Boosting Your Happy Brain Chemistry with 5-HTP

Many of us suffer from a variety of symptoms that we disregard as part of our personality or karma. You might think that it is just how things are, so you may as well accept it and deal with it as best as you can. Or perhaps it gets so tough, that you just can’t deal with it!

For instance, do you often…

* Have problems falling asleep or staying asleep?
* Find yourself edgy, irritable or angry?
* Lack motivation or feel depressed most of the time?
* Prefer to be left alone?
* Have ANTs (automatic negative thoughts) in your head?
* Worry, get anxious and find it difficult to concentrate or make decisions?
* Have feelings of low self-esteem and lack of confidence?
* Feel self-critical and guilty?
* Tend to be shy or fearful?
* Tend to be obsessive, inflexible, a control freak, or a work addict?
* Particularly dislike the dark weather?
* Have PMS or menopausal moodiness?
* Have a sweet tooth or crave carbs and starchy snacks or alcohol?
* Are all achy and/or have jaw pain?
* Find some relief of all of these symptoms when you exercise…if you happen to get around it?
* Do you have a family history of fibromyalgia and/or treatment with SSRIs (serotonin boosting antidepressants)?

These are all manifestations of serotonin deficiency. If you felt identified with some or all of them, then 5-HTP – an over the counter and natural supplement – can change your life forever.

5-HTP stands for 5-hydroxytryptophan, a form of the amino acid tryptophan which is found in foods like red meat, turkey, fish, or seeds. 5-HTP comes from the seeds of the African plant Griffonia simplicifolia and when taken correctly, it turns into serotonin – a brain chemical which regulates our sleep, raises our pain threshold, and elevates our mood.

We all have a right to healthy levels of serotonin, but we live in a highly stressful world where we are exposed to all kinds of toxins and pollutants, where our modern foods are often nutritionally deficient and toxic, and where people often have to turn to stimulants or anti-depressants in order to cope with life’s demands and stressful situations. We live in a world where life can be quite hard and nothing is certain except death. All of this takes a high toll on our serotonin levels, and thus on our bodies and our psychological well-being. In addition, genetic predispositions might leave you vulnerable to low levels of serotonin. Helping the body to top up the serotonin tank when you are faced with a stressful situation is exactly what you might need.

5-HTP administration has been shown to be effective in treating anxiety, depression, fibromyalgia, insomnia, binge eating, pain, and chronic headaches including migraines. Studies have revealed that it can work better than prescription medications at treating depression, and without the negative side effects!

We have more serotonin receptors in our intestinal tract than we do in our brain, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that low serotonin can also interfere with proper intestinal function. This is also the reason why 5-HTP can be beneficial in the treatment of IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome).

In order for our bodies to convert 5-HTP into serotonin, we need calcium, magnesium and B vitamins. Unfortunately, our dietary intake often doesn’t meet our body’s needs, so it is important to supplement ourselves with a good multivitamin containing at least 50-100mg of vitamin B6, and at least 700mg of magnesium chelate, citrate, or taurate. 5-HTP will turn itself into serotonin and then into melatonin, a natural sleep hormone and powerful anti-oxidant. In fact, 5-HTP can increase the body’s production of melatonin by 200%.

In general, an average of 300mg of 5-HTP per day is the recommended dose to restore your levels of serotonin, although quite often, some end up needing around 500mg per day. Start with 50 mg at lunch and dinner and increase your dose every 2 days by 50mg until you reach 300mg of 5-HTP per day. If you are unable to have a restorative sleep after two weeks, then you can also consider increasing the dose or supplementing yourself with melatonin at night.

Potential side effects of 5-HTP include nausea, diarrhea, and sleepiness. Also, in very rare cases, there might be insomnia and headaches, which usually happen when 5-HTP is taken on an empty stomach and when a person has “sluggish” liver issues. The good news is that when you take 5-HTP with meals and gradually increase the dose, these side effects should be eliminated.

If you don’t respond to 5-HTP, do more research and consult a doctor. 5-HTP is not a panacea, but it can help with the misery caused by stress-induced serotonin deficiency!

