Alternative to pharmaceuticals could improve neurotransmitter health
Bay Area psychologist Julia Ross supports using amino acids to restore brain health.
These days, doctors aren’t just writing more prescriptions, they’re piling them on. In a 2010 study by Dr. Ramin Mojitabai, doctors were found to prescribe two or more medicines during a single office visit 60 percent of the time—a 20 percent increase since 2000.
These prescription cocktails are especially common in treating mental issues, since many anti-depression medicines cause side effects like sleep disturbances, weight gain, anxiety, and sexual dysfunction.
But long-term use of multiple pharmaceuticals has its own consequences—diabetes, high cholesterol, increased dosages as tolerance rises and cognitive decline—and one reality remains:
“The trouble is, they [anti-depressants] don’t cure anything, so when you go off them, you risk becoming depressed again,” Julia Ross, M.A., told Voguelast year. Ross is a psychologist in Mill Valley, and author of The Mood Cureand The Diet Cure. She also trains practitioners across the country in using brain-specific amino acids—the building blocks of those chemicals that make us feel good—as a way of restoring neurotransmitter health.
According to Ross, neurotransmitter deficiency can be the culprit in a slough of symptoms, from sugar and alcohol cravings, to insomnia, chronic pain, Attention Deficit Disorder, apathy and even suicidal thoughts.
Forty three-year-old Larry Davis, a Santa Cruz man who spoke openly about his depression in this column, is like many who have tried anti-depression medications but ultimately decided they weren’t worth the side effects. Along with daily heart-pumping exercise and a healthy diet, he points to amino acids as a major bullet against his depression.
It all started when the self-proclaimed skeptic of non-Western medicine found himself in the Seabright office of acupuncturist and licensed herbologist Cally Haber, who trains under Ross. After administering Davis’ first-ever acupuncture session, she had him fill out a questionnaire that identifies the symptoms of neurotransmitter deficiencies.
All signs pointed very strongly to low levels of serotonin and catecholemines. She prescribed the amino acids 5-HTP (a precursor to serotonin) and L-tyrosine.
“I very begrudgingly agreed that I would go to New Leaf and I would purchase my amino acid. I woke up and felt like I was 16 years old again. My mind was clear, I wasn’t having word-finding problems like I often do, I was present, the colors were more vibrant. It was literally overnight,” said Davis. Sitting within the soothing green walls of her office, Haber warns me that it isn’t always this wonderfully simple when it comes to amino acids.
“For some people it’s simple and works great, for other people, they might be pyroluric, their bodies might not be able to process zinc or B6,” she says. But many believe it’s worth a try, and even in cases of pyroluria, Haber’s found successful combinations for patients who are looking for mental stability and wellbeing. As vice president of the National Acupuncture Detox Association (NADA), Haber has worked at recovery centers throughout the county, using auricular protocol, or ear-focused acupuncture, a method that first became popular in treating opiate withdrawal in the 70s, before it was found to aid in the withdrawal from all addictions, as well as depression.
Serotonin, dopamine, catecholemines and endorphins are all important ingredients for mental wellness, and Ross swears by the importance of a diet high in proteins, good fats and whole carbohydrates. Eating breakfast is also imperative to kick start the brain with a supply of neurotransmitter-building amino acids. For vegetarians and those who are more severely deficient, reasonably priced supplements are available at Staff of Life. Although Haber acknowledges that antidepressants can save lives, she hopes to teach people that the health of their brain is internal.
“The way I work all together is really educating people to take care about their own health, and with the aminos, to me, the idea is getting people comfortable enough with them that they can self regulate,” said Haber.