By Jacob Scharf
Guest writer for Wake Up World
In my previous article Is Your Brain Firing As It Should? I discussed natural supplements that will help your brain cope with stress, anxiety and sleep disturbances. While they may not be cures to your anguish, it’s my hope that they will help alleviate some of your distress while you resolve the root causes of your anxiety.
In this article I’ll be explaining the benefits of supplements that will assist your body to overcome depressive mood states when rough times enter your life.
Depression & Anxiety
Life events can trigger changes in our moods, and this can put our brain chemistry out of whack. Our neurotransmitters begin to mis-fire, leading to chronic states of anxiety and depression.
But when it comes to ideal neurotransmitter functioning and performance, dopamine is ‘King of the Chemistry’. And many alternative physicians consider that the amino acid tyrosine – a precursor to dopamine production in the brain – surpasses the performance of the majority of anti-depressant drugs. It costs less, it helps you think better, and it can lift your mood when you’re feeling gloomy.
So let’s begin to delve into our mental chemistry and learn how we can enhance the production of dopamine using the readily available supplement – tyrosine.
The hormone dopamine has a hand in almost every human interaction. In its most refined state, dopamine is a precursor for norepinephrine, which is a hormone that is most responsible for our cognitive alertness. In turn, norepinephrine controls our mood, motivation, anxiety and even sex drive. So, if you’re an aspiring mental health professional or a person who is committed to their own long-term health and wellbeing, it’s important to note that a mis-firing of dopamine in our brain can result in a host of issues.
Parkinson’s Disease: a Lack of Dopamine
Parkinson ’s Disease, a degenerative condition, is the result of an insufficient supply of dopamine within the middle parts of the brain. Essentially, the dopamine-generating cells in patients with Parkinson’s are experiencing apoptosis, otherwise known as cell death. Ultimately, for a physician to reach a diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease, there must be clear damage to the dopamine pathways called the substantia nigra.
While the cause of this illness can vary from patient to patient – for example, excessive skull trauma (boxers and other aggressive sports), environmental toxins, and even genetic factors – fundamentally the symptoms are quite similar ‘across the board’. The results of this drastic loss of dopamine functionality often results in the stereotypical tremor and motor impairment which is characterized by ‘shaky’ hand and head movements. Parkinson’s sufferers’ capacity for movement is quite low; their movement is slow and their posture can be quite poor. However, there are prescription medications which physicians can use to treat patients – primarily a drug called L-dopa.
L-dopa is a molecule which serves as a precursor to dopamine, mirroring the chemical structure of dopamine. Once a person’s symptoms become severe enough for a definitive diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease, a physician will prescribe a synthesized “drug” form of L-dopa to mitigate the patient’s overwhelming symptoms. So, by ingesting this substance in pill form, it will inevitably promise an influx of dopamine production.
Unfortunately, like many other prescription medication, the benefits of L-dopa can often come with unwelcome side effects; fatigue, anxiety, agitation and nausea are just a few of those unwelcome side effects. While L-dopa has an important role in the current treatment protocol of Parkinson’s, it is also important to consider that the dopamine precursor, tyrosine, can be ingested in a natural form to enhance dopamine production – without the side effects.
Tyrosine is responsible for the production of an organic compound, called catecholamines. Without getting too scientific here, the more prominent examples of catecholamines are norepinephrine, epinephrine (adrenaline) and dopamine. The more tyrosine we have on hand, the better equipped we are to handle stress, fatigue, anger, aggression, and those dips in our moods.
Tyrosine-rich foods include meats, fish, eggs, nuts, beans, oats, and wheat, with the highest amounts found in animal sources. Vegan diets may fall short of minimum requirements, and there are some researchers who consider it is a lack of tyrosine in the diet that can lead to ‘angry vegan syndrome’, so proponents of a Vegan diet may need to consider supplementation if they begin to suffer symptoms of deficiency.
Indications you may need to give your dopamine levels a good boost with some supplemental tyrosine include lethargy, depression, sadness, anger, dark moodiness, low self-esteem, loneliness, and a low sex drive. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms regularly, it’s important not to sweep them under the rug, because they may form a nasty ‘dust bunny’ you’ll have to face later!
Considering that dopamine controls so many crucial areas of our daily activities, it is crucial to realize you have the ability to optimize your mental and physical potential accordingly. As mentioned, dopamine helps us coordinate movements efficiently; if I knew as much about dopamine when I was pitching in high school, there’s no doubt I would be playing major league baseball right now (sarcasm, of course!) Nevertheless, with the amount of control that dopamine has on our mind and body it’s important to become aware of your body’s signals, and to adjust your tyrosine supplementation to what best fits your needs.
Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA) is both an amino acid and a neurotransmitter, and is known for its ability to reduce anxiety, elevate moods and actually tone muscle! In fact, GABA could even be considered the perfect natural tranquilizer for those times when you’re feeling overtly anxious, agitated and overwrought.
As a certified kettlebellinstructor and fitness enthusiast, the topic of GABA supplements is a recurring discussion amongst friends and colleagues. So, what’s the hoopla?
Like Tyrosine and L-dopa, GABA too can allow us to create our own ‘mood lifter’. This is not pseudoscience, this is simple chemistry. You can purchase GABA supplements – usually they are sold in increments of 750 mg per pill. While you should consult with your preferred health professional about your ability to cope with a bout of depression or anxiety, it should be comforting knowing that these ‘over the counter’ supplements do exist.
Also by Jacob Scharf:
- Feed Your Brain What It Needs
- Enhancing Neurotransmitter Production Naturally
- Is Your Brain Firing As It Should?
About the author:
While my area of study focuses on neuroscience, I have become enamored with a variety of topics outside of the medicine ‘mumbo jumbo’. Along the way, I have created articles on different internationally known outlets including, Wake Up World, The Jerusalem Post, psychcentral.com and many more. I have always found that writing is not only one of my unique skills, but it is also an enjoyable hobby that I’ve always looked to expand. Through my website, I hope to offer you interesting content through your suggestions.
You can read more of Jacob’s writing at www.scharpmind.com.