Note: It is practically impossible to reach a serotonin overdose, but a combination of 5-HTP and drugs like SSRIs (serotonin boosting antidepressants) and especially MAOI (Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors) can result in an overdose. Please, do not take 5-HTP and these prescription drugs without consulting your physician first.

Dr. Gabriela Segura, Health Matrix, Fri, 17 Sept 2010

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The Facts, Statistics and Dangers of Soda Pop

Kids are heavy consumers of soft drinks, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and they are guzzling soda pop at unprecedented rates.

Carbonated soda pop provides more added sugar in a typical 2-year-old toddler’s diet than cookies, candies and ice cream combined.

Fifty-six percent of 8-year-olds down soft drinks daily, and a third of teenage boys drink at least three cans of soda pop per day.

  • These popular beverages account for more than a quarter of all drinks consumed in the United States.
  • More than 15 billion gallons were sold in 2000.
  • That works out to at least one 12-ounce can per day for every man, woman and child.

Not only are soft drinks widely available everywhere, from fast food restaurants to video stores, they’re now sold in 60 percent of all public and private middle schools and high schools nationwide, according to the National Soft Drink Association. A few schools are even giving away soft drinks to students who buy school lunches.

As soda pop becomes the beverage of choice among the nation’s young – and as soda marketers focus on brand-building among younger and younger consumers – public health officials, school boards, parents, consumer groups and even the soft drink industry are faced with nagging questions:

  • How healthful are these beverages, which provide a lot calories, sugars and caffeine but no significant nutritional value?
  • And what happens if you drink a lot of them at a very young age?

Recently, representatives of the soft drink industry, concerned that public opinion and public policy may turn against them, will staged a three-day “fly-in” to lobby Congress to maintain soft drinks sales in schools; and to educate lawmakers on the “proper perspective” on soft drink use.

The industry plans to counter a US Department of Agriculture proposal, announced in January, that would require all foods sold in schools to meet federal nutrition standards. That would mean that snack foods and soft drinks would have to meet the same standards as school lunches.

Nearly everyone by now has heard the litany on the presumed health effects of soft drinks:

  • Obesity
  • Tooth decay
  • Caffeine dependence
  • Weakened bones

But does drinking soda pop really cause those things?

To help separate fact from fiction, the Health section reviewed the latest scientific findings and asked an array of experts on both sides of the debate to weigh in on the topic. Be forewarned, however: Compared with the data available on tobacco and even dietary fat, the scientific evidence on soft drinks is less developed. The results can be a lot like soft drinks themselves, both sweet and sticky.

Obesity

One very recent, independent, peer-reviewed study demonstrates a strong link between soda consumption and childhood obesity.

One previous industry-supported, unpublished study showed no link. Explanations of the mechanism by which soda may lead to obesity have not yet been proved, though the evidence for them is strong.

Many people have long assumed that soda – high in calories and sugar, low in nutrients – can make kids fat. But until this month there was no solid, scientific evidence demonstrating this.

Reporting in The Lancet, a British medical journal, a team of Harvard researchers presented the first evidence linking soft drink consumption to childhood obesity. They found that 12-year-olds who drank soft drinks regularly were more likely to be overweight than those who didn’t.

For each additional daily serving of sugar-sweetened soft drink consumed during the nearly two-year study, the risk of obesity increased 1.6 times.

Obesity experts called the Harvard findings important and praised the study for being prospective. In other words, the Harvard researchers spent 19 months following the children, rather than capturing a snapshot of data from just one day. It’s considered statistically more valuable to conduct a study over a long period of time.

Researchers found that schoolchildren who drank soft drinks consumed almost 200 more calories per day than their counterparts who didn’t down soft drinks. That finding helps support the notion that we don’t compensate well for calories in liquid form.

Tooth Decay

Here’s one health effect that even the soft drink industry admits, grudgingly, has merit. In a carefully worded statement, the NSDA says that “there’s no scientific evidence that consumption of sugars per se has any negative effect other than dental caries.” But the association also correctly notes that soft drinks aren’t the sole cause of tooth decay.

