you have and fix that first. (Exception: for people who are low in catecholamines and serotonin, it's best to fix the catecholamines FIRST. Otherwise they can end up feeling very spacey and more distracted.)
After I got over the coffee addiction, I started taking 5HTP (serotonin) along with GABA and glutamine (helps with cravings for alcohol and cabs) and I have cut down my craving for wine at night. I still crave wine, but instead of my normal 2-3 glasses with dinner, I now pour myself only one glass. Sometimes I drink just half the glass. I just leave the rest sitting there — I'm just not interested in finishing it.
I'm going to up my dose of 5HTP, and continue with the DLPA and GABA and Glutamine and see how it goes.
Next I'm going to order the saliva test for adrenal function. It measures cortisol levels, DHEA, estrogen, etc. In the class I took with Julia Ross, she showed us how to interpret our results. I'll be sure to share my progress.
Please share your thoughts and comments below — on what you think you or your family members might be deficient in or if you've ever used amino acids before. I always love to hear what you have to say!
Photo credit: Margaret Shear, Public Library of Science