I have had many patients ask me about amino acid therapy as a way to reduce depression or manage bipolar disorder symptoms. I usually do not prescribe these types of supplements myself, because I find that if they work to reduce symptoms, the improvement is very temporary and ultimately unimpressive.
Some people notice an improvement in symptoms with supplementation of certain amino acids or herbs that specifically increase or decrease serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, or other neurotransmitters. Some people with mild cases of depression or anxiety might find them valuable. I have not found these supplements to be quite as helpful for people with more severe mental illness, particularly bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.
While medications can improve symptoms by increasing the amount of serotonin or dopamine between two nerve cells, we can supplement specific vitamins, amino acids, and herbs to actually increase or decrease your body’s own production of neurotransmitters.
Amino acids are the building blocks for proteins in your body, and neurotransmitters are made from certain amino acids, with the help of vitamins and minerals. For example, L-tyrosine is used in the body to make dopamine and adrenaline. Certain herbs can be used to increase neurotransmitter levels as well.
Your cells have the ability to make serotonin, dopamine, epinephrine, and other neurotransmitters. When you are deficient in certain nutrients, it is harder to make enough of the neurotransmitters you need to feel happy and relaxed. You can take all the Prozac you want, and still have symptoms because your body simply is not making enough serotonin in the first place.
These supplements are not the end-all answer, however. They may be natural and safe, but they are still not truly correcting the deeper imbalance. They are adding something to a system that may be functioning improperly. But why is it functioning improperly? I always prefer to get to the underlying cause of why the body and brain is not working ideally, and see if we can correct the real problem.
I do not like to waste time when my patients are sick. I like to get to the real cause of the disorder and fix that, rather than covering it up. Even natural supplements, like St. John’s Wort, can cover up the problem. It is basically a natural form of Prozac. Lifestyle changes, counseling, homeopathic medicine, and whole food nutrition are first-line therapies in my practice for restoring health and psychiatric balance. Later we may use other supplements, and if the patient desires we can use medications in conjunction with naturopathic therapies. My goal is always to get to the root cause of the problem, and start there with a comprehensive plan of action.
Dr. Tara Peyman is a licensed naturopathic physician with an expertise in the homeopathic and integrative treatment of bipolar disorder and mental illness. She practices at Arizona Natural Health Center in the Phoenix area. 480-456-0402. www.AZNaturalHealth.com.