By Dr. Frank Aieta, N.D.
On daily basis in my private practice I see patients on a countless variety of medications for depression, anxiety, headaches, attention issues, insomnia, fatigue, and behavior problems in children. The typical medications that are prescribed are classes 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 brain uses neurotransmitters to tell your heart to beat, your lungs to breathe, and your stomach to digest. Neurotransmitters are also necessary for the thought process, emotions, and other essential body 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. When symptoms arise a patient will typically go to their traditional medical doctor and based upon the patient’s symptoms one or more of 50 plus drugs available is chosen and the patient will try it out and see if they get relief. Now the problem with this process is that it’s more or less trial and error and in many cases severe side effects from these drugs can arise which can out weigh their benefits. Secondarily these drugs never address the root cause of what may have caused the neurotransmitter imbalance in the first place such as stress, toxicity, poor diet, etc. In my practice the first step that I take to determine the imbalance secondary to listening to a patient’s clinical symptoms is to actually measure their neurotransmitter levels. Yes, there is actually a test that exists that a physician can use to measure patient levels of neurotransmitters and it’s a simple urinalysis test. This test is also covered 100% by most insurance plans; unfortunately most conventional physicians are unaware of it.
Neurotransmitters such as serotonin or dopamine are all derived from something called an amino acid, 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. In my practice through the use of this special 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. I find that many times by testing and figuring out the exact imbalance, patients get better much quicker and without the harmful side effects or the need to stay on a drug indefinitely. 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….so visit a Naturopathic Physician today and make a real difference in your overall health.