In fact, a lot of sugary foods, from fruit juices to candy and even raisins and other dried fruit, have what dentists refer to as “cariogenic properties,” which is to say they can cause tooth decay.

Okay, so how many more cavities are soft drink consumers likely to get compared with people who don’t drink soda? This is where it gets complicated.

A federally funded study of nearly 3,200 Americans 9 to 29 years old conducted between 1971 and 1974 showed a direct link between tooth decay and soft drinks. Numerous other studies have shown the same link throughout the world, from Sweden to Iraq.

But sugar isn’t the only ingredient in soft drinks that causes tooth problems. The acids in soda pop are also notorious for etching tooth enamel in ways that can lead to cavities. “Acid begins to dissolve tooth enamel in only 20 minutes,” notes the Ohio Dental Association in a release issued earlier this month.

Caffeine Dependence

The stimulant properties and dependence potential of caffeine in soda are well documented, as are their effects on children.

Ever tried going without your usual cup of java on the weekend? If so, you may have experienced a splitting headache, a slight rise in blood pressure, irritability and maybe even some stomach problems.

These well-documented symptoms describe the typical withdrawal process suffered by about half of regular caffeine consumers who go without their usual dose.

The soft drink industry agrees that caffeine causes the same effects in children as adults, but officials also note that there is wide variation in how people respond to caffeine. The simple solution, the industry says, is to choose a soda pop that is caffeine-free. All big soda makers offer products with either low or no caffeine.

That may be a good idea, though it raises the question of whether soda machines in schools should be permitted to offer caffeinated beverages or at least be obligated to offer a significant proportion of caffeine-free products.

It also raises the question of how one determines a product’s caffeine content. Nutrition labels are not required to divulge that information. If a beverage contains caffeine, it must be included in the ingredient list, but there’s no way to tell how much a beverage has, and there’s little logic or predictability to the way caffeine is deployed throughout a product line.

Okay, so most enlightened consumers already know that colas contain a fair amount of caffeine. It turns out to be 35 to 38 milligrams per 12-ounce can, or roughly 28 percent of the amount found in an 8-ounce cup of coffee. But few know that diet colas – usually chosen by those who are trying to dodge calories and/or sugar – often pack a lot more caffeine.

A 12-ounce can of Diet Coke, for example, has about 42 milligrams of caffeine – seven more than the same amount of Coke Classic. A can of Pepsi One has about 56 milligrams of caffeine – 18 milligrams more than both regular Pepsi and Diet Pepsi.

Even harder to figure out is the caffeine distribution in other flavors of soda pop. Many brands of root beer contain no caffeine. An exception is Barq’s, made by the Coca-Cola Co., which has has 23 milligrams per 12-ounce can. Sprite, 7-Up and ginger ale are caffeine-free. But Mountain Dew, the curiously named Mello Yellow, Sun Drop Regular, Jolt and diet as well as regular Sunkist orange soda all pack caffeine.

Caffeine occurs naturally in kola nuts, an ingredient of cola soft drinks. But why is this drug, which is known to create physical dependence, added to other soft drinks?

The industry line is that small amounts are added for taste, not for the drug’s power to sustain demand for the products that contain it. Caffeine’s bitter taste, they say, enhances other flavors. “It has been a part of almost every cola – and pepper-type beverage – since they were first formulated more than 100 years ago,” according to the National Soft Drink Association.

But recent blind taste tests conducted by Roland Griffiths at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Baltimore found that only 8 percent of regular soft drink consumers could identify the difference between regular and caffeine-free soft drinks.

The study included only subjects who reported that they drank soft drinks mainly for their caffeine content. In other words, more than 90 percent of the self-diagnosed caffeine cravers in this small sample could not detect the presence of caffeine.

That’s why the great popularity of caffeinated soft drinks is driven not so much by subtle taste effects as by the mood-altering and physical dependence of caffeine that drives the daily self-administration.

And the unknown could be especially troublesome for the developing brains of children and adolescents. Logic dictates that when you are dependent on a drug, you are really upsetting the normal balances of neurochemistry in the brain. The fact that kids have withdrawal signs and symptoms when the caffeine is stopped is a good indication that something has been profoundly disturbed in the brain.

Exactly where that leads is anybody’s guess– which is to say there is little good research on the effects of caffeine on kids’ developing brains.

Bone Weakening

Animal studies demonstrate that phosphorus, a common ingredient in soda, can deplete bones of calcium.

And two recent human studies suggest that girls who drink more soda are more prone to broken bones. The industry denies that soda plays a role in bone weakening.

Animal studies – mostly involving rats – point to clear and consistent bone loss with the use of cola beverages. But as scientists like to point out, humans and rats are not exactly the same.

Even so, there’s been concern among the research community, public health officials and government agencies over the high phosphorus content in the US diet. Phosphorus – which occurs naturally in some foods and is used as an additive in many others – appears to weaken bones by promoting the loss of calcium. With less calcium available, the bones become more porous and prone to fracture.

The soft drink industry argues that the phosphoric acid in soda pop contributes only about 2 percent of the phosphorus in the typical US diet, with a 12-ounce can of soda pop averaging about 30 milligrams.

There’s growing concern that even a few cans of soda today can be damaging when they are consumed during the peak bone-building years of childhood and adolescence. A 1996 study published in the Journal of Nutrition by the FDA’s Office of Special Nutritionals noted that a pattern of high phosphorus/low calcium consumption, common in the American diet, is not conducive to optimizing peak bone mass in young women.

A 1994 Harvard study of bone fractures in teenage athletes found a strong association between cola beverage consumption and bone fractures in 14-year-old girls. The girls who drank cola were about five times more likely to suffer bone fractures than girls who didn’t consume soda pop.

Besides, to many researchers, the combination of rising obesity and bone weakening has the potential to synergistically undermine future health. Adolescents and kids don’t think long-term. But what happens when these soft-drinking people become young or middle-aged adults and they have osteoporosis, sedentary living and obesity?

By that time, switching to water, milk or fruit juice may be too little, too late.

Washington Post February 27, 2001

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Lithium increases gray matter in the brain

Able to stabilize the mood swings of many people with manic depression, lithium revolutionized psychiatric therapy when the drug came on the scene several decades ago. Yet neuroscientists remain perplexed at how this potent medication works.

Scientists in Detroit have now provided a clue that could help resolve that mystery. They find that about a month of treatment with the drug increases the volume of gray matter in a person’s brain. Gray matter, the so-called thinking part of the brain, is made up primarily of the main bodies of nerve cells and their short connections.

“This is a highly significant finding and may shed light on the therapeutic mechanism of lithium,” says De-Maw Chuang of the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Md.

Another study by some of the Detroit scientists hints that lithium stimulates production of new brain cells. This observation raises hope that the drug can treat strokes, Alzheimer’s disease, and other conditions that kill brain cells. It may also support a radical new theory that the birth and death of brain cells underlie depression.

There have been hints before that lithium safeguards nerve cells. Two years ago, Chuang’s group showed that the drug protects nerve cells from fatal over-stimulation by the brain chemical glutamate. Husseini K. Manji of Wayne State University in Detroit and his colleagues then found that lithium-treated nerve cells overproduce a protein, bcl-2, that helps cells resist signals to commit suicide.

Manji next joined with his colleague Gregory J. Moore to carry out a brain-imaging study of people starting lithium treatment for manic depression. After 4 weeks, about the time it takes for lithium’s mood-stabilizing effects to emerge, the drug had increased the volume of brain gray matter by about 3 percent in 8 of the 10 people studied, the researchers report this week at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in New Orleans.

“This is the first demonstration of a pharmacological increase of human brain matter,” says Moore.

The researchers propose that most of the increased volume results from nerve cells sprouting additional branches to nearby cells, a sign of healthy brain cells. A small part of the increased gray matter may even consist of new brain cells.

In New Orleans, Manji’s group reported that lithium boosted new nerve cell production in one brain region of rodents. Mice receiving lithium had about 25 percent more new brain cells in the hippocampus than untreated mice did.

In past mouse studies, a diverse slate of proven antidepressant therapies, including electroconvulsive therapy, exercise, and drugs such as Prozac, has triggered the birth of nerve cells in the hippocampus.

This earlier work and other evidence have prompted some scientists to theorize that depression stems from problems with a brain’s natural ability to generate new cells in the hippocampus. That remains speculation, however. Indeed, only recently have scientists accepted that the adult human brain can grow new cells.

Lithium‘s ability to protect nerve cells and increase production of new ones may make the drug useful in more illnesses than manic depression, suggests Moore. Chuang, for example, reported last year that lithium reduces brain-cell loss in a rodent version of Huntington’s disease.

The drug also protects rodent brains from cell death after a stroke, even if researchers wait to administer the drug. “We can give lithium up to 3 hours after the onset of stroke,” says Chuang.

Manji proposes testing lithium in people with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

J. Travis, Reprinted from Science News

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Biotin for fat metabolism and prevent the graying of hair

Biotin is a water-soluble vitamin and member of the B-complex family.  Originally isolated in 1901, over the years numerous researchers attached different names to this nutrient, referring to it alternately as bios, vitamin H, protective factor X, and coenzyme R.  Today the scientific name for this sulfur-bound vitamin is biotin.

Biotin was discovered by the deficiency symptoms created through consuming large amounts (about 30 percent of the diet) of raw eggs. Avidin, a protein and carbohydrate molecule in the egg white, binds with biotin in the stomach and decreases its absorption. Cooking destroys the avidin, so the only concern about this interaction is with raw egg consumption. Otherwise, biotin is one of the most stable of the B vitamins.

Many foods contain biotin, but most have only trace amounts. It is hard to obtain enough biotin from the diet.  Luckily, our friendly intestinal bacteria (lactobacillin) produce biotin. This vitamin is found in egg yolks, liver, brewer’s yeast, unpolished rice, nuts, and milk.

The biotin coenzymes participate in the metabolism of fat. Biotin is needed for fat production and in the synthesis of fatty acids. It also helps incorporate amino acids into protein and facilitates the synthesis of the pyrimidines, part of nucleic acids, and therefore helps the formation of DNA and RNA.

A common use of biotin is to help normalize fat metabolism and utilization in weight-reduction programs, and to help reduce blood sugar in diabetic patients, with a dosage of between 200–400 mcg. per day. Biotin has also been in wide use to prevent or slow the progression of graying hair or baldness. This may work, however, only when these symptoms are related to biotin deficiency; although, because of the nutrient and protein support of biotin, it may indeed have some hair-stimulating effect.

Biotin is often used for problems such as dermatitis or eczema, especially in infants, most often with appropriate intake of other B vitamins, such as riboflavin, niacin, and pyridoxine and vitamin A. It has also been used to treat muscle pains, though skin and hair are the main focus of supplementation. More recently, biotin has been used for diabetics and those with an overgrowth of intestinal yeast.

There is no known toxicity with biotin, even in high amounts. Excesses are easily eliminated in the urine. Deficiency symptoms are also uncommon. Unless we are on a raw-egg diet or have taken a lot of antibiotics, especially sulfa, which diminish our biotin-producing intestinal bacteria, we are usually secure against biotin deficiency.

The raw-egg study generated symptoms such as fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, muscle pains, and depression. Other symptoms that have since been seen with biotin deficiency include dry and flaky skin, loss of energy, insomnia, increases in cholesterol, sensitivity to touch, inflamed eyes, hair loss, muscle weakness, and impaired fat metabolism. Several enzymes depend on biotin to function properly. Without them, we cannot utilize our foods as well.

Although there’s a limited amount of sports nutrition research on Biotin, it makes our top 10 list because it has critical functions in amino acid metabolism and the production of energy from many sources. It also may be one vitamin that some bodybuilders have trouble when attempting to maintain an adequate supply.

The reason bodybuilders may have difficulty with Biotin is because it can be blocked by a substance called Avidin. Avidin is found in raw egg whites, a staple for many athletes. In fact, bodybuilders who eat raw egg whites or who don’t cook egg white well enough may experience growth problems with Biotin deficiency if their egg white consumption approaches 20 per day. Eating raw eggs can also lead to a bacterial infection called Salmonella, which can have severe health consequences.

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Low Vitamin D Linked to Schizophrenia

There may be a link between sunlight, vitamin D and children’s brain development.

  • Babies born with low vitamin D levels are shown to be twice as likely to develop schizophrenia.
  • The finding may mean there could be a way to prevent cases of the disease.
  • Scientists caution more research needs to be done to confirm the link.

Babies born with low vitamin D levels are twice as likely to develop schizophrenia later in life, researchers from the Queensland Brain Institute have found.

But the researchers say the good news from the study is that it suggests it may be possible to prevent schizophrenia.

John McGrath from the Queensland Brain Institute says there have been suggestions for some time that there may be a link between sunlight, vitamin D and brain development. He says it is increasingly clear children with low vitamin D levels are more likely to develop schizophrenia.

“For the babies who had very low vitamin D, their risk was about twice as high as those babies who had optimal vitamin D,” said McGrath.

But the amazing thing was that the study that was based in Denmark, where low vitamin D is quite common, we found that if vitamin D is linked to schizophrenia our statistics suggest that it could explain about 40 percent of all schizophrenias. That’s a much bigger effect than we’re used to seeing in schizophrenia research.

While the simplest way to get enough vitamin D is to spend more time in the sun, it remains unclear whether there are fewer cases of schizophrenia in a country like Australia which sees a lot more sunlight.

“We don’t have high-quality data on that, but some statistics suggest we do have slightly lower incidences and prevalence of schizophrenia,” said McGrath.

Like many other diseases, like multiple sclerosis, schizophrenia tends to be more common in places further away from the equator. And if you’re born in winter and spring you tend to have a slightly increased risk of schizophrenia also, and that was one of the original pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that led us to wonder maybe vitamin D could be implicated.

Ian Hickie from the Brain and Mind Research Institute in Sydney says he is not surprised by the results, however he says more research is needed.

So the real acid test is going to be trying to lift vitamin D levels in pregnant women and newborns and see whether there’s an effect on later schizophrenia,” said Hickie. “Or even in fact, looking at providing higher levels of vitamin D by vitamin D supplementation in other ways later in life and particularly childhood and the teenage years, to see whether you might reduce the risk of onset of schizophrenia.

Vitamin D supplements may prove an effective way to prevent schizophrenia. But McGrath agrees there is only a statistical link at the moment and that does not prove vitamin D deficiencies are to blame for schizophrenia.

“Because the treatment and the outcome can be separated by about 20, 30 years, we need to treat pregnant women and then wait for their offspring to develop schizophrenia,” he said. “It will be a very challenging study to do.”

It could be decades before scientists know for sure.

“But medical research tends to move at a steady pace. I think the other thing is that there are many other studies suggesting that vitamin D is good for baby’s bone health,” McGrath said.

So it may well be that recommendations will be made to women to increase their vitamin D status for more obvious outcomes, like baby’s rickets for example. If that happened then it may well be that schizophrenia would start to fall in decades to come.

But Hickie warns against spending too much time in the sun to get more vitamin D because that could increase the risk of skin cancer.

“Rates of melanoma and skin cancer are obviously very high in our country and directly related to sun exposure, particularly in childhood,” he said.

So on the one hand we need to be careful about over exposure to sunlight, on the other hand it may well be that in some places, or in some individuals, low levels of vitamin D may constitute a risk factor, particularly in pregnancy and therefore affecting the rates of vitamin D in newborn children.

So this is one of the issues that we’re going to need to look at clearly. I don’t think it means that everyone should be rushing out into the sun and necessarily putting themselves at risk of other sun-related cancers.

Even if vitamin D does make a difference, there are several other factors that may play a part.

A predisposition to the illness can run in families, chemical imbalances in the brain may be responsible and stressful events are often thought to play a role in the onset of the schizophrenia.

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