We all have sad times from time to time whether due to tragedy, trauma, improper diet and lack of exercise. Sometimes we are just born that way. Nevertheless, mood swings such as anxiety and depression come about due to imbalances in neurotransmitters such as serotonin, GABA, cortisol, norepinephrine, dopamine and glutamate. There are a number of prescription drugs that target these imbalances but there are a number of supplements that do the same thing that don’t require a prescription. Nevertheless, you should consult with your healthcare provider before taking any supplement.
When experiencing anxiety and/or depression, there are certain components you need to look for in a supplement to elevate mood, bring about a sense of well being as well as feel energized. For example, low levels of serotonin (the “feel good” transmitter) can bring about depression, anxiety, eating disorders (obesity) and insomnia and the list goes on. It turns out that serotonin is made from two amino acids in the brain from tryptophan and 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan). These amino acids are also required to make the neurotransmitter/hormone melatonin which is required to help you sleep. The amino acids phenylalanine and tyrosine are required to make the neurotransmitter dopamine which in turn is required to make norepinephrine. Supplementation with an amino acid or combination of amino acids may restore balance by elevating mood and there are a number of them.
Another way to effectively boost serotonin and dopamine levels is to inhibit their reuptake pathway. Once serotonin is released into the synaptic cleft and binds to its receptor, it is shuttled back into the neuron for recycling. Prescription drugs are often made to these transporter systems to inhibit serotonin thereby allowing serotonin to remain in the synaptic longer effectively increasing signal strength. Well, there are botanicals that block these reuptake transports as well. These are referred to as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Once such botanical is St. John’s Wort. Quite often amino acids and SSRIs are combined in a single supplement for an even greater boost in transmitter function.
It’s also important to supplement with B vitamins, appropriate botanicals for anxiety and depression and omega-3 fatty acids to replenish worn cell membranes. Listed below are some ingredients to look for when buying a supplement for mood and happiness.
5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) is an amino acid that is a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin the “feel good” transmitter. Oral ingestion of this amino acid may help boost serotonin levels as it is the immediate precursor to serotonin. Tryptophan can also be taken to boost serotonin levels. Tryptophan is converted into 5-HTP and then 5-HTP is converted into serotonin. 5-HTP is a precursor for melatonin as well.
Phenylalanine is an essential amino acid know to inhibit pain, elevate mood, suppress appetite and support memory and learning. This anti-depressant can be converted into tyrosine (another amino acid) which is then used to make dopamine and norepinephrine which are involved with alertness. Dopamine is also involved with emotional responses, locomotion, reward and punishment.
Tyrosine is a nonessential amino acid used to make dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine. These transmitters help to elevate mood and help you concentrate and focus. Dopamine helps to balance alpha and beta waves bringing you to a calm state (anti-anxiety).
L-theanine is an analog of glutamine and glutamate. It has the ability to decrease mental stress and anxiety thereby elevating mood. Research suggests that theanine increases the inhibitory transmitter GABA while increasing the neurotransmitter dopamine. This increases alpha wave activity creating a calm state.
GABA is the major inhibitory transmitter in the brain and keeps your brain from getting overexcited. The amino acid taurine is a precursor to GABA so you can take GABA and/or taurine to boost GABA levels. This relieves anxiety and brings you to a calm state.
B vitamins are important to all body and brain functions and for the brain particularly B6, B9 and B12. They are coenzymes that active particular enzymes to make transmitters and generate ATP. ATP is the energy molecule that runs most of your metabolic pathways.
Minerals are important as cofactors and to maintain membrane potential in all cells but particularly important for heart, skeletal muscle and the brain. As cofactors, they activate enzymes that are involved in neurotransmitter production and other pathways. Look for supplements that contain magnesium, potassium and zinc as well as other minerals. Mineral deficiencies can be serious.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are important components of cell membranes and important for every cell in the body but even more so for neurons. Neurons use their membranes heavily and require fatty acid replacement on a regular basis. Look for supplements that contain DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). Phospholipids are another good source of fatty acids such as phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylserine. Phospholipids are used by the body/brain directly unlike omega-3 fatty acids that have to be processed by the liver to make phospholipids.
Rhodiola has been reported to raise neurotransmitter levels such as serotonin and dopamine. This has an effect of elevating mood so it acts as an anti-depressant by restoring transmitter balance. It is believed that this comes about by inhibiting monoamine oxidase which is responsible for breaking down these transmitters. In other words, these transmitters are allowed to remain in the synaptic cleft longer essentially allowing for stronger signal transduction. Rhodiola enhances the production of endorphins the “feel high” transmitters which has the effect of energizing you increasing physical and mental performance. It is often used as an anti-depressant for individuals who have SAD (seasonal affective disorder). The anti-depressant property is believed to be carried by rosavin and rosarin which inhibit catechol-o-methyl transferase (COMT) allowing serotonin levels to remain high. Rosavin also increases levels of ATP and creatine phosphate in brain. Athletes often take Rhodiola to boost stamina and performance. Rhodiola also contain antioxidants such as salidrosides that act as powerful anti-anxiety and anti-depressants. Animal studies indicate that salidrosides strongly inhibit binge eating.
Ginkgo is good to take for increasing blood flow throughout the body and brain. It contains ginkgolides that decrease vascular resistance.
Vinpocetine increases blood flow specifically to the brain and heart but in a different way from Ginkgo. This molecule causes vasodilation allowing for more blood to flow through. Vinpocetine is an phosphodiesterase inhibitor. The phosphodiesterase enzyme is responsible for making capillaries constrict slowing blood flow. Vinpocetine allows blood vessels to relax. This allows the brain to receive more oxygen and make more ATP which effectively energizes the brain.
St. John’s Wort
Clinically, St. John’s Wort has been demonstrated to have mild to moderate anti-depressant and anti-anxiety effect. Bioactive molecules include flavonoids, hyperforin, amino acids and tannins. Hyperforin has been reported to increase levels of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine by inhibiting neurotransmiiter reuptake allowing transmitter to remain in the synaptic cleft longer effectively increasing signal transduction. This is an SSRI botanical that also has the ability to thin blood. This should not be taken if you are on prescription SSRIs and/or blood thinners such as Warfarin (coumadin).
The bioactive molecules responsible for the anti-anxiety properties of KAVA are lactones. They are believed to interact with the GABA channel allowing it to remain open longer. This increases the GABA effect. Recall that GABA is the major inhibitory neurotransmitter of the nervous system. Kava has been shown to be as affective as benzodiazepines and tricyclic compounds.
Scientific studies report that Ashwagandha has the ability to act as an anti-anxiety and anti-depressant as well as has a neuroprotective effect. Studies indicate that Ashwagandha has similar effects to the anti-anxiety drug lorazepam (Ativan) and antidepressant effects similar to imipramine (Tofranil). Experiments also indicate that Ashwagandha is also a powerful anti-aging agent due to a number of antioxidants it contains.
Animals studies indicate that Bacopa has anti-anxiety and antidepressant properties. The mechanism involves a stress hormone known as Hsp70 (heat-shock protein). Hsp70 is inhibited by oral administration of Bacopa because Bacopa is protecting your cellular components in place of Hsp70. This helps to keep your cells working in a healthy manner. Hsp70 is known as one of many chaperonins that can be produced by cellular stress. Chaperonins protect or chaperon proteins inside your cells helping to protect them from damage. If a protein alters it shape abnormally due to heavy metabolic activity, its chaperon will help repair it so it will work properly again. Behavior is all about molecules and how they interact with each other. Keeping a healthy intracellular environment ensures that your cells will function properly. In other words, behave properly.
SAMe otherwise known as S-Adenosylmethionine is found in the body/brain and it involved with the production, action and regulation of many neurotransmitters. SAMe has been demonstrated to be a natural anti-depressant that is as effective as prescription anti-depressants. Moreover, it is faster acting. SAMe is not suggested for use in bipolar disorders such as manic depression.
Valerian is know for its tranquilizing effects and is known to promote restful sleep that is non-addicting. It is also a pain reliever. It is often taken with Passionflower or St. John’s Wort. Getting a good night sleep is paramount to managing anxiety.
This botanical is used as an anti-anxiety and insomnia agent. Just as with Valerian, Rhodiola, Ginkgo and Ginseng, Passionflower contains a number of bioactive molecules. Of interest here is the molecule apigenin also found in chamomile. Apigenin enhances GABA which is the major inhibitory transmitter in the brain that keeps the brain from getting overexcited. Apigenin binds to the GABA channel and keeps it open longer enhancing the inhibitory effect of GABA. Larger doses can be taken at night to help you fall asleep. Lower doses keep you alert during the day.