By Dr. Frank Aieta, N.D.
On a daily basis I see patients taking a variety of medications for depression, anxiety, headaches, attention issues, insomnia, fatigue, and behavioral issues in children. The typical medications prescribed for these conditions are a class of drugs called antidepressants or anxiolytics. In the case of a patient with behavior or attention issues, another class of drugs called CNS stimulants is used. All of these drugs have an effect on very important chemical messengers in the brain called neurotransmitters.
The Mind-Body Connection: Neurotransmitters
The brain uses neurotransmitters to tell your heart to beat, your lungs to breathe, and your stomach to digest. Neurotransmitters are also necessary for thought processes, emotions, and other essential bodily functions including sleep and energy. Clearly, a system with this much responsibility needs to function properly in order for a person to remain healthy. Unfortunately, the nervous system can be easily disrupted through a number of factors such as stress, poor diet, toxic chemicals, infections or genetics. These factors can cause the levels of neurotransmitters to become either too high or too low.
The Problem with Traditional Medicine
When symptoms arise, a patient will typically go to a traditional medical doctor and be prescribed one or more of the 50 plus drugs available to treat their symptoms. The patient will try them out and “wait and see” if they get relief. Now the problem with this process is that it is more or less trial and error. In many cases, these drugs can result in severe side effects which often out-weigh the drug’s benefits. Second, these drugs never address the root cause of what may have caused the neurotransmitter imbalance in the first place: stress, toxicity, poor diet, etc.
In my practice, the first step is to get a detailed description of the patient’s clinical symptoms. The second step is to measure the neurotransmitter levels to determine the cause of the imbalance. Yes, there is actually an easy test that exists that a physician can use to measure a patient’s levels of neurotransmitters; it’s a simple urinalysis test. This test is also covered 100% by most insurance plans; unfortunately most conventional physicians are unaware of it.
Amino Acids Are Brain Food
Neurotransmitters such as serotonin or dopamine are all derived from something called amino acids, which are actually the building blocks of the protein that we get from our diet. Many of the drugs used to balance neurotransmitters simply encourage the recirculation and decrease the degradation of the low levels of neurotransmitters that a patient already has and does nothing to increase their nervous system’s stores of them. Through the use of a simple urine test, I can accurately see which neurotransmitters are deficient or in excess and use the proper amino acid to increase the body’s production naturally or use specific herbs to help bring levels down.
For example if a patient is suffering from depression and I find that they have low levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, I may choose to supplement with the amino acid tryptophan and the vitamin B6 which are necessary for the body’s own natural production of serotonin.
Another example would be if a patient has high levels of the neurotransmitter epinephrine or norepinephrine and they have symptoms of anxiety, I may choose to use the herb Rhodiola rosea, which has been shown to help decrease high levels of these neurotransmitters and improve anxiety symptoms.1 I find that many times by testing and figuring out the exact imbalance, patients get better quicker and without the harmful side effects or the need to stay on a drug indefinitely.
The Naturopathic Difference
In conjunction with natural herbs or amino acid therapy, diet and lifestyle counseling is the core of every treatment plan that I prescribe to a patient regardless of their complaint. If every physician approached this very common issue of imbalanced neurotransmitters in this manner there would be a lot more healthy people out there and there would be a significant reduction in health care costs. Visit a Naturopathic Physician today and make a real difference in your overall health.
- Cropley, M., Banks, A. P., & Boyle, J. (2015). The Effects of Rhodiola rosea L. Extract on Anxiety, Stress, Cognition and Other Mood Symptoms. Phytotherapy research : PTR, 29(12), 1934–1939. https://doi.org/10.1002/ptr.5486