Secrets to Controlling Your Weight, Cravings, and Mood: A Quick Guide to Understanding Neurotransmitters
Ameer Rosic Wednesday March 12th 2014
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Quick Guide to Understanding Neurotransmitters Our neurotransmitters play a critical role in our mood, our food cravings, and even our weight. There are 4 in particular that are important in these areas and they are; serotonin, dopamine, GABA, and our endorphins. When these important brain chemicals are balanced we have an enhanced mood, can easily say no to those junk foods, sleep well, perform well, and lose weight easily.
Serotonin is our neurotransmitter responsible for your mood. If you have low serotonin we are more likely to be irritable, depressed, and suffer from anxiety. People with low serotonin tend to crave junk food in the afternoon. Western medicine focuses on the serotonin pathway for anti-depressant medications. The problem is these medications have long term problems that enhance the problem of low serotonin.
The most popular anti-depressants are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI). Neurotransmitters are passed from one neuron to another on a lipid raft (lipid rafts are made up of cholesterol, another reason low cholesterol is dangerous!). The second neuron then sends recyclable material back to the first neuron. When everything is working properly that neuron will take the recycled material and produce more serotonin. SSRI actually stop this reuptake process, leaving no recyclable material to be converted into serotonin. This causes the serotonin that our body produces to fall even more. SSRI also lead to an increased amount of serotonin outside of the neuron. As a defense mechanism to too much serotonin our neuron will desensitize to it. This is why medications need to be continuously changed and dosages increased. Some medications such as Paxil, actually inhibit serotoninâ€™s conversion to melatonin, which negatively effects sleep.
Here are a few tips to assure you are giving your body what it needs to produce serotonin. Serotonin is metabolized by the amino acid tryptophan. We need to make sure we are eating plenty of protein and fat from quality animal sources. We need to manage our stress.
Serotonin helps us buffer stress. If our stress goes unchecked our serotonin levels will fall because our system will get tired out. • • • • •
Make sure you get outside and get some vitamin D. Bright light actually stimulates our brain to make serotonin. Get some exercise. Exercise has some positive mood altering capabilities. Make sure not to get too much though because exercise is a stressor! Try to avoid caffeine and alcohol as they negatively impact serotonin levels.
IF the above does not work or we have a family history of low serotonin we may need some extra help. In some cases digestion is poor leading to a lack of nutrients entering the system. Adding in some digestive enzymes may be an easy solution in those cases. If extra support is needed we can supplement with L-tryptophan or 5-HTP. These are the precursors of serotonin and combined with a healthy diet and lifestyle gives our body all the material it needs to make adequate levels of serotonin.
Dopamine Dopamine is your neurotransmitter responsible for energy, memory, and focus. This is our hunt and reward neurotransmitter. Drugs such as cocaine effect this pathway and believe it or not fake processed foods cause the same reaction and just like cocaine we can become addicted to these foods! Another symptom of low dopamine is when we eat high sugar foods for an energy boost. Low dopamine is implicated in ADD, ADHD, schizophrenia, and even depression. Dopamine is the opposing neurotransmitter to serotonin. As dopamine rises so does serotonin. If this happens for a prolonged period of time both dopamine and serotonin levels will fall, and as we learned earlier, low serotonin leads to depression. Western medicine targets the dopamine pathway in treatment for ADD and ADHD. Ritalin is a dopamine reuptake inhibitor and the same mechanisms that apply to the SSRI applies here as well. Here are a few tips to raise your dopamine levels naturally. Follow all of the same steps listed above for serotonin. Anything that effects serotonin inversely effects dopamine. In addition make sure to always set attainable goals. This could be to hike a local mountain, run a race, or learn to play an instrument. You are only limited by your imagination. Seeking out and achieving goals raises dopamine levels. If all of those do not work we may need some extra support. Dopamine is metabolized from the amino acid tyrosine and we can take an L-tyrosine supplement.
GABA Your major inhibitory neurotransmitter. It plays a critical role in naturally calming us down. It may also play a critical role in blood sugar as there are GABA receptors found on our insulin producing pancreatic beta cells. We live in a world where we are constantly confronted with stress. Our body does not know the difference between fighting for our lives and sitting in traffic. This is why actively managing our
stress is so important to overall health. There are times where relaxation can be difficult, and it can negatively affect work, family life, and sleep. In these tough situations supplementing with GABA may be beneficial. Lastly, I want to talk about our endorphins. Our endorphins help us deal with physical and emotional pain. If you have a low pain tolerance, or cry at commercials on TV, chances are you have low endorphins. Low endorphins can lead to emotional eating. This is the classic example we see on TV when a girl breaks up with her boyfriend and goes straight for the ice cream.
Exercise is a great way to help out our endorphins. Deep breathing and yoga may be even better because they elicit a response of our “rest and digest” parasympathetic nervous system. This can help us balance out the constant stress we face on a day to day basis. If following all the same rules mentioned above do not work we can supplement with phenylalanine, as phenylalanine is the precursor for our endorphins. Below is a list of a general schedule I would recommend with clients. Always talk to your healthcare professional before starting a supplemental protocol. • • • • •
Upon waking: 500mg-2000mg of L-tyrosine and/or 500mg-2000mg of DLPA Mid-morning: Same as above Mid-afternoon: Same tyrosine and phenylalanine recommendations as before. If low serotonin is an issue add in 50mg-200mg of 5-HTP or 500mg-2000mg of L-tyrosine. Try taking the 5-HTP or tryptophan an hour apart from the tyrosine and phenylalanine as they compete to cross the blood brain barrier. 8 pmish: Same 5-HTP or tryptophan dosage and 100mg-500mg of GABA. GABA can also be taken during high stress times.
Ameer Rosic is obsessed with health. A Registered Holistic Nutritionist, Functional Diagnostic Practitioner and Functional Medicine Practitioner, Ameer has spent years empowering himself with knowledge about optimal health, and now his passion is to share that with you! From interviews with top health experts to fitness and nutritional advice and more, Ameer Rosic can help you live a life of optimal health!
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