Rick Hanson provides information to fill your body and feel better from the food you consume and added supplements.
Your Biochemical Foundation
Overall perspective: Protein is needed for amino acids, which are vital. In general, you get minerals from plants and animals and vitamins from plants. (As an important side note: Vitamin D is built in response to sunlight, and ingested from fish; Vitamin A also comes from fish).
Here are the details:
- Have protein with every meal, especially breakfast. Protein contains the amino acids that are the building blocks of the neurotransmitters and a lot else. Protein also helps regulate blood sugar levels, which helps prevent Type II diabetes and makes it easier to shed excess pounds. Animal protein is best – buy clean meat, organic if you can afford it.
- Eat more vegetables. Everyone agrees that this is important.
- Eat carbohydrates that are not made of sugar and flour (bread, cereal, pasta, etc.). Carbs should mainly come from vegetables, fruits, and whole grains (ideally not turned into flour). Carbs that have a lot of sugar or flour raise your blood sugar rapidly, and their chronic consumption frequently leads to insulin problems and sometimes Type II diabetes. They are also addictive. (Note that many of the diseases of the 20th and 21st centuries are diseases of excess insulin.)
- Stay away from food allergens. The foods that a person is most likely to have difficulty with are, in descending order of risk: dairy products, gluten grains (wheat, oats, rye, barley, spelt, Kamut), soy, eggs, corn, citrus, and nightshade vegetables (potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant).
Supplement Basics (Every Day)
- Take a basic multi-vitamin/multi-mineral supplement. For women who are having a cycle, these should probably include iron. A good vitamin will have levels of most B-vitamins that are many times the government “Recommended Daily Value” (DV) and minerals at the level of the DV.
- Supplement omega-3 essential fatty acids in fish oil that has been “molecularly distilled” for purity (Nordic Naturals is excellent); take enough capsules to get about 500 mg each of two key ingredients, DHA and EPA, which will be listed on the label.
- Take a B-vitamin complex, a B-50 or B-100.
- Add at least one to two grams of vitamin C.
- Take 1000 – 1500 mg of calcium and 400 – 600 mg of magnesium. (Some of this could be in your multi-vitamin.)
Some people prefer flax oil to fish oil due to being a vegetarian; if so, take a tablespoon a day. But please be aware that only a minority of people naturally make the enzymes or co-factors needed to convert flax oil into the long-chain fatty acids their bodies need, which already exist in fish oil. If you do choose to use flax oil, make sure you’re taking a good multi-vitamin/multi-mineral supplement as well, for the co-factors it contains. Nonetheless, this is still a less effective way of supplementing EFAs than taking fish oil.
A Healthy Digestive Tract
Avoid food allergens and supplement with beneficial bacteria: acidophilus and Bifidus.
Targeted Nutritional Interventions
The research-based methods just below use natural molecules that the body is used to metabolizing.
- You’ll get the most out of these methods if you have already established the foundation of good health practices we have just discussed.
- If you experience any uncomfortable side effects, stop immediately.
- If you try these methods and they don’t show much effect, consult with a licensed, holistically-inclined health professional.
- If you are already taking any psychotropic medications (e.g., antidepressants, psychostimulants, tranquilizers, sleeping pills), check with your physician before trying any of the methods below.
For a Blue Mood, the first line of defense against a slump in mood is increasing serotonin (which can also help with anxiety).
Your body manufactures serotonin in two steps, which require a good supply of iron and vitamin B-6:
Tryptophan -> 5-hydroxy-tryptophan (5-HTP) -> serotonin
IRON vitamin B-6
as pyridoxal-5-phosphate (P5P)
Consider these steps:
- Take pyridoxal-5-phosphate (P-5-P), 50 mg/day on an empty stomach, and make sure iron intake is adequate.
- Increase serotonin levels by taking either tryptophan (500 – 1500 mg/day, often best before sleeping) or 5-HTP (50 – 200 mg/day; both best on an empty stomach.)
- At the molecular level, it helps to shift production from glutamic acid to GABA.
Glutamic Acid -> GABA
vitamin B6 as P-5-P
Vitamin B-6 as Pyridoxal-5-Phosphate (P5P) is the key nutritional co-factor that shifts the balance in the direction of GABA.
You can increase levels of GABA through these methods:
- Take P-5-P, 50 mg/day on an empty stomach.
- Take theonine, 100 – 200 mg/day. This amino acid is found in green tea and put into chewing gum and sodas in Japan (unlike the caffeine which is added in American products). It is antagonistic to glutamic acid, although the specific route still seems unknown.
- Taurine, 1000 mg/day. This amino acid binds to the GABA receptor, therefore stimulating the receptor and increasing GABA-like activity. Taurine is generally safe and benign. By the way, it is depleted during breastfeeding – perhaps contributing to mothers feeling frazzled – and women who are nursing should routinely supplement taurine. Also, since taurine is excreted in quantity when there are digestive imbalances, if you know or suspect that your GI tract is troubled, then that’s another reason to supplement taurine.
- Consider progesterone (women only), since this hormone stimulates the GABA receptor. As many (most?) women approach menopause, progesterone decreases before estrogen does, so supplementing progesterone may be helpful. Try Pro-Gest cream, used only during the second half of your cycle. Some women don’t like the way it feels; others love it, so just use it if it works for you.
Focus and Concentration
In general, make sure you have adequate thyroid hormone. If you often feel tired and are prone to a blue mood, have your thyroid checked (other warning signs include feeling cold). If you are symptomatic, be suspicious of thyroid levels below the 50th percentile of people like you (e.g., gender, age). And make sure your serotonin levels are adequate (see discussion above).
Then, more specifically, increasing norepinephrine and dopamine can improve your focus and concentration.
Norepinephrine is secreted throughout the brain to bring alertness and readiness for responses. It is involved in the subjective experience known to meditators as “brightening the mind.”
Dopamine is the neurotransmitter most involved with the pleasure/reward systems in your brain – which is why people with addictive personalities tend to have relatively fewer dopamine receptors, so they turn to drugs like cocaine to flood the receptors they do have with intense stimulation.
To stay on task – such as keeping attention on a boring lecture or on the breath – your dopamine circuits need to keep rewarding you for success (at least in the initial stages of meditation, until you are naturally and nearly effortlessly absorbed in the breath).
- Take either L-tyrosine or L-phenylalanine, 500 – 1000 mg./day, on an empty stomach in the morning. Norepinephrine and dopamine are built from these amino acids.
Consume plenty of these foundational nutrients:
- Folic acid, 800 – 1000 mcg./day
- Fish oil: about 500 mg. of EPA and DHA
- Methylcobalamine (B-12), 1000 – 5000 mcg./day, sublingual
And consider these targeted interventions:
- Take N-Acetyl-Carnitine, 500 – 1000 mg. in the morning, on an empty stomach.
- Take Phosphatidyl Serine, 100 – 200 mg./day.
- For women entering menopause, consider taking estrogen.
It’s a lot to absorb. Perhaps the key thing to take away from all this is not so much the specific methods, but the more general sense that you can really do things to make yourself feel better and be more able to grow psychologically and spiritually.
This is Part Two of a two-part series. Find Part One